Library employees accuse director Sackett of mismanagement, verbal abuse
KEN H. FORTENBERRY
Beyond the bookcases at the Lincoln County library system, a drama is unfolding in which employees say they are overworked, unappreciated and verbally abused by a boss who is also being accused of mismanagement and the possible misuse of funds.
The employees want library director Jennifer Sackett fired for what they say is gross mismanagement, and county manager Tracy Jackson has begun what he calls a “thorough investigation” into the employees’ claims, and promises to get to the bottom of the situation.
Employees say that Sackett drives off talented and dedicated staff with what one of them calls her immature “crisis du jour” micro-management style, and treats library employees with disrespect. Several of them say they have been so badly treated by Sackett that they left her office in tears. One employee said that Sackett “demeans and demoralizes” younger employees and foreign-born staff members.
It might be easy to say these are just the observations of a few disgruntled employees, but news@norman has interviewed numerous current and past employees as well as volunteers and library patrons, and they make many of the same claims of mismanagement, employee harassment, and what they perceive to be financial irregularities.
Among the claims, they say that Sackett:
* Spent county money for personal expenses and used a county credit card to purchase baby and infant supplies from Toys R Us for a gift, and wooden blocks with her initials carved in them.
* “Hoarded” cash and checks in her office and did not deposit the money as required.
* Hired one of her brothers to design the library’s new logo and routinely hires another brother for catering services.
* Makes unnecessary and questionable purchases including “maxing out” her county credit card to purchase supplies that are not needed.
* Forces them to falsify time sheets that show they took time off for lunch when routinely they work during lunch because the library system is short-staffed and Sackett is slow to hire new employees.
q Has not addressed maintenance issues at the Shanklin Library in Denver and the Jonas Library in Lincolnton. Two copperhead snakes were within feet of the front door at the Shanklin Library before a children’s summer reading program because they say Sackett does not ensure that the building or grounds are properly maintained.
* Refuses to return assets of the Gaston County Friends of the Library and tells Lincoln library employees to hide them.
Sackett is paid $75,828 annually. When she started with the county four years ago, she was paid $63,245. This is an increase of about 20 percent, most of which county personnel records indicate is due to increased responsibilities including Sackett’s recent overhaul of the system and breaking away from the decades-old Gaston-Lincoln Library.
Sackett has refused numerous requests by news@norman to answer questions about the library and even when given a written list of questions in advance, she refused to speak with the newspaper.
Dozens of library employees have left the system since Sackett was hired in 2008. There are only 22 positions in the library, so employee turnover is reaching nearly 200 percent during her tenure. It’s a problem the county recognizes is a significant one.
“We are aware that there has been a significant amount of turnover at the library,” said assistant county manager Martha Lide, who suggests that change, not mismanagement, is pushing people out the door. Lide points out that Sackett has instituted numerous changes in the library, and was responsible for the library receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants.
Some of the employees say that former county manager George Wood who was a strong public supporter of Sackett, was unconcerned about their issues. They say that no one in county management took their concerns seriously until one employee recently resigned and gave the new county manager a taste of what other employees felt.
When Bethany Deneve, the library system’s youth librarian and library assistant, quit last month she insisted on a meeting with county manager Jackson to submit her letter of resignation. Jackson summoned Sackett to the meeting.
“I loved the job I had, my coworkers as well as the people we were there to help. I felt forced to resign from this position due to the management of Jennifer Sackett,” she told news@norman. Deneve worked at the library for two years.
Her letter of resignation stated in part that she had to quit in order to maintain her “health, sanity and overall happiness.”
She blasted the library’s “dysfunctional organizational culture” and “leadership incompetence.” She said it was a “toxic and dysfunctional workplace.”
The letter was widely circulated, and she said that she hoped her resignation was not in vain. The resignation became a rallying point for employees who believed that finally their concerns would be addressed by county management.
About the same time that Deneve resigned, Marie Battel, a Denver library supporter and former officer in Denver’s now-disbanded Friends of the Library, asked county management to get involved in addressing complaints about Sackett.
“I have seen first-hand the way Jennifer Sackett operates,” said Battel. “The ‘Friends’ disbanded because of her. She wanted to take over and control to the point of trying to get herself appointed to the board,” said Battel.
Here is part of an email exchange Battel had with assistant county manager Martha Lide in an attempt to get the county management to look into employee and library supporter concerns.
“. . . I’m sure Jennifer can do many things very well and I’m sure her new hires will be as great as her previous hires. But you are ignoring my point which is her attitude, disdain and treatment of her staff. She needs to modify her manner or her new hires will be out the door as well. As her superior I’m appealing to you to discuss this with her to see if it can be resolved,” she stated.
Lide passed the email along to county manager Jackson who followed up with an email to Battel:
“Just like Mrs. Lide, I take your concerns seriously, and I will do my best to look into them in the coming weeks,” he stated.
Deneve’s resignation and Battel’s email opened Jackson’s eyes, and he immediately began to try to find out what’s going on in the library. One of the fact-finding tools he used was an employee survey in which library workers were anonymously encouraged to say what they liked and disliked about working at the library.
Employees jumped at the chance to speak their minds, and they let him have an earful. Some of them wrote page-after-page of complaints, claims and suggestions. (news@norman has independently received copies of many of the surveys and has formally requested copies of all of them. The county has agreed to do so but only after information that might identify employees is removed).
After receiving the surveys, Jackson sent a letter on Oct.14 to all library employees and encouraged them to “find common ground” and “move beyond the current problems that exist.”
“As you know, ongoing concerns have been expressed about the leadership and management of the Library from staff and certain members of the public,” he stated. “There is obviously a great deal of dissension between management and some of the staff. This needs to stop. . . “
Jackson’s letter said that he had assessed the situation and that it appeared to him that there was “room for improvement as far as management and staff is concerned.”
He outlined a number of changes he expected including more and better communication, showing respect for one another and filling vacancies. His suggestion that employees take their concerns to Sackett before they contacted him or the human resources department rankled some employees, who say they fear for their jobs if they speak out. He said they should contact him only as a “last resort.”
Employees and former employees say that they face retaliation that includes everything from schedule changes that make it difficult for them to keep their jobs and maintain family obligations to unsubstantiated claims of poor performance if they challenge the library’s management.
Jackson is not saying much about the employee surveys and what’s next.
“I am looking into specific allegations as put forth by certain employees who at this time remain anonymous,” said Jackson.
“The county will conduct a thorough investigation of the allegations that have been put forward. I simply would appreciate the opportunity to address these matters using accepted protocol so that we can assure that everyone is treated fairly and consistently,” he said.
Lincoln County taxpayers spend about $1.2 million a year to support the library.
Sackett is paid $75,828 annually. She has a master’s in library science and a doctorate in education.
One library employee made it clear what she wants to see happen:
“I would like to see this witch get her comeback.”
- Editor’s Note: More stories in this special report in our print edition and additional coverage in the upcoming Oct. 30 edition.