Mid-Columbia Libraries chief fired after contract proposal

By John Trumbo, Herald staff writerJuly 17, 2010 

KENNEWICK -- Danielle Krol, former executive director of the Mid-Columbia Libraries, was fired after using the library district's attorney to draw up a more lucrative contract for herself, public records show.

Krol was looking to cut a deal for another five years as boss of about 130 employees at 11 branch libraries when she came to what proved to be her last board meeting.

Instead of a getting a 4.5 percent raise, a package of perks and job security, Krol was fired on the spot.

And the library district board docked $2,052 from her final paycheck to cover unauthorized legal expenses for preparing that contract.

A Herald investigation found that Krol, who was hired in 2004, did not have board permission to consult with the libraries' $180-an-hour attorney, Diehl Rettig, to draft a new employment contract.

Public records indicate the board didn't know anything about it until Krol unveiled her new contract to a board subcommittee and Rettig's bill was submitted in early May.

But Krol, contacted Thursday in Tucson, Ariz., by phone, said she informed several board members about consulting Rettig about drafting a new contract as early as February, so it should not have been a surprise.

She said she wrote a letter to the chairman of the board's personnel committee May 24 suggesting she and the district split the legal costs 50-50.

"I didn't feel I should pay for all of it because Diehl told me he didn't see a conflict and could easily defend his working on it," Krol said.

Library board members have been reluctant to talk about what they discovered in their investigation, but on May 17 they voted unanimously to fire Krol "without cause" after a 90-minute executive session. They agreed to pay six months' severance on her $110,000 annual contract that was to expire Dec. 31.

Rettig died May 12, days after drafting Krol's contract, but not before he told board members it was not unusual for a public agency employee to consult with its attorney about renewing an employment contract.

Two board members declined this week to discuss why Krol was fired and would not say if the questionable expenses triggered her dismissal after six years on the job.

But a termination letter to Krol, included with 150 pages of public records provided to the Herald, said the library district was "advised by the state auditor's office (it) is obligated to recover back from you certain attorneys fees paid to its law office in regard to services sought by you in regard to developing your potential replacement contract."

Krol asked the board to reconsider.

But Fran Forgette, a former partner of Rettig's who now represents the library district, replied in a June 2 letter: "Since the board did not authorize the contract work in question, the board is unwilling to change its position. ... This decision is not one that is totally within the control of the board. The final word on this resides with the state auditor's office."

Forgette also wrote the district was reserving the right to seek reimbursement for any other expenses or financial obligations the board determined Krol owed the district.

In addition to the severance pay, which includes 327 hours of accumulated vacation and personal leave, Krol wanted the district to pay her expenses to relocate to Arizona and to reimburse her for early termination of her apartment lease.

"The board rejected (both requests) as being an inappropriate use of public funds," Forgette's letter said.

The board also chose not to provide a letter of recommendation that Krol wanted.

Public records obtained from library officials show Krol did not receive a job performance evaluation from the board during the past three years, except for two annual interviews by the board -- which gave her pay raises in 2008 and 2009.

The Herald's records request also turned up no record of disciplinary actions, nor any commendations in Krol's personnel file.

"Every year I never got a written annual review, but the board gave me raises five years," Krol said Thursday.

"If the board had included any dissatisfaction with my performance, I would not have consulted with Diehl Rettig. I have no clue why the board fired me. It was a surprise to me," she said.

Monthly legal billings from Rettig's office show the times and hours he spent drafting the employment contract for Krol to use while negotiating with the board for continued employment.

Billing records for two weeks in April indicate he spent at least 61/2 hours on the contract, charging the district about $1,150.

Most of the billing records' detail was redacted by the library's attorney citing attorney-client privilege, which prevented a determination of the total legal costs of preparing the new contract.

But one entry on April 14 that was not blacked out said it was for three hours to "prepare initial draft of Danielle Krol's employment contract."

Library district staff e-mails for May and June revealed the June 2 follow-up letter to Krol.

While Rettig told the library board it was not uncommon for a public agency attorney to do such work, the practice does raise legal ethics issues.

Rowland Thompson, executive director of Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington based in Olympia, said having the library executive director use an attorney being paid as the board's legal adviser appeared at the least to be a conflict of interest and may have been an ethics violation by the attorney.

"That's atrocious. It's bad all around," he said. "He'd be working both sides, and he can't do that. I think the library district shouldn't have to pay the bill."

But law professor Samuel Donaldson of the University of Washington said the ethics question centers on whether Rettig normally took direction from the board or from the executive director.

"Did the lawyer have reason to believe he was acting at the behest of the organization?" Donaldson asked. If not, he said, there could be an ethics problem.

Forgette said his former partner Rettig handled the library account so he didn't know specifics of what Krol wanted. "I don't know what went on because I wasn't there," he said.

As for descriptions of legal work on the monthly billings, Forgette said those entries can be misinterpreted because they are not meant to be precise.

The May 2010 billing from Rettig, which included work on Krol's employment contract, was for $4,788.

His average monthly bill to the district for the previous 12 months was $3,253.

Library board member Sandra LePage and Gloria Garcia, current president of the board, said they had known nothing about a new contract being drafted until Krol told them about it in late April.

But it was too soon then to think about a new contract because seven months remained on the current contract, they said.

"We had no idea why they were working on it so early. We were in no hurry, so we decided not to take it to the full board," LePage said.

The district board's personnel committee never presented the new contract to the full board, LePage said.

Krol said she wanted to get the new contract in place by June 1, which was seven months early, so it would coincide with her annual job evaluations.

The proposed contract was not considered, but the fact that Krol had Rettig prepare the draft did raise the board's concerns about possible misuse of public money.

"I questioned it, but (Rettig) said it was common practice," LePage said.

Garcia and LePage said the board has become more aware of the need for closer oversight.

"Once we saw the legal billings, there were lots of things we wanted to ask (Rettig), but obviously we can't," LePage said.

After her firing, Krol asked the board to let her travel to the American Libraries Association conference in Washington, D.C., in June so she could look for a new job.

The board said no, sent someone else in her place, and let her paid reservation for air travel go unused.

-- John Trumbo: 509-582-1529; jtrumbo@tricityherald.com

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