Mayor Stiers called out for library remarks

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Comptroller says state never told town to shutter library

By Beth Braden

 JELLICO — Mayor Les Stiers’ insistence that the state wants to shutter the town’s library isn’t accurate.

On Tuesday night, Stiers told Regional Library Director Susan Simmons Byrne that the town wasn’t able to fund the library as it had in previous years because of an order from Nashville to cut payroll by 25 percent and to close the library.

“The state wanted us to close it and we refused,” Stiers told Byrne. 

That isn’t true, Byrne contended. 

“[The state] wanted me to emphasize to you that the comptroller’s office did not want the library to be closed,” said Byrne.

In early October, librarians Mark Tidwell and Kimber Monday saw their full-time positions cut in half at what the mayor said was the urging of the comptroller’s office.

The town has been heavily scrutinized since it failed to meet payroll in October 2012. Since then, state officials have been closely involved in the town’s finances. In September, the board voted to come under direct oversight of the comptroller’s office. All expenditures must now be pre-approved through Nashville.

“She [Sandra Thompson, director of state and local finance] said ‘we’ve told you and asked you to shut the library down,’” Stiers relayed to the board at its October meeting. 

The move reportedly came after Nashville ordered a 25-percent cut in payroll expenses. Library employees were cut by 50 percent. It is unknown what, if any, other employees saw a reduction in hours. 

Moving Tidwell and Monday to part-time violated the maintenance of effort — an agreement that funding to the library will not be cut so the isolated town has access to the state library system. In extreme cases, such as Jellico’s, the state can extend a one-year waiver while a town gets its finances in order. 

Jellico’s waiver, faxed to Nashville by Stiers on Halloween, is missing several documents, Byrne said Tuesday night. 

“There’s still a lot of pieces to get together,” Byrne said. 

One of those pieces is a letter from library board chairman Johnny Byrge. A meeting between the Clinch River Regional Library and the Campbell County Library Board is set for 6 p.m. on Nov. 26 at the LaFollette Public Library.

In the meantime, Tidwell saw his hours reinstated to 40 per week by a unanimous board vote. They hope to bring Monday back to her previous schedule after the first of the year.

It was unclear where else cuts would be made in order to meet the 25 percent payroll reduction.