State librarian fired, but specifics remain elusive
SALEM — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown fired state librarian MaryKay Dahlgreen on Tuesday, an apparent surprise to the state's association of library professionals, the chair of the state library board and Dahlgreen herself.
While the Governor's Office says Dahlgreen failed to meet lawmakers' expectations, it did not provide specifics to the EO/Pamplin Capital Bureau.
Dahlgreen says the governor did not provide her with specific written feedback on her performance, either.
Dahlgreen had served as state librarian since 2012, and had worked for the state library since 1996.
The state librarian is appointed by the governor and subject to confirmation by the state Senate.
Kate Kondayen, a spokeswoman for Gov. Brown, said in an email Wednesday that Dahlgreen "fell short of clear and timely expectations from legislators, and as a result of these performance issues, did not have the Senate support necessary for confirmation."
"Once qualms about (Dahlgreen's) confirmation came to light, and in consideration of stability for state library staff and programming, the Governor's Office offered to pursue a collaborative transition out of the role. Ms. Dahlgreen instead chose to be terminated and leave the State Library under unplanned and immediate circumstances."
In response to that statement, Dahlgreen said she was "very proud" of the work she did during her tenure.
"The work I've done at the state library is the best work I've ever done," Dahlgreen said Wednesday. "I don't regret a minute of it, and I would also like to point out that I was never provided with written concerns about my performance."
Dahlgreen said that during some budget hearings, there were some times when she "was questioned very closely."
"And when I was asked to provide further information, I did that," Dahlgreen said. "I always followed up. There were some very pointed questions about my performance and my feeling is that I addressed every single one of those concerns."
The state librarian may not be a particularly high-profile job, but the Oregon State Library does important work, advocates say.
These include helping the state's public libraries to share resources and adapt to changing technologies; providing support for library patrons who are blind or have impaired vision; and assisting state agencies with research.
Three years ago, the Legislature changed how the state librarian is chosen.
It used to be that the state librarian was appointed by a group of trustees.
But in 2015, the Legislature passed a law that "grandmothered" Dahlgreen into the position until July 1, 2017, at which point she would be subject to gubernatorial appointment and senate confirmation.
That 2015 law also converted the group of trustees into a board and, advocates say, made its composition more representative of library patrons.
Dahlgreen says that in July, she approached the Governor's Office to find out what to do to apply for reappointment In December she was asked to provide "materials and a letter of interest" on the position.
She says her name was on the list of executive appointments that the Governor's Office submitted to the Senate Rules Committee, and she was supposed to appear at a hearing before the committee Feb. 8.
The day before that hearing was supposed to happen, though, she says she was told there might be a problem.
"I received a call from the Governor's Office telling me that there appeared to be some problem with my appointment with the Senate, and that they would look into it and get back to me," Dahlgreen said.
The Governor's Office followed up nearly a month later, on March 8, she says, and explained that she did not have support from the Senate and gave her a choice: resign or be dismissed.
After giving it some thought over the weekend, Dahlgreen chose to be fired.
"I believe that there was no reason for me to resign," she said.
Buzzy Nielsen, president of the Oregon Library Association, penned a letter to the governor expressing his concerns on Tuesday.
"Both the State Library and Dahlgreen have been invaluable partners in the Oregon Library Association's efforts to support libraries, library workers and the patrons they support statewide," Nielsen wrote. "We are confused about this seemingly sudden decision, made without consultation with key stakeholders and despite Dahlgreen's strong track record as agency head."
Dahlgreen's confirmation would have required a simple majority vote — 16 votes.
A spokeswoman for the Senate Republicans said Wednesday that she was not aware of any opposition to Dahlgreen in the Republican caucus.
Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, confirmed through a spokesman that the statement from the Governor's Office was accurate, but declined to comment further because it was a "personnel/performance related matter."
Ann Malkin, the chair of the State Library Board, said she thought Dahlgreen did a good job responding to the Legislature's requests.
"I think she was very attuned to what legislature was asking for, as was the board, and there was not resistance on any body's part to implementing those changes," Malkin said.
While she said there was concern from some lawmakers that multiple state agencies could be duplicating efforts and sought ways to consolidate those functions, Malkin said she thought that the state library and board had "been working diligently to accomplish the spirit of what the legislation had in mind."
In his letter, Nielsen indicated frustration with the decision to fire Dahlgreen without consulting the board.
"The State Library Board was not consulted in this decision, violating the spirit of cooperation with which we supported (the 2015 legislation) and silencing the voices of some of the State Library's most important constituents," Nielsen wrote.
In his letter to the governor, Nielsen also asked the association and board be permitted to provide input on the governor's next choice for state librarian.
"Our members possess expertise that will prove valuable for both short-term succession planning and for selecting a new State Librarian who will be accepted and respected in the Oregon library community, respect that is essential to the position and the agency's success," Nielsen wrote.
In the meantime, a meeting between Nielsen, the association's lobbyist and Governor's Office staff is planned for Thursday.