Following a one-hour-and-nine minute executive session, the Logan County Library Board voted unanimously last Thursday to fire Rita Eckart, who has been librarian at the Gattis-Logan County Library for 13 years.
The decision angered some of the 20 or so library patrons who attended the meeting.
The board refused to give a reason for Eckart’s termination. One patron attending the meeting said "May I ask what the reason was?" In answer to that question, board chairman Lynn Wright of Paris said, "No you may not." In fact, patrons present at the meeting were denied an opportunity to speak to the board. Wright told them they could request a spot on the agenda for the next meeting.
Logan County Judge Gus Young, an ex-officio board member, said after the meeting that the reasons for the termination may never been known.
"Everybody wants a reason and they’re not going to give you a reason. Logan County is an ‘at will’ employer," Young said. Although an ex officio member of the board, Young did not participate in the executive session and he expressed surprise at the board’s action.
After the meeting, several patrons said they didn’t like what happened.
"I think we need a new board. It’s time for the citizens of Paris to take back their library," library patron Pat Lowder of Paris said. After that was said, one person said "I’ll second that."
"This is a travesty that unfavorably impacts Paris," Lowder said.
"I feel like they had made their decision before they came to this meeting," said library patron Betty Humphries of Paris.
"I’m going to ask for the reason," said library patron Anita Fairbanks of Paris. "They have to have a reason. I don’t think they have enough information to fire someone without a reason."
The patrons also expressed support for Eckart after the meeting.
"I’m sorry you got railroaded," Lowder said to Eckart after the meeting.
Board members voting in favor of the motion to terminate Eckart’s employment were Wright, Leslie Oliver of Booneville, Vonda Warren of Booneville and Ellen Phillips of Paris. Board member Lynda Brooks abstained. Wright said after the meeting Brooks abstained because she has a family member working for the library and her term expired in March. Brooks is allowed by law to continue to serve until a replacement is chosen.
Also during the meeting, Young raised objections about the way in which library materials were recently removed from the collection. Young said the board did not follow procedure for destruction of county-owned property.
"By law, to remove any county property you have to follow procedure and the person responsible is me," Young told board members.
"As a board, you’re not allowed to do this. We can’t go back and get this stuff because it’s gone and I knew nothing about this," Young told board members.
In answer to questions from Young, Wright said the board authorized removal of some materials and that it was a mixture of county-owned property and property owned by the Arkansas River Valley Regional Library, of which Logan County is a part.
"My major concern was the books that were disposed of," Young said after the meeting. "The policy was not followed and that’s the reason I read the code to them."
Amy Monday, another patron in attendance, was angry about the disposal of library materials.
"I am so angry I haven’t been able to sleep at night," she said. "I’m angry that they threw away books. Those are books I want to use, books that I needed that are gone."
According to library-related websites, the practice of removing materials from a library’s collection is called ‘weeding’ and is commonly practiced.