By a 5-0 vote, the East Baton Rouge Parish Library Board of Control decided Saturday to offer its top job to Spencer Watts, of Mobile, Ala.
The offer includes an annual salary of $100,202 and is contingent on a criminal background check and Watts passing a drug screening test. Watts must also obtain certification from the State Library of Louisiana.
When reached by phone after the vote, Watts said he was very pleased, but had not decided whether to accept the offer. Watts is currently the director of the Mobile Public Library.
“It’s been an overwhelming couple of days,” he said. “I don’t have the full details of the offer yet.”
Watts said he and his wife would talk it over and, hopefully, make a decision in a few days.
“We have a lot to weigh, because we only knew a certain amount about the job and Baton Rouge,” he said. “We had some interaction with the staff, but it was very compressed.”
The decision to offer the job to Watts capped a two-day whirlwind visit during which he toured library branches and the city, met library staff members, gave a presentation and sat down for a Saturday morning interview with the Library Board.
Watts said he and his wife were very impressed with the library system and the city of Baton Rouge.
“In some important respects, it reminds us of Mobile,” he said. “We certainly found the community as a whole to have lots of charm.”
Two members of the seven-member board — Tanya Freeman and Derek Gordon — were absent for the interview and vote.
Board member Travis Woodard said Watts arrived with positive recommendations.
“We had no comment from anybody that was not a strong recommendation,” he said. Woodard said the board’s search firm had contacted vendors, acquaintances and colleagues of Watts. “There was not a single person that had anything negative to say.”
The $100,202 salary offered Watts is the top possible pay for the job, according to city-parish guidelines.
Watts, who has been the director of the Mobile Public Library since 2001, said the library board’s salary offer would amount to a pay cut for him of a “few hundred dollars.” In an interview Friday evening, Watts said he hoped the salary that comes with the position could be changed “in a short time frame.”
“The current salary is inadequate,” he said.
On July 25, the Metro Council rejected a proposal by the Library Board to increase the library director’s annual salary range to a minimum of $115,000 and a maximum of $160,000.
Of 33 people who originally applied for the position, seven withdrew from contention, four of them after July 25. Two of the withdrawals were on track to be recommended as semifinalists, said Dan Bradbury of Bradbury Associates/Gossage Sager Associates, the firm engaged to recruit the new director.
Some Metro Council members advised waiting for the results of an in-progress salary study, which is expected before the end of the year.
Watts said during the interview the East Baton Rouge Parish Library system has a good reputation.
It is a “forward-moving, progressive library system.”
If hired, Watts added, his focus in the first year would be on learning all that he could about the library system and the community.
Watts asked the Library Board to name the immediate needs a new library director would have to address.
“Our construction projects and our facilities projects,” Library Board President Kizzy Payton said. “The new director will have to come in and hit the ground running.”
Watts’ experience overseeing library construction projects was cited by board members as an important factor in offering him the job.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Library has two branches under construction, a third that has just completed the design phase and a fourth in the design phase.
A new director will have to work within the city-parish’s political structure to “make sure these projects will stay on track,” Payton said.
Board member Stanford O. Bardwell said a new director also will have to rebuild trust with the staff.
Those relationships “were in a free fall,” he said. “I think that will be your first real hands-on issue, to establish the trust and integrity of the position.”
Watts, if he accepts the board’s offer, would succeed former director David Farrar, who resigned in December after information became public about a 15-year-old Alabama criminal case in which he was accused of sexual abuse and impersonating a police officer.
The trial judge threw out the jury’s conviction on the two sex abuse charges, but let stand the impersonating a police officer conviction, for which Farrar received a three-year suspended sentence.
Since Farrar’s departure, assistant directors Mary Stein and Patricia Husband have shared the director’s duties and the title of co-director.
Neither Stein nor Husband applied for the position of director.
Payton, who was the Library Board president when Farrar resigned, said she thought the board had made a good choice in selecting Watts.
“We did not make a speedy decision, but we made the right decision,” Payton said. “I am very pleased with it.”
Watts was the only one of five semifinalist candidates invited to Baton Rouge. The five were interviewed via Skype on Aug. 4.