We have long heard public officials profess the idea that government should be run like a business. That principle isn’t always practical, but the notion that government should manage its resources with a shrewd eye to getting the most bang for the buck is a good one to keep in mind.
By that standard, the East Baton Rouge Metro Council failed miserably in its recent decision not to raise the salary range for the next director of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library. The relatively modest pay range for the position right now is a classic case of being penny-wise and pound foolish. The council’s refusal to raise the prospective pay for the next director could greatly frustrate efforts to find a good candidate for the job.
The current pay grade for the library director is $72,388 to $100,202. The top of that range might sound pretty good to many Baton Rouge residents, but it simply doesn’t reflect the realities of the marketplace — which is something, by the way, that good business sense is supposed to embrace.
Stan Bardwell, a library board member who isn’t known for being a spendthrift with public money, supported the failed effort to raise the salary range for the new director. He noted that the library system has a $33.7 million budget, more than 500 employees, 12 current branches, and $100 million worth of ongoing construction. A top salary of $100,000 just doesn’t acknowledge the scale of responsibilities involved with the job.
Consider, by comparison, that as director of the East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission, Carolyn McKnight-Bray is paid a salary of $150,000 per year and an auto allowance. Bernard Taylor, recently tapped to be the East Baton Rouge Parish School superintendent, will be paid a base salary of $225,000 per year, plus incentives for school system improvement.
Library board officials had suggested increasing the pay range for the next library director to $115,588 to $160,000. The Metro Council failed to approve that proposal.
Some council members suggested waiting on a decision to increase the pay range for the library director until a study about the pay of city-parish employees, including the library director, is completed in December. But the library system has been without a permanent library director for months. Postponing a decision on the library director’s prospective pay until year’s end was impractical.
We don’t need a study to tell us that the current pay range for the library director’s position is too low. Common sense tells us that this is the case. Bardwell noted that Mary Stein, the library’s assistant director is paid more than $100,000 after working 28 years in the library system. Under the existing pay scale, the new director would likely be paid less than at least one of the director’s subordinates.
The library director position is open because former director David Farrar resigned last year after revelations that he had been convicted of a felony several years earlier. Before taking the position in Baton Rouge, Farrar had led a much smaller library system in Alabama. His limited experience did not seem a good match for the responsibilities he faced.
In the wake of the Metro Council’s rejection of a proposed increase in the pay range for the next director, some candidates from the job have withdrawn their names for consideration.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Library system is a crown jewel of our community. We need a talented and experienced steward of this great community resource. Maybe we’ll get a great new director to lead the library. But the Metro Council, in its short-sightedness, seems to be doing everything it can to discourage that result.