Farmington library director enters third month on leave

Farmington Community Library Director Riti Grover has entered her third month on leave, with no sign of what the future holds.

Riti Grover
Riti Grover (contributed)

Trustees have held several closed meetings to review privileged information from consulting attorney Mike Blum. It’s unclear whether they discussed Grover’s status. The board previously authorized Blum to investigate unspecified employee complaints, including two against trustees.

Board president Jim White on June 10 acknowledged the frustration of closed meetings. He said Grover moved that day from paid administrative leave to a “leave of absence,” based on library policies.

‘No confidence’ vote

Trustees voted on April 15 to place Grover on leave, after a “no confidence” vote. Danette Duron-Willner made the motion, citing a lack of trust and failure to keep board members informed of critical issues.

“The symptoms of the turmoil and the lack of trust indicate to me that we lack health,” she said.

Trustees Bill Largent, Renee Murphy, and Paul Huyck opposed the motion. Murphy blamed the board’s leadership, while Largent laid problems on White. He later urged Farmington city council members to remove White from the board.

Farmington and Farmington Hills each appoint four trustees to the district library board. Largent,  Grover’s most outspoken supporter, recently resigned. Last month Huyck declined his reappointment. Farmington Hills officials have not yet filled the two vacant seats.

Controversial furlough

Hired in November 2019, Grover replaced Elyse Streit, who resigned after a year of turnover on the board and clashes with Largent. Grover started in January 2020; a statewide COVID-19 shut down closed the doors in mid-March.

About five weeks later, during a special meeting, trustees voted to furlough all but “essential employees”. Grover and the personnel committee determined only about 15 percent of the library’s 100-plus staff would remain.

Over strident objections from the public, the furlough remained in place through the fall. Grover called back some staff as the library moved through a phased, re-opening plan.

In July, a coalition of residents and library staff members formed Restore the Farmington Community Library. The advocacy group has tracked board meetings, pushed for full staffing, and called for Largent’s resignation.

The group has also challenged information coming from Grover, most recently about video cameras.

Board meeting accusation

During a March 18 board meeting, former library technology specialist Michael Shereda alleged that Grover installed video surveillance cameras, purchased by trustee Renee Murphy, in the administrative offices.

Grover said she had removed the cameras, but White said he’d seen them the previous week. (Listen to a recording here; comments start around the 3:28 mark.)

Murphy also said she knew nothing about a video camera or recordings. However, the Restore group secured receipts through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that show she purchased–and received reimbursement for–a Blink Mini 2 video camera last October.

In a statement made during the board’s May 13 meeting, Murphy said she purchased the camera because the library credit card “could not be used”. She said police recommended security cameras after acts of vandalism and theft.

Grover: Police, counsel recommended cameras

That fits with Grover’s response to a Farmington Voice request for more information:

“There were acts of possible vandalism and theft of library property in (the) director’s office during spring and summer last year,” she wrote in April. “(The) library’s legal counsel and Farmington Hills Police department advised installing handy camera as preventive measure to discourage anyone with ill intent and to provide safe work environment.”

Grover said she never activated the cameras, because White felt that “would create (a) barrier in building trust.” Following a possible break-in on March 18, she said, Farmington Hills Police Crime Prevention recommended installing surveillance cameras in several locations.

Farmington Voice secured copies of Farmington Hills Police calls to the 12 Mile library between January 1, 2020 and April 9, 2021, and found no official reports of break-ins or vandalism.

Operations Bureau Assistant Police Chief Daniel Rodriguez said police had investigated the possible unauthorized access of an employee’s email, but the detective couldn’t determine whether that had happened.

Moving forward

Earlier this month, trustees approved a new budget and bumped the salary of interim director Kelley Siegrist, who stepped in when Grover left. Concerns over a COVID-related decline in property taxes, which some trustees cited as a reason for the furlough, proved unfounded.

The fiscal year 2022 budget includes a 4 percent salary scale increase, as well as a flat 4 percent merit increase. Trustees also cut professional fees–which had ballooned during the furlough–to pre-COVID levels.

Library staffing remains low, but the budget includes salaries for open positions. Whether that will include hiring another library director is anyone’s guess.

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