Former Anchorage Library staff painted a harsh picture of library work place under its deputy director Judy Eledge at a Friday work session of the Anchorage Assembly.
Former staff talked about “questionable” and “unethical” decisions, low morale among staff and infighting among senior staff members about the library’s direction.
Leaders from three advisory and support boards closely affiliated with the library also described a breakdown in how they normally work with library staff. And the city ombudsman, Darrel Hess, described a slew of other complaints from more than a half dozen staffers.
“In 10 years and dealing with 15,000 people, I have never seen so many municipal employees in one facility of one department come forward with similar complaints,” he said.
The Friday work session followed news articles outlining worker complaints about offensive comments allegedly made by Eledge and a toxic work environment under her leadership.
Eledge is a Republican Party insider and former educator who has been serving as acting library director since August, though her position is technically deputy director.
The Assembly invited the Bronson administration to a meeting about the concerns on Friday, but Hans Rodvik, an administration spokesperson, said staff was not available. Rodvik did not respond to a request about why a representative couldn’t attend but said that individual Assembly members could schedule a meeting with city manager Amy Demboski to explain municipal operations.
Rodvik said earlier in the day, city manager Amy Demboski toured the library with the conservative news blogger Suzanne Downing.
Eagle River Assemblymember Jamie Allard left the meeting, which she was attending by phone, after calling it a “witch hunt” on Eledge.
Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance and vice chair Chris Constant sent a letter to Demboski on Thursday with a list of 13 questions to be answered.
Among their concerns was unfilled staffing positions.
Cristy Willer, the chair of the Library Advisory Board, a community advisory group, penned a letter to the mayor and city manager in mid-May listing 24 library positions she believed had not been filled. She said at the time, only four of those positions were listed on the city’s job page.
Willer also raised concerns in the letter about a decision to close the library on Sundays, which was also made in late May, and a recent announcement that the administration had selected Robert Hudson as its new director. The director position has been vacant since Eledge was appointed deputy director in November, but staff said Eledge has been performing the role of director.
Willer told the Assembly both decisions had been made without her group’s input, a break with previous practices.
“These are all critical, impactful issues that have been decided without the advice of the advisory board and our knowledge or input,” she said.
Kim Hays, president of the Anchorage Library Foundation, said the breakdown in communication had made fundraising harder for her group. She said some past donors had reached out with concerns.
“We’ll get a note saying, ‘I don’t want to do my normal donation until I feel better about the library,’” she said.
Hays also said previous working relationships between the group and library staff had broken down. She said in the past, library staff had helped her volunteer group send letters to donors and apply for grants.
“Normally we’d have staff members applying for mini-grants,” she said. “I haven’t seen that this year.”
Three former staff also testified at the meeting. Among them was the recently resigned adult services coordinator Stacia McGourty, who said that Eledge’s leadership was the main reason she left.
“There were some questionable decisions and unethical decisions being made that I didn’t agree with,” she told the Assembly.
McGourty sent a letter to Human Resources in April outlining her complaints. McGourty said Eledge had made a unilateral decision to stop allowing patrons into the library who carried more than one bag.
“While she says it’s not to keep unhoused individuals out of the library, it’s pretty clear who this is targeting,” she wrote.
It’s unclear what, if anything, human resources did to respond to McGourty’s email. McGourty said she did not receive a response.
Alaska Public Media obtained several records of HR complaints by library staff since February, but because complaints are confidential, it’s not clear how many employees complained. It’s also not clear what action, if any, HR took following the complaints.
Ombudsman Darrel Hess told the Assembly that the first two employees who contacted him in March said they were not comfortable going to Human Resources because they told him the director is “very politically vocal and active.”
“I did not feel that a recommendation from me would go anywhere,” said Hess. He instead referred the staffers to the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission and to the Office of Equal Opportunity.
Several staff spoke to the director of the Office of Equal Opportunity, Heather MacAlpine, but she was fired before she shared the complaints with HR.
City manager Demboski wrote in response to the Assembly leadership’s list of questions that it would take time to answer. As of Monday afternoon, Assembly leaders said they had not received answers to the questions.