Library Director assails government interference

Teagle-Resignation

The outgoing Executive Director of the Wicomico Public Library blamed interference by certain County Council members and, at times, intimidation and bullying, as the reason for her recent resignation.

Ashley Teagle.

“I just feel like the county government needs to get out of the way and let the Library Director run the library along with the Board of Trustees,” Ashley Teagle told council members during their Oct. 6 meeting.

She announced recently she will leave her library post Oct. 23, after less than two years on the job. She has accepted a new position with a regional library system, she said..

Teagle said she was questioned by one council member, whom she did not name, about library programs and grants that the library accepted. The same person made homophobic and racist remarks, questioned how board members are selected and threatened to defund the library if Teagle proceeded with a certain program.

“This is just an egregious use of power,” she said.

Several County Council members expressed surprise and dismay at Teagle’s remarks, including Council Vice President John Cannon, the county’s liaison to the library board, who apologized for “the terrible miscommunication and rogue attacks.”

Cannon said the council should have better communications with the library. He also suggested the council should take a look at the county charter with an eye toward limiting individual council members’ contact with the director.

“It’s a lesson we’ve learned a little too late,” he said.

Councilman Bill McCain thanked Teagle for her service and told her he admired her courage for sharing her concerns, and Councilman Josh Hastings said the county should be working to retain and promote highly qualified people like Teagle.

“I think I can say the majority of council members were not aware of the issues you brought up, but we’ll be looking into it,” said Council President Larry Dodd.

Reading from her six-page resignation letter, Teagle listed five recommendations for the library system:

  • Review the County Charter. “I have grave concerns about how much power the local government has over the public library and I consider this to be a threat to democracy,” she said.
  • The County Council should make a concentrated effort to engage the Library Director in a positive relationship.
  • Council members should be honest with the Library Director. “I have had private conversations with more than one member of this body and felt by the end of the conversation we had come to a mutual understanding. The next thing I know, these same council members made public remarks that made it appear that somehow I was going against their wishes or that the library should be penalized for my leadership,” she said.
  • The government should not threaten the library’s leadership.
  • The council should understand that libraries are for everyone who lives in the county, not just for those who complain.

Teagle also said the county needs to begin investing more in the library, which is one of the lowest funded in Maryland. In fiscal 2009, the library received $1.6 million from the county, which is $179,182 more than it currently receives.

“Over the course of time library expenses have continued to increase and we continue to do more with less by expending a lot of staff energy applying for grants and requesting private partnership support,’ she said in her letter.

She also cited how the late County Executive Bob Culver insisted on moving the Pittsville branch from a trailer into a former auto body shop without her input or consent, or that of the town residents.

Struggles between the library board and the county have been ongoing for a number of years, even before Teagle arrived. In 2016, library officials refused to allow then-County Executive Bob Culver access to space on the lower level of the Downtown branch to store voting machines.

Culver set a deadline to vacate 3,300 square feet in the Entrepreneur Center, but the Board of Trustees refused to give keys or access codes to county staff. The trustees eventually won the battle, but the tensions continued.

In spite of the problems, Teagle said she was proud of her time as Library Director. Her accomplishments included the competition of a strategic plan, winning board approval for a program policy for the library, working with Sen. Mary Beth Carozza and Delegate Carl Anderton to obtain $100,000 in funding for a new bookmobile and prioritizing library staff to get out into the community and meet the community.

“I am less proud of a county government that has at various times bullied and attempted to intimidate me as I worked to serve at the pleasure of the citizens of Wicomico County,” Teagle said.

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