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1 Finalist for Library Chief Still in Running

County: Three have rejected the job or made unacceptable demands.

October 28, 1998|NICK GREEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Three people offered the job of county library director have either turned it down or made unrealistic salary demands, officials say.

Despite those setbacks and the agency's well-publicized financial problems, officials say they are not having trouble filling the $72,300-to-$103,000-a-year post.

The last of four finalists selected from among 39 applicants nationwide remains under consideration, said Richard Rowe, interim administrator of the Ventura County Library Services Agency.

Arrangements are underway for two library agency representatives to visit the unidentified candidate's community on the East Coast, he said. If all goes well, a permanent director could be on board by the first of the year, Rowe said.

Local officials are disappointed with the relatively small number of applicants for the job, Rowe conceded.

"But the quality of the applicants was exceptional and most of those candidates were in state," he said. "You would have thought with some of the negative baggage--some of the negative publicity the library system has had--it may have discouraged California candidates, but that was not the case."

Three of the finalists were from within the state.

The library agency, which operates 15 branches in seven cities and several unincorporated communities, cut 11 jobs in a wide-ranging reorganization this year. The restructuring was intended to reduce administrative expenses so the savings could be used to increase library hours and purchase books and magazines.

Rowe said delays in the recruiting process have allowed the county to deal with some of the more difficult challenges associated with the reorganization, such as layoffs.

In 1992, the county library system had 133 full-time workers and an annual budget of $11.1 million. Today, the agency has 59 full-time employees and a $5.9-million budget.

But the library agency is expected to incur a 12% budget increase--or about $740,000--this fiscal year because of additional revenues collected from property taxes, motor vehicle license fees and other sources.

Still, applicants are aware of the library agency's financial problems, which are typical of other systems elsewhere in the state, officials said.

Therefore, the first attribute sought by officials: innovative fund-raising abilities.

George Berg, a sometime critic of the agency and a spokesman for the grass-roots library advocacy group Save Our Libraries, said while financial constraints may have limited the field of candidates, that should not be detrimental to finding the type of director needed for the job.

"It may be that we haven't been offering a high enough salary to attract one of those talented, energetic librarians we've been talking about," he said. "I'm sure there are some library candidates who are discouraged by the situation, but they wouldn't be very good library directors for us anyway."

Indeed, the library commission, which has spent an estimated $25,000 on the recruitment, halted negotiations with the most recent candidate Thursday because of excessive salary and benefit demands, officials said.

The second candidate also withdrew from the running last week for reasons that included a reticence to deal with elected officials from the eight political jurisdictions that comprise the agency.

The first-choice candidate pulled out after her current employer gave her a $12,000-a-year raise that more than matched what was offered in Ventura County, Rowe said.

Still, Frank Schillo, county supervisor and library commission member, said the new library director should find the agency a relatively "hopeful organization."

"We've come a really long way," Schillo said. "I think we're out of trouble. We're in a place right now where we've streamlined the operation."

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