Director to face full agenda

When Spencer Watts walks through the doors of the Main Library on Goodwood Boulevard on Jan. 14, there will be plenty to do.

East Baton Rouge Parish Library officials say they will be looking for Watts, until recently director of the Mobile Public Library, to provide immediate leadership on the system’s policies and procedures while overseeing construction projects and working with city-parish officials.

Watts was selected in January by the Library Board of Control to serve as the system’s new director. He will take over the reins from interim co-directors Mary Stein and Patricia Husband, who have shared the role of director since the departure of David Farrar in late 2011.

When Watts starts, senior staff will begin an extensive policy review with him, to ensure he is familiar and is able to offer input on any parts he might want changed, Stein said.

Kizzy Payon, the library board’s chairwoman, said Watts will have to jump right into the system’s four construction projects. They include the Fairwood Branch, which is near completion; the new main library, which is expected to open in early 2014; the long-delayed Rouzan Branch, in which developer Tommy Spinoza has a Feb. 15 deadline to guarantee installation of infrastructure; and the new River Center Branch Library, now in the design phase.

“That is one of the number-one tasks he will have to take on,” Payton said.

Watts’ experience with managing construction projects was a key factor in the decision to hire him, board members have said.

Jason Jacob, a member of the library board, said Watts will have to start by repairing relationships harmed during Farrar’s tenure.

“The biggest thing he will have to confront will be repairing issues left by the previous director,” Jacob said.

Farrar resigned 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.

Payton said Watts will have to adapt to the culture of Baton Rouge.

“He will have to learn to maneuver in city-parish government, and learn who the players are,”” she said. .

Payton said Watts has an opportunity to build relationships with the Metro Council, which will have four new members.

Some members of the council have been resistant to the library’s plans for a new $19-million downtown library, and the council rejected a request from the library board in July to increase the salary range of the director.

Watts will begin at the top of the salary scale —$100,202, something he said during his interview process that he hoped would be changed.

A city-parish government salary study is under way.

Just weeks before he takes office, however, Watts said the pay issue was not at the top of his list of concerns.

“It’s not going to be one of my most foremost issues as I move forward,” he said. “It’s not in the top 10 of my priority list.”

Watts said current staff had been keeping him informed and that he was pleased with what he had learned.

“The library has a strong tradition of being real proactive at looking at new services,” he said, citing electronic magazine services and foreign language programs as two he liked.

Watts said he wasn’t ready to talk about changes he might make.

“I think it would be premature of me to say anything about that,” he said. “I see some things I might wonder about, but I am not there yet.”