The City Has Three Finalists for Library System Director, and Two Come with Some Baggage

Back in late August we mentioned that the city had hired a search firm to find a permanent (well, you know what I mean) director of the Dallas Public Library System. Corinne Hill's been serving as interim director since Laurie Evans retired in June 2010, and by all accounts she's done a bang-up job (see: this) since taking over during fiscally tough times that have seen the city's spending on libraries plummet. (Tulsa -- yes, Tulsa -- spends more than we do.)

Yesterday we learned that the city has narrowed its list to three finalists: Hill; Juliet Machie, former deputy director of the Detroit Public Library; and Larry Frank, formerly the senior director of library services in Knox County, Tennessee. Assistant City Manager Forest Turner confirms this afternoon that he has interviewed all three within the past week, in Dallas, and that he intends to present to City Manager Mary Suhm the list in coming days in the hopes of "wrapping it up between Thanksgiving and Christmas, New Year's at the latest."

"When I talk to the boss, she may want to take longer," Turner tells Unfair Park. "We're just trying to make sure we're getting someone from comparable libraries, and I feel comfortable they meet all the credentials. They were all strong." But Machie and Frank don't come without some baggage.

Let's start with Machie, whose name is pronounced "Mackey." According to The Detroit News in May, she was ousted from her $145,000-a-year a gig because "an investigation found irregularities related" to the $2.3-million expansion of the Detroit library.

Reported the paper: "The library granted a $125,600 contract to a Chicago architecture firm to manage and design the South Wing, even though the company's initial bid didn't include any prices." Machie told the paper she had no idea what it was talking about. Even so, noted The Detroit News, "The expansion has also been criticized for lavish spending, including trash cans and chairs that cost $1,100 apiece."

Machie said she never knew about those chairs, which briefly became something of a national punch line thanks to Drudge. If she had, she said, she never would have OK'd their purchase. Her name also appeared in this piece about alleged nepotism in the Detroit library system.

In '09, she briefly served as Detroit's interim director. But that top job ultimately went to former Flint Public Library director Jo Anne Mondowney in August of that year. Machie also appears to have been passed over for the top job in Jacksonville in 2004 before landing in Austin in September 2005 as the assistant director in charge of public services. Her bio noted that she was also a doctoral candidate at Texas Woman's University in Denton at the time.

But she didn't last long down in Austin: According to the longtime director of libraries in Austin, Brenda Branch, Machie left shortly after arriving "for personal reasons."

So back to Detroit she went, where her contract was re-upped for three years in '09. But her name turns up this 2010 story out of Tulsa, where she's mentioned as one of the candidates in the running for that library system's top job -- a job that ultimately went to Gary Shaffer of Sacramento in November of last year. If you read that last piece, you'll also note that Larry Frank was a finalist for the Oklahoma job. Back to him in a moment.

The Google Machine also turns up this press release that appears to have been written by Machie in July in which she pitches her services as a library professional and "a thought leader." As in:

Juliet Machie, Detroit demonstrates innovation through vision, a clarified purpose and a focus on execution. Her vision is for every Public Library to become the organization that enables its community's potential. She has extensive experiences in leadership and executive library administration.

As a thought leader, Juliet Machie sees extensive potential for public libraries today. "We find ourselves at the intersection of opportunity and relevance. New skill sets required by the knowledge economy are bringing a different customer base to libraries in search of resources for transformation. Public Libraries can enhance their delivery on this mandate through a bold and compelling vision for library programs and services."

Larry Frank
Larry Frank

Now, then, to Larry Frank.

This confusing story from September of last year attempts to explain how Frank left Knoxville -- something to do with a new mayor there coming in and cleaning house because, apparently, he was too good. ("Knox County doesn't have the resources for that much creativity at this time," said the mayor's chief of staff by way of ... explanation?) It eventually turned into a ruckus over severance pay, with the added bonus of fears over potential litigation. But Frank had his myriad fans, among them The New York Times, which named him among the 2006 New York Times Librarians of the Year. And here's a glowing letter of recommendation from a longtime chief of staff in the Knox County Mayor's Office, which says, in part:

Mr. Frank also placed a focus on updating the Library's technology infrastructure. He nearly doubled the number of public access computers and increased the online offering of numerous resources. During tough economic times for all local governments, he was able to maintain quality services on an ever-tightening budget. Mr. Frank's management style is empowering. He allows his employees room to succeed and grow while always encouraging creative approaches. He would be an asset to any library system that is open to innovation and change. As his direct supervisor, it is without reservation that I give him the highest recommendation as a creative and progressive Library Director.

But here's the twist: In February of this year, Frank found a new job as director of Loutit District Library in Michigan. He was hailed as a proven leader, an idea man. But in April, just one week after he formally took over, he up and quit -- in large part, folks speculated, because his new job paid half of what he took home from his old one, even with $15,000 in moving expenses. Said Frank in a statement: "A different path has presented itself, and upon much consideration I have decided to take it." It remains unclear what that path was.

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