By Jonah Raskin
Libraries have traditionally been places of tranquility where readers can hear the proverbial pin drop. Not now, at least not in Sonoma County, where library employees say they’re afraid to speak candidly for fear of reprisals, and where tensions are so high patrons can feel them. It’s a sad time for a library system that has been notoriously and habitually mismanaged at the top.
Nearly a year after the powers-that-be summarily demoted Lisa Musgrove and transferred her to Rohnert Park-Cotati from the Sonoma Valley branch of the library—where she was the manager—the case drags on. Lawyers’ fees mount.
Musgrove’s co-plaintiff and fellow librarian, Nancy Sampson, was also demoted and transferred. She, too, was a branch manager. Sampson has worked as a librarian in Sonoma County for 14 years, many of them in Guerneville, Forestville and Occidental. Now she’s at the downtown branch. Sampson has been a librarian for a total of 29 years, more than half her lifetime. “Lisa and I have cried together and have shared our fury,” Sampson says. “I think we’ll prevail.”
Sampson portrays the library director as isolated, out-of-touch with the nitty-gritty realities at the branches, and eager to keep her job, retire and collect her pension. “There’s a power vacuum at the library now,” Sampson says. “The director is hands-off, and so is the library commission. Staff members are leaving and the administrators who ooze hubris are leading in different directions all at the same time.”
Last year, an underling at the library complained about Musgrove to Human Resources. The library failed to follow basic procedures, which were in place, immediately banished her from her post and cut her salary. A double standard seems to be at work, one for female librarians and another for male librarians. The more one delves into the “Librarygate,” as it’s been called, the more unsavory the picture.
The library tried to have the case against it dismissed by using the “Anti-SLAPP” laws, which protect public officials against “frivolous” lawsuits. Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Patrick Broderick didn’t buy that argument. In February, he ruled that in this particular case, discrimination based on sex was not a “protected activity.” Broderick also found that Musgrove and Sampson were “likely to prevail” on the merits of the case.
Leaving few if any stones unturned, Broderick also looked at complaints made by staff members who have described a “toxic work environment” that was created by a male branch manager. Moreover, Mark Hammond, the husband of library director, Ann Hammond, apparently acted out and acted up. Judge Broderick noted that the defendants in the case, i.e. library officials, “ignored complaints against Mark Hammond,” and, while they discussed the issue … took no investigative action.” Their silence speaks louder than words.
Ellyn Moscowitz, the lawyer for Musgrove and Sampson, says, “Judge Broderick looked at the double standard whereby Mark Hammond, was accused of sexually harassing female library employees, and the library never bothered to interview the women who complained. Still, Mr. Hammond was ‘banned’ from the library.” Moscowitz adds, “Someone should ask, ‘What’s going on behind the scenes at the library,’ and ‘Where’s the leadership?’”
Terry Price, a political consultant hired by the advocacy committee of the library commission, urged administrators to settle the lawsuit. So far no one at the top has followed his advice, though he has a strong argument. Price also urged the library to assess public perceptions about administrative overhead and the recent reduction in hours, especially now with a budget surplus.
If and when the library loses the case it will have to shell out hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars, which could be more wisely spent on more hours and better services, all of which patrons would like.
Sampson says, “The library could have settled the matter by paying us $1,000 each, given us back the jobs we held, and we’d have moved on, but no. What’s happened and what’s still happening breaks my heart.”