“Tolerating bad leadership” – St. John Library Board debates budget, policy & path forward

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, October 10, 2018

GARYVILLE — Nearly every agenda item erupted into a debate over policy and procedure when St. John the Baptist Parish library board members convened Monday evening in Garyville.

Near the end of a heated discussion on the board’s ineffectiveness in providing leadership for library patrons and employees, Garyville branch manager Elmira Duhe stood up from her spot in the audience, exasperated and declared the members “lack professionalism” in their conduct.

Roadblocks to presenting a 2019 budget, inaccurate minute counts, miscommunication in filing an employee grievance and confusion over policy in the case of a third grader asked to leave library premises while under the supervision of older siblings were among discussions that received no resolution.

Of the six board members in attendance, Maria Victoria Coy, Virgie Jarrow-Johnson and Lisa Tregre-Wilder were most vocal, and many of their comments called Library Director Trina Smith’s job responsibilities into question.

According to Coy, board members’ noble intentions are countered by “cluelessness” in outlining expectations for Smith and maintaining a fiscally responsible budget.

Coy presented a 12-step guide to help Smith correct a poor director assessment. The document, according to Coy, was emailed to board members Tuesday morning for suggestions and will be presented again at the next October meeting to be announced.

“I think this board is tolerating bad leadership and management, and I have to ask myself, ‘Why are we tolerating this?’” Coy said.

“I’m just as guilty for allowing it to happen. It starts with the board. You have to give someone the ability to perform. No one has sat down with (Smith) to discuss what is expected of her. We’ll figure out a document to hold her to and give her a chance to become a leader.”

During the meeting, Coy said the board’s resistance to change is due in part to Smith’s familial relationship with board member Brannetter James, eliciting a negative response that needed to be called to order by Board President Virgie Jarrow-Johnson.

“Think what you want, but I vote by conscience,” James said.

Smith said the comment felt personal and later told L’OBSERVATEUR that, while she and James are cousins, they are not first cousins, and James’ presence on the board does not violate the state code of ethics.

“When things come up, (James) expresses her concern and is never one-sided,” Smith said. “When I mess up, she tells me I messed up. It’s nothing but impartiality.”

Smith said she lacks support and direction from board members who hired her in 2016, knowing it was her first time stepping into an executive director role.

Tregre-Wilder disagreed, recalling Smith stated she was capable of handling the good and bad of her new responsibilities.

In Duhe’s opinion, the board was being too punitive and should have taken the initiative to offer Smith more training.


During the allotted public comment section of the meeting, members made a motion to allow patron Jessica Scott to bring up a concern not outlined on the agenda.

Scott, the mother of nine children with seven currently in St. John Parish schools, said her family is recently homeless.

According to Scott, her children depend on the library’s computers to complete their homework. When her third grader was asked to leave the premises because he had no adult supervision, it made him feel hopeless at being able to maintain his grades.

“I’m a disabled veteran, and it’s not possible for me to come with him every time,” Scott said.

Coy and Jarrow-Johnson determined the young boy should not have been asked to leave if, as Scott reported, he was accompanied by siblings or a baby sitter age 14 or older.

Assistant director Dana Douglas said the issue had already been investigated, while Duhe reported her policy at the Garyville branch followed a different policy, but neither were allowed to say more since the item verged from the agenda.

Tregre-Wilder said the concern should be further investigated and placed on the next agenda.

Accuracy of meeting minutes was also discussed at the start of the meeting, with Coy noting three months of minutes were missing comments.

Smith said mistakes happen because it’s difficult to decipher who is saying what on the recording when board members begin talking over one another.

There was also misunderstanding concerning an unresolved grievance filed in August, which involves an employee who felt threatened by another employee and promptly secured legal representation.

Smith said she conferred with the employee but did not receive a letter of appeal, which was sent to Jarrow-Johnson. Meanwhile, Jarrow-Johnson took no further action with the appeal because she did not receive a written statement from Smith detailing what decision was being appealed.


At several points during the meeting, Coy expressed the board and the director could not form a 2019 budget of public funds without reviewing the previous year’s spending line by line.

Coy expected Smith to produce the 2018 documentation at Monday’s meeting, while Smith said there are plans to review the budget with CPA Keith Rovira at 4:30 p.m. today (Oct. 10) at the Central Branch in LaPlace.

Coy raised concerns over 28 percent of the personnel budget being used to fully cover health, dental and life insurance for employees and their families.

“Not even the military gets 100 percent,” Coy said. “These costs will continue to go up. It’s not sustainable or justifiable.”

Jarrow-Johnson and Tregre-Wilder agreed families should be removed from the policy, and new hires should be expected to pay a portion of their insurance.

After the meeting, Duhe said the St. John library’s benefits are in line with other library systems in the state and should be left as is.

The library’s potential adoption of ADP human resources management software was another concern for Coy, who said $27,000 is too much to spend.

According to Douglas, St. John Parish library employees are already registered with ADP through a Parish database.

“We are already using ADP, and we don’t pay for it currently,” Douglas said. “The $27,000 is for us to pick up human resources management so we don’t have to rely on paper to keep track of unfilled positions. We’ve been replacing people instead of filling the positions we need.”