The fall, which was a season of personnel shakeups and financial scrutiny for Teton County Library, continued apace into winter last week when the Teton County Board of County Commissioners voted to “remove” Dail Barbour from the library board in a closed meeting with little explanation.
A specific reason for the county commissioners’ decision has not been publicly given. The substance of closed executive sessions like the one called Nov. 9 to oust Barbour is privileged. Board of County Commissioners Chair Natalia D. Macker said multiple times Monday that she couldn’t discuss it.
“I’m not allowed to speak about the contents of a discussion in an executive session,” Macker said when asked why Barbour was removed. “I don’t have anything to add.”
Commissioners voted 4-1 to remove Barbour, according to draft minutes from the Nov. 9 meeting. Commissioner Luther Propst dissented.
Commissioners Greg Epstein and Mark Barron did not respond to requests for comment. Library board Chair Mark Hendrickson said in an email that he couldn’t comment.
Commissioners appointed Barbour, herself a former county commissioner from 1991 to 1994, to the library board in June. As Teton County Library’s former facilities manager, she was the only library board member with professional, in-library experience.
Barbour expressed surprise in an email to the county commissioners.
“I had no knowledge of any dissatisfaction with my participation on the board and was not allowed any opportunity to speak on my behalf,” she wrote.
Barbour largely declined to comment for this article, referring instead to her letter.
Why was Barbour removed?
Wyoming statute 18-7-103(c) gives commissioners the authority to “remove” a library board member for “misconduct or neglect of duty.”
Propst said he wasn’t comfortable removing Barbour on either of those grounds: “I haven’t seen evidence that Dail Barbour committed misconduct or neglect of duty.”
He didn’t elaborate on his reasoning, saying only that “when the commissioners appoint a library board, we expect some robust debate on the library board and on all other boards.”
But Propst was in the minority.
Commissioner Mark Newcomb said he thought Barbour’s “voice” was valuable on the board.
“It was an important voice, but our information was that the manner in which she was operating was creating very difficult challenges for the board,” the commissioner told the News&Guide, suggesting that several library board members may have resigned if Barbour remained. “Our information was that there had been a meeting with her and the board chair and our Human Resources Director, and that it didn’t go well at all from their perspective.”
Barbour, in her letter, questioned whether the county commissioners were given full information. She said her entire record as a board member is in the public domain through recordings of Zoom library board meetings, in the county email server and in recordings of the library board’s executive sessions.
The only indication of disagreement in the publicly available record is from an Oct. 29 executive session vote. While the contents of executive sessions are confidential, votes on matters discussed in them must be done during public sessions and archived in the minutes.
For reasons that have not been made public, Oscar Gittemeier left his post as library director following the Oct. 29 meeting, and a draft of the minutes from that day show Barbour was the lone “no” vote on whatever matter the library board discussed that morning.
“Did you review the information, or did you act on unsubstantiated secondhand information?” she wrote. “The secrecy and my inability to defend myself are deeply concerning.”
The executive session was not on the agenda for the county commissioners’ Nov. 9 voucher meeting, and was instead added at the beginning of the meeting with no explanation.
County commissioners’ meetings are open and a matter of public record, but executive sessions are closed to the public. The commissioners’ agendas typically include a standing line item for those types of meetings even if there is not one scheduled.
Macker said the executive session in which Barbour was “removed” came up “last minute” and that the board of commissioners is “working out some kinks” with new administrative staff.
Cheyenne attorney Bruce Moats specializes in protecting public access to government and has represented the Jackson Hole News&Guide in cases regarding open meetings and public records. Since Monday’s voucher meetings are regularly scheduled, he said the Board of County Commissioners is allowed to add and subtract items from those agendas at will.
But Barbour lamented a lack of transparency.
“It is hard to believe that the library board did not have a hand in this and if so, they should be ashamed of themselves. As should all of you,” she wrote. “This kind of hole-in-the-wall secrecy and lack of due process is not the kind of government Teton County deserves.”
The county declined by press time to provide information about who was present in the Nov. 9 executive session. Moats, however, thinks that information should be public, arguing that knowing who was in the meeting doesn’t say anything about the conversations therein.
“I don’t see a reason why that is confidential,” he said. “That should be public information.”
He also said there may be a way to make what happened in that meeting public.
Wyoming statute 16-4-405(a)(ii) authorizes executive sessions “to consider the appointment, employment, right to practice or dismissal of a public officer, professional person or employee, or to hear complaints or charges brought against an employee, professional person or officer, unless the employee, professional person or officer requests a public hearing.”
Asked whether she was given the option to make the meeting public, Barbour referred to her letter, which stated she “was not allowed any opportunity to speak” on her behalf.
“What if the body doesn’t give that person that option?” Moats asked rhetorically. “It seems to me that if you don’t know that you have that option, it really makes it meaningless.”
But Moats thought the option to make a closed meeting public could be applied retroactively. “I think there is grounds for it,” he said.
The library’s long fall
Barbour’s dismissal is the latest in a line of upheavals at the library. Gittemeier, who was hired over the summer to be the library’s director, left his post after just three months.
Deb Adams, a longtime director who retired in 2015, has taken the post of interim director, but her appointment is the seventh transition at the director level since her retirement, including interim heads. Current and former staff told the News&Guide that the constant churn has put pressure on frontline employees and created a difficult work environment.
Bringing Adams out of retirement was meant to smooth things until a new permanent director can be found.
“Deb Adams was a natural choice given her past experience as the Teton County Library director,” Hendrickson wrote in an email to the News&Guide. “We expect that Ms. Adams will be a stabilizing force for the community and the staff.”
In her lone on-the-record comment, Barbour said she remained concerned about the library.
“I am very concerned about the library staff. I feel like they have been buffeted from every side. I don’t feel they have had any support, which is part of what I was hoping to do on the library board,” she said.