By Matthew Liebenberg
There was a sense of disarray at the Chinook Regional Library (CRL) annual general meeting, but also hope for a renewed focus on providing a library service to the benefit of patrons and staff.
Delegates gathered in person at the CRL head office in Swift Current and virtually through Zoom for the annual board meeting, May 13.
They learned that the organization was without a director due to a decision taken by the board executive and there was no interim director. It soon became evident during discussion that members of the executive had difficulty to work together.
The board executive decided during a meeting on May 2 to dismiss Kathryn Foley as CRL director with immediate effect. It was a termination without cause and negotiations about severance was still taking place.
Board executive members were reluctant to speak in too much details about their decision. At some point a delegate stated “We do need answers” and someone else added “Is there anybody from the executive willing to answer your question?”
Some details did emerge as the discussion continued. It was mentioned that this “very difficult decision” was made after many meetings and in camera sessions. It was noted that some of those meetings went on for almost five hours.
Remarks made by board executive members during the annual meeting reflected their previous inability to find common ground on the issue of dismissal. There was a recorded vote at their May 2 meeting with five voting in favour of dismissal and three against.
An executive member who voted in favour of the dismissal told the annual meeting there was a feeling on the board executive that a change of leadership was the best course for the CRL.
Delegates at the annual meeting raised concerns that the board executive made the dismissal without appointing an interim director. A key issue was whether the CRL application for the annual provincial grant will be accepted without the signature of a director or acting director.
A board executive is elected at the annual meeting and it became an important focus for delegates during the rest of the meeting.
The new board executive is a mix of previous and new members. All were elected by acclamation. Town of Shaunavon representative Brent Michelson, who served on the outgoing board, was elected as the new board chair. Other returning executive members are Mary-Anne McNeney (representing R.M. of Piapot No. 110), Doug Osmond (representing Town of Herbert) and Patrick Simpson (representing Village of Tompkins).
The new members of the board executive are Dustin Heatcoat (representing Town of Leader) and Michelle Pouteaux (representing R.M. of Gravelbourg No., 104).
There are three non-elected members of the board executive who are appointed by the City of Swift Current. They are Rhonda Forster, Larry Kielo and Ryan Switzer.
“I’m honoured by the faith that the region has put into me,” Michelson said during an interview after the annual meeting about his election as new board chair. “I promise to work very hard to try to make this ship a little less rocky and just move forward, because we are there for the betterment of the CRL and our employees are to be commended for how amazing they have done in a very difficult time.”
His immediate focus was to take the necessary steps to ensure that the CRL’s provincial grant application is successful.
“The grant has been submitted to the provincial government already,” he noted. “There are some requirements about it and having an interim or executive director is one of them. So we will be reaching out to the provincial government to say this is our situation. We’re not terribly worried about it, but we want to make sure we’re dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s on this, because we don’t want to put the CRL in a horrible position or do anything detrimental to that. I think we can work with our partners in the provincial government. Our meetings with them before have been very positive.”
Another priority will be the future of the Swift Current Branch Library. This has become an issue after the City of Swift Current indicated last year it is considering the option of departing from the CRL system to establish a municipal library.
“There’s a lot of work to do, but I’m excited for the challenge,” he said. “I’m excited to build the relationships. I’m excited for the direction CRL can go. I’m excited to really cultivate a new path between us and Swift Current. We’ve heard very clearly from the membership through the last year they’re very concerned with Swift Current leaving. I want to sit down and hear what the issues are, where can we meet, what can we compromise on and what can we move forward together with. I’m cautiously optimistic that there’s a path forward here.”
All three City of Swift Current representatives attended the annual meeting. Switzer, who is a City councillor, said after the meeting the City remains committed to listening and no formal decision has been made about the establishment of a municipal library.
“The City has said numerous times that we’re open to having discussions with the Chinook Regional Library,” he mentioned. “Unfortunately, those discussions haven’t really happened yet and I’m looking forward to being a part of them when they do to discuss numerous solutions, opportunities or hybrid models, but just a way for everyone in this great region to work together.”