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Tuesday, June 12, 2018
Altadena Library Director Kittay Given 90-day Contract Extension at Tense Hours-Long Meeting
[Updated] Concluding a dramatic, sometimes emotional, five-hour-plus Special Meeting of the Altadena Library District Board of Trustees Monday, Altadena Library Director Mindy Kittay was given a 90-day extension of her contract. The Board of Trustees voted for the extension 4-0, with one member, Ira Bershatsky, abstaining.
Kittay’s three-year contract could have been extended for another three years, canceled, or allowed to run out at the end of June, but her temporary victory last night was inconclusive.
“We’ll have to see how this plays out,” said Kittay’s attorney, Dale Gronemeier.
The Trustee Special Meeting was remarkable in several instances:
Attorney Gronemeier presented legal action against the Board in the form a petition filed in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging the Board had violated the Brown Act and injured Kittay.
Following Gronemeier’s presentation of the complaint during the first of numerous appearances before the Board Monday evening, the Board’s outside counsel Ruben Duran, in an unusual move, then instructed the Board to introduce and pass a resolution stating that the Board had “substantially complied” with the Brown Act. The resolution, which Gronemeier called “self-serving,” passed unanimously.
Prior to the Board going into closed session to decide Kittay’s fate, attorney Gronemeier twice told the board that Kittay would agree to holding the closed-door performance evaluation meeting and subsequent vote in public.
The Board, led by President Betsy Kahn, did not respond to the suggestion.
Asked how her 90-day extension would affect her current administrative leave, attorney Duran asked a reporter, “How do you know she is on administrative leave?”
When the reporter responded that Kittay had informed him of that fact, Duran refused to comment.
Earlier, during the comments portion of the meeting, local activist Rene Amy called Library Trustee Ira Bershatsky “a stain on the community,” and told him, ‘You need to leave the board. Now.”
Bershatsky had reportedly authored and circulated a number of emails among the board members last year which were critical of Kittay’s management and direction.
Those emails and other events subsequently triggered the recent filing of the legal action by Kittay against the Board.
The petition alleges that the circulated emails constitute a “serial” meeting of the Board of Trustees, which would be illegal, according to the law. The suit also named more than 35 other alleged violations of the Brown Act.
Kittay, who was hired in 2015, presided over numerous changes to the Library services and facilities, but claimed that she was harrassed in her position for six months last year by three Board members — Bershatsky, former Trustee John McDonald, and Armando Zambrano — a group she called the “Male Majority.”
According to Kittay’s lawsuit, the group took issue with her, following her numerous accusations that the Board had violated the Brown Act.
Kittay took a medical leave in January 2018, and returned in May, only to be immediately placed on her current administrative leave by President Kahn, pending an “investigation.”
Kahn would not comment on Monday’s meeting.
The Board had also accused Kittay of sexual harassment, among other charges, but, said Gronemeier, “We have not seen that documented anywhere.”
Kittay has yet to return to her position.
While most of the sentiment in the room seemed to favor Kittay, some criticized her management style. Former Library Board Member David Datz, who participated in her hiring, told the Board, “There has been much talk about her being a ‘change agent.’ We didn’t want a ‘change agent.’ We wanted a director. She didn’t go slowly, and now lives have been ruined.” Datz did not elaborate.
“Usage and community involvement are up at this library,” countered former Pasadena Public Library Director Jan Sanders. “She has been an effective leader. We now have a strong, active, well-funded, and highly supported library.”
Numerous local residents and several staff members who worked under Kittay also praised her leadership.
Local activist and resident Monica Hubbard told the Board, “Some males don’t like Kittay’s style, but, she is a visionary leader, and has made impressive strides with the library.”
Resident Paula Cunliffe pleaded with the board to “put everything aside, and honor the process” to extend Kittay’s contract.
Resident Mark Goldschmidt echoed those comments, saying, “This situation is so sad. She has suffered harassment at the hands of the Board.”
“We need to get past the squabble,” he continued. “The library is different now, and people want her to stay. Can’t we just forgive the sins? Let’s renew the contract and just move ahead.”
Following the meeting, both Kittay and Gronemeier said they didn’t know when exactly Kittay would return to her position.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to change a mis-naming of David Datz, a former member of the Altadena Library Board of Trustees, whom had mistakenly been referred to as “Dale Datz.”