By Greg Campbell, FACE THE STATE
Come early next year at the Boulder Public Library, hardly anyone will be minding the store, and it looks like recent changes to the state employee-retirement system are at least partly to blame.
Since July, the library has experienced a significant brain drain at the administrative level, with six of its top personnel either having resigned or planning to resign by year’s end—and half are leaving to beat a new deadline pushing cost-of-living increases into 2012 for eligible public-employee retirees.
The exodus includes the library director, who left over the summer to move to North Carolina; an award-winning IT manager, who took a job in another library district; the interim director (whose official job title is arts and cultural planning manager) and the assistant director, who both plan to retire at the end of the year; the finance and business manager, who will leave after Thanksgiving; and an appointed member of the Library Commission with years of knowledge about library matters.
That leaves only two members of the administrative team who aren’t planning to leave, but city spokeswoman Jennifer Bray says the city hopes it will be business as usual for library patrons.
“We’re working on the succession planning right now for what will happen when these people are gone,” she said. “The public should not feel any effects of these vacancies.”
If that’s true, it will be an extraordinary accomplishment by the remaining administrators, who will be required to wear numerous hats to keep the $7.5 million agency with four locations running smoothly until the staffing level is restored. Bray said the city is currently looking for a director, developing plans for others to cover the duties of those leaving by year’s end, and waiting for the adoption of the city budget before deciding how to fill other vacancies.
While some of the vacancies were created by job opportunities in other communities, Bray said that three executives— Jim Marshall, the retiring finance manager; Lynn Reed, the assistant director; and Donna Gartenmann, who’s now the acting director—are retiring to take advantage of legislatively-mandated reforms to shore up the state-run Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA).
“Employees who retire under PERA prior to Dec. 31, 2010 will be under the current legislation, which makes them eligible for a possible prorated cost of living adjustment on July 1, 2011,” Bray said. “Employees who retire after that, between Dec. 31 and June 30, 2011, will be under the new legislation, which will result in them not being eligible for a cost of living adjustment until July 1, 2012.”
The legislation, Senate Bill 1, which was signed by Gov. Bill Ritter in February, was designed to ensure PERA’s long-term sustainability in light of the economic downturn. The fund provides retirement and other benefits to 460,000 state, school and local government employees. In a letter to Ritter on Oct. 30, 2009, PERA chairman Mark Anderson wrote that the proposed changes were “designed to have little or no short-term impact on member behavior.”
But that’s clearly not the case at the Boulder Library.
“I think it is a serious concern when you lose this many senior staff in a short amount of time,” said Sam Fuqua, the vice chairman of the Boulder Library Commission. “There have been personnel cuts, there have been positions going unfilled.
“You get the sense that it has been a stressful time for the library staff.”