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Librarian fired after 28 years, locals protest

Posted: April 11, 2013 - 8:37pm  |  Updated: April 12, 2013 - 8:21am
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Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Sharen Sleater, of Soldotna, wipes away tears during community testimony about the recent firing of Soldotna's librarian Wednesday April 10, 2013 during the Soldotna City Council Meeting in Soldotna, Alaska.  More than 50 people attended the meeting and spoke for more than an hour voicing their disapproval of the matter.
Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Sharen Sleater, of Soldotna, wipes away tears during community testimony about the recent firing of Soldotna's librarian Wednesday April 10, 2013 during the Soldotna City Council Meeting in Soldotna, Alaska. More than 50 people attended the meeting and spoke for more than an hour voicing their disapproval of the matter.

There were a lot of tears at Wednesday’s Soldotna City Council meeting.

For more than an hour, residents of Soldotna, Kenai and Nikiski took turns castigating the city manager and council for the surprise termination of Soldotna Public Library director Terri Burdick.

Several common themes wove through the public testimony that came from friends, family, former library employees and patrons as they laughed over her exuberant costuming during story time, unwavering support of the library as a hub of the community and their shock and disappointment with the way city manager Mark Dixson fired her.

Several, including Burdick, questioned why the 28-year city employee was fired without being given a reason.

“I’ve been on the library board for quite awhile,” said Marge Hays, of Soldotna. “I realize that people that know anything about this can’t say anything, so we’re sort of in the dark. Legally, it may be the right thing to do, but we do want to stand up for a lovely woman who has done an awfully good job as the library director.”

Since Burdick’s dismissal Monday she said she has struggled with embarrassment and despair.

“You can’t fight against that, but I feel sad. I do have so many people in the community that have felt that I’ve done a wonderful job for the library and that kind of stuff and to have somebody come in and treat me like this is kind of a low blow,” she said. “I haven’t even left my house because ... when people hear this from the newspaper or the radio they’re going to go, ‘Oh, sour apples.’ But, I haven’t done anything criminal to get fired.”

Dave Carey, President of the Friends of the Soldotna Library, said he was surprised and sad for the community when he heard of Burdick’s dismissal.

“I was concerned that Terri (wasn’t) being treated fairly and justly and that is still my concern,” he said.

Carey, like several other people in the audience, spoke of children in his family visiting the library because Burdick made them feel welcome.

“The world is not fair, but I want her treated fairly,” Carey said.

Lingering questions about the reasons for Burdick’s dismissal hung heavily on several people’s minds as the addressed the council; Burdick said the uncertainty of not knowing why she was fired has made coping with the situation more difficult. She, and several people who spoke in her defense, speculated that her lack of a library degree could have prompted the dismissal.

“I’ve said these words before, they’re kind of strong but, to me, it feels like the heart and soul of the library has been ripped out, it will never be the same again,” said Jeanette Pedginski. “Library directors are available out there with degrees, you can’t get a library degree in Alaska when you’re living here. You have to do it by correspondence — people don’t look well on correspondence degrees — or you have to leave the state. Not all of us have that opportunity, even if we had the desire, to leave the state to get a master’s degree in library science.”

Pedginski said she had worked for Burdick for two years and while the two had their differences, they had worked through them.

“That’s the problem that I have with this situation right now is, when you have a problem with somebody you work with ... even if it’s legal to fire for no cause, it’s morally wrong,” Pedginski said.

Others, like Rosie Reeder, said the city manager’s short time with the community did not compare to Burdick’s years of service.

“I’m upset that someone who has served as city manager for such a short time has taken it upon himself to let someone go that has given us 30 years of service,” Reeder said. “There are ways that things like this should be handled and I don’t think this was handled appropriately. I’m sure it was legal, in fact, I’m positive it was probably legal, but I don’t think it’s right.”

Dixson, who spoke after most of the public testimony, said he would not talk about the specifics of Burdick’s termination, but had not been aware that she did not have a degree.

“I struggled with it, it wasn’t made in a vacuum, it was made with the complete thought that I was going to see all of you people here this evening and I expected this,” Dixson said of his decision to fire the librarian.

Dixson said he was not, however, at peace with the process he was required to follow once he decided to terminate Burdick, a process several in the community characterized as disrespectful.

“It was the most horrifying experience that I have ever done in my life,” Dixson said.

Still, Dixson said he stood by his decision to fire the librarian.

“If you want to hate me for that, that’s fine,” he told the crowd. “I’m not paid to be popular, I’m paid to make decisions for the benefit of the city, its residents and its employees and I apologize that I’ve caused you such anguish.”

After the meeting Dixson said he contacted Carey and asked if the Friends of the Soldotna Library was willing to spearhead an effort to praise Burdick for her years of service.

Dixson said he was also happy with how respectful the community had been, despite their criticism of his decision.

“I’ve been in meetings before where people haven’t been respectful,” he said. “As county attorney back east, on several boards making decisions and giving unpopular advice, I’m used to it. I’ve been called every name in the book in public. These people, I thought, were very nice in their comments. I still say it’s a great community and it’s great that people come out and express their concerns and do it in a respectful and appropriate way.”

 

Rashah McChesney can be reached at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com

 

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Offcenter
42
Points
Offcenter 04/12/13 - 09:56 am
6
0
city manager

If the Mark Dixon cannot provide a legitimate reason for firing the librarian, then the city council should revisit its decision to have Dixon as city manager. This isn't the East Coast. This is Soldotna, and people shouldn't be treated this way.

robert white
378
Points
robert white 04/12/13 - 11:10 am
3
0
fired

I would be very interested in who he hires!!

LaFern
147
Points
LaFern 04/12/13 - 11:17 am
1
5
Wait for details

I haven't heard anything but bad things about the Soldotna library in the past 10 years or so and most people I know prefer to drive to Kenai's if they have to use a library. I prefer the Kenai library myself as the Soldotna is always ho-hum for service and availability. It will be interesting to see the details come out after the initial reaction period about what exactly happened to warrant a change now after fumbling along for so long.

The Kenai library staff is fantastic!

Chris jenness
10
Points
Chris jenness 04/12/13 - 11:48 am
8
1
Missing the point

I think most people would disagree with you as to the service and usability of the Soldotna Library. Regardless, the issue is not whether or not the Soldotna Library was doing well, the issue is the manner in which a dedicated public servant, someone who has given her every waking hour to the education of children and the promotion of the arts and literacy in her community, was so shabbily treated. This is a major embarrassment for the city of Soldotna and it was not the way Terri Burdick deserved to end her tenure.

Suss
3912
Points
Suss 04/12/13 - 02:47 pm
5
0
Acting Mayor Hartman

Acting Mayor Hartman was at the helm, no one else but her could have signed off on this tragic termination. Let's get the facts on the table and learn how and why Soldotna thinks this is how to treat a valued employee. Anyone check with New York to see if Dixon has a history of employee relations fiascoes?

Norseman
3593
Points
Norseman 04/12/13 - 05:44 pm
7
0
...."the 28-year city

...."the 28-year city employee was fired without being given a reason...."

This is plain crazy. What is the city thinking of firing a 28 year employee and not giving a REASON she is being fired. Every employee at least deserves a reason as to their termination.
The community deserves an answer.
I see an out of court settlement on it's way.......

SXQ
65
Points
SXQ 04/12/13 - 06:27 pm
3
0
Unbelievable!!!

Terri Burdick gave 28 yrs to this community, not to mention she is a wonderfully kind and generous person !!!
What have Dixson and Hartman added to our community???
In my opinion, this is bullying and abusing power and I don't like bullies!!!...
As far as I am concerned Dixson and Hartman can go back to where they are from and take their lower 48 mentality with them, you are not needed or wanted here!!!! Lets clean up Soldotna's trash!!!

jimbob
74
Points
jimbob 04/12/13 - 08:11 pm
7
0
Mayberry Politics

Dixson obviously is carrying out a vendetta from a majority of council members and as some have suggested probably with the leadership of Hartman. Continued pressure and a long memory will correct these deficiencies. Dixson may decide that the grass is greener elsewhere. I suggest that the community should demand the firing of Dixson and the resignation of Hitman Hartman when hopefully Burdick seeks redress in the courts. Any settlement, and I hope it is large will come from the taxpayers pockets and was totally avoidable. They are a dangerous gang, the Soldotna bunch of council connivers. Remember their skullduggery and never vote to put them back in office. To you Dixson: Your impotent apology is hollow. The audacity of you of all people, proposing to start an effort to praise Burdick after you destroy her carreer! You have given your approval of the community hating you. So shall it be. Maybe Soldotna is not the place where a sleazy eastern lawyer belongs. May your tenure be short.

Sam Von Pufendorf
1088
Points
Sam Von Pufendorf 04/12/13 - 11:07 pm
1
0
At will employer/employee

Unfortunately, Ms Burdick more than likely falls under the definition of an "at will employee." In other words, she can be terminated without cause. Her only recourse would be to prove it was a dicrimate termination. It is sad but true. Unless she is a represented employee, she can be let go without cause as long as it is legal and within Federal and State discrimination laws.
This does not make this instance of termination right, but as long as there is no disciminatory basis for her termination and she is not represented by a collective bargaining agreement, this is more than likely a legal termination.

Norseman
3593
Points
Norseman 04/13/13 - 06:26 am
7
0
28 years of years dedicated

28 years of years dedicated service to this city and they fire her without cause or reason may be legal, but it sure as heck is plain wrong.
She, and we deserve an answer whatever there reason may be.
If they remain cowards and will not state a reason, then a campaign against those involved shall begin for either recall or outright termination. We can get them fired too if enough of us complain. And the reason for them being fired will be very clear.

Anyone who works for 3 decades for a public service DESERVES at least that much.

sc
34
Points
sc 04/13/13 - 07:24 am
4
0
Shocked and appalled

I have to say that I am so disappointed in the city council of Soldotna for allowing such an injustice and abuse of power under their watch. I was at that meeting and Mr. Dixon himself made statements which I found very troubling. He stated that he had never even looked at Terris' personnel file and had no idea that she had no degree. Really?? Amazing!! Then Mr. Dixon, you are either lying or you are incompetent!! You mean to tell us that after being on the job as Terri's direct supervisor for just a few months you fired her without telling her why and without even looking at her file? I truly think its time for a new city manager and when election time comes, new council members! What a shame to dismiss such a dedicated employee after so many years of loyal service. I say shame on you City of Soldotna!!!

SXQ
65
Points
SXQ 04/13/13 - 07:36 am
4
0
Pull together

I think that Soldotna should pull together and petition to get Dixson and Hartman fired...
As far as I am concerned this "At will employee" status is absolutely ridiculous and shallow...
Hopefully we can run the bullies out and regain our tight little community back to where it was!!!

Suss
3912
Points
Suss 04/14/13 - 07:13 am
8
0
Irony

Hartman introduced an ordinance to move the time for council meetings from 6:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. ostensibly because there was a lack of public attendance, well that passed the same night as the outpouring of citizens for the unfair termination. The City may get by with the firing of an at will employee but the citizens are able to vote and recall any elected person. The Soldotna city manager Dixson previously rewrote and the council passed the new job description for the librarian at this very same meeting, calling for specific educational and work requirements that will be a limiting factor on whom they hire. The more troubling conduct of the council is while they want greater educational requirements for the librarian; this very same council has just recently reduced the educational requirements for the Soldotna Police Department. This is not the direction the Police should be going. They are also rewriting the City Clerk position to remove the college degree requirement.

Hartman an employee of the Hospital introduced the resolution against a proposed private medical facility located in Kenai. How is a privately owned clinic in Kenai a concern for the City of Soldotna? It is not; further Hartman’s introducing the ghost written resolution appears to be on behalf of her employer, the CPH. The very next council meeting after the Hospital vote was the introducing of ethics and conflict of interest rules so there was at least a marginal awareness of the impropriety of Hartman’s actions.

cheapersmokes
1037
Points
cheapersmokes 04/13/13 - 10:15 am
3
0
Recall them all after you stop all severence pay!

Send them all packing and replace the whole crew of spineless wonders. There is no reason to let her go and she is grandfathered in on any requirements for a degree also.

granny
169
Points
granny 04/13/13 - 12:05 pm
3
0
"benefit of the city"

"I'm paid to make decisions for the benefit of the city,"
One or two people shouldn't be able to define "benefit" when it involves the public domain, whether it be employment or land use or whatever. Sounds like a lot of people don't agree with the newbie city managers "benefit" decision. This is why there is a place for organized labor, so an employer can't just arbitarily dismiss an emplyee (let alone such a long term employee) without even the decency to tell the employee the reason. I am a private sector, non-union resident of Kenai, who finds such treatment of a fellow worker morally,if not legally wrong. Every system needs checks and balances.
M Schrag

Suss
3912
Points
Suss 04/13/13 - 01:33 pm
5
0
Dixson Diktat

Dixson may not have felt like there was any authority greater than himself after the last mayor went to Juneau and Hartman was in charge. The city council and acting mayor let their dog loose and now the public is aware nobody was watching or in control. Dixson is smart enough to have a contract with the city, but he is dischargeable and can be "Dixsoned". Does anyone else think that Dixson is a phonetically appropriate sounding name. If there was a preferred librarian in waiting for the newly available position they had best not know Dixson or Hartman, and if they do know Dixson or Hartman, good luck with the vetting you will be subjected to. Small towns have their advantages and their disadvantages.

Jilliannn
12
Points
Jilliannn 04/13/13 - 07:14 pm
3
6
For the Record

I lived in Soldotna when Ms. Burdick became a librarian there - some 30 years ago. I was an impressionable start of a teenager then, and I would say Ms. Burdick was not passionate about her job, and quite frankly did not seem to enjoy working with people. I received eye rolling when I asked for help, and witnessed more than once the tension you could just feel between her and her peers. I chose not to return much to the Soldotna Public Library, even though it was simply a few blocks from my home. I left one day feeling like I had totally ruined her day for asking about a periodical table; I wasn't just uninspired, I was a little bit scared to return. I think I was about eleven then. Like many, after that I went to the Kenai Library as often as I could.
I would imagine Ms. Burdick received feedback as such at the time, and it sounds like she maybe changed a bit. In any case, thirty years at a job is no simple feat, and I would hope people view this more as a retirement.
I also want to mention that I would think twice about what Mr. Dixson had to do. Whether you like him or not, he is a smart man. Perhaps there is more to the story than what meets the eye. Do you think this is something he or the Board or the City would take lightly, knowing the backlash? Also keep in mind, although Alaska is an at-will state technically, it also falls under the covenant of good-faith and fair dealings. Therefore decision bred out of malice are illegal and prohibited. I bet if someone asked Ms. Burdick really truly why she thought she was fired, she might have some sort of inclination or thought about what it could be attributed to.
On the flipside, dealings such as this demonstrate the pros and cons of having a union to help support something like this from happening, if it doesn't support merit. Otherwise, what can someone do?

Suss
3912
Points
Suss 04/13/13 - 07:52 pm
3
0
Library Director

This may be a qualified contender for the opening.

Endicott Incorporated Village -
Library George F Johnson Memorial,
Director Maria Dixson in Endicott, New York (NY)

Library Director
George F. Johnson Memorial Library
1991 – 2004 (13 years) Endicott NY
Library Director managing day to day administration of the library staff, facility & collection

SXQ
65
Points
SXQ 04/13/13 - 09:25 pm
2
0
How Ironic!

I heard today that Maria Dixson was head of some library!!! What a coincidence, firing the Library Director and Dixson's wife is a Library Director!!!!

sc
34
Points
sc 04/13/13 - 09:34 pm
0
1
Qualified contender

While I may be no fan of Mr. Dixsons' I really don't think that its appropriate to involve his wife. I fully believe that what happened to Terri Burdick was reprehensible,but I certainly don't think that there should be any mud-slinging. I find it highly doubtful that he would be foolish enough to hire his wife, I see a HUGE conflict of interest there. As a side note, I didn't realize until I saw her name, but I have met Mrs. Dixson on several occasions, and found her to be a very kind lady. I am even more disappointed with the city council for not correcting this grievous injustice done to Terri Burdick.

jake
63
Points
jake 04/14/13 - 08:21 am
0
0
For the Record?

Notice how the statement "On the flipside, dealings such as this demonstrate the pros and cons of having a union to help support something like this from happening," got 5 points but the one about the wife potentially getting the new job received 1000.

Massey Ferguson
9
Points
Massey Ferguson 04/14/13 - 08:40 am
5
1
Lot of Gall

It amazes me that Dave Carey can throw stones at Mark Dixson, whom he hired at the Borough, for doing the same thing he did himself as the Borough Mayor. His cavalier attitude towards "at will" employees was incredibly cruel and unfair, yet, here he is criticizing Mark. Carey called Richard Campbell, who was home sick, to come in to the office and clear out his desk, after 25 years employment, with no explanation given for his firing. He did the same thing with Bonita Miller and others.

He who lives in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, Carey.

SXQ
65
Points
SXQ 04/14/13 - 03:30 pm
2
0
Vile at its best!

Corruption within the walls of Soldotna's White House!!!

helmboy
3
Points
helmboy 04/14/13 - 06:43 pm
1
0
Terri

This is a travesty. Mark Dixon's wife is a librarian. He is on the fourth month of his six month probation. He gets paid 100,000$ a year with incremental 5,000$ raises to do this? I emailed Bagley and he said he spoke to Dixon and knows why this happened and supports it. He knows but Terri doesn't.

They aren't working for us. They are working for this man. We don't have a voice. Terri is the first dirty deed he's up for. Call the city hall 262-9107 and blast this deed. Get your friends and groups to do this. If Terri isn't safe after talking this city into building a new library, who is? What about you and me? What crap deal is this man going to do next? In two months we are stuck with him because his probationary period is up. 100k a year to screw us all with the backing of the brain dead city council. Its up to you and all of us to have any change. Do it soon.

hookum
6
Points
hookum 04/15/13 - 12:43 am
4
0
Do you maybe just think the

Do you maybe just think the releasing of Teri from her position could have been handled differently? Just maybe. Did you offer her the option of retiring? Guess not. If this is best for the city, couldn't you have used some gentler alteratives? Guess not. Couldn't the goal have been accomplished without a black eye for the city? Guess not. Are we always going to handle employee terminations with the «at Will» policy? Guess so. A very sorry day for all Soldotna employees, Councilmen, Commissioners, Committee members, board members and volunteers. Are we proud to be part of our City? Guess not today.

corinnep
288
Points
corinnep 04/15/13 - 05:33 pm
4
0
Confusing

Mark Dixson is the CEO of Soldotna and Terry Burdick's supervisor and yet he acts like he had no choice but to do things the way he did. Ridiculous.

This is what comes of hiring someone who had no experience as a city manager. Not to mention poor personnel management and people skills, obviously. When will Soldotna (and Kenai) learn?

Allen
636
Points
Allen 04/15/13 - 05:47 pm
0
0
For the Record

Total Soldotna library hours per week open: 55
Total Kenai library hours per week open: 60

Days per week Soldotna library open after 7 pm: 2
Days per week Kenai library open after 7 pm: 0

Fri-Sat-Sun hours:
Soldotna: Fri 12-6, Sat 9-6, closed Sun
Kenai: Fri 9-6, Sat 9-5, Sun 1-4 (winter only)

Looks pretty similar to me, with a slight edge to Soldotna for having later evening hours, so you don't have to choose between the library and dinner with your family.

SXQ
65
Points
SXQ 04/15/13 - 06:29 pm
4
0
Removing Dixson and Hartman

Is there any way we can have Dixson and Hartman terminated?? What does the community need to do to get them removed?

Norseman
3593
Points
Norseman 04/16/13 - 07:07 am
4
0
Is there any way we can have

Is there any way we can have Dixson and Hartman terminated?? What does the community need to do to get them removed?................

Of course there is. All we have to do is mount a campaign that says if these yahoos are not "fired at will", then everyone who is currently on the city board will be undergoing a recall election asap.

We have no need for this type of calluseness in our small town.

Debbie.S
12
Points
Debbie.S 04/16/13 - 08:36 am
2
0
A fabulous librarian and a loss to the community

I am devastated by the news that Terri was removed from her position as Library Director in Soldotna. I have worked in a number of libraries in different states and am now the Director of a public library in Iowa, and I can tell you that Terri is one of the most devoted librarians I've ever met. She brings a spark of energy and creativity to everything she does, and she does her job very well. My husband and I went out of our way to use the Soldotna library when we lived on the peninsula because Terri always made it such a welcoming place. Her outreach to the community is exceptional, and her work with children is superb. I had the opportunity to interview for a job at the Soldotna library and it was and remains my favorite interview I've ever done -- and I didn't even get the job! I hope anyone that has any power to reverse this decision does so immediately. You will not find a better Director than Terri Burdick!

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