7/3/2012: B3:6/29/2012: A1:PC: Sandra Cooper

Sonoma County library director announces retirement

Sonoma County Library Director Sandra Cooper has announced that she will retire in three months after eight years as head of the system.

"After working in libraries for 46 years - and having had the opportunity to work with and for many wonderful people, I am ready to focus on my garden and my standard poodles along with hobbies (bridge, knitting, golf, etc.) that I have not had time to enjoy over all those years," she wrote in an email to staff announcing her decision.

She said she will leave her $150,820-per-year job in late September,

Cooper's tenure has been rocky in recent years, with critics, including members of the Board of Supervisors, attacking her management style. A county grand jury report last summer called her "unresponsive" to the public and county officials, and said she was arbitrary and micromanaging with her staff.

Cooper sharply denied those charges and received strong support from the county Library Commission, which supervises her.

"My opinion is that she's always had the best interests of the Sonoma County Library in mind," said Tim May, chairman of the commission. "We appreciated how she steered us through some really tough financial times."

Cooper's tenure was marked by a reduction in service at the system's 13 branches, which she ordered closed on Mondays in the face of budget shortfalls in 2010, a closure that remains in effect three years later.

May said Cooper "provided good leadership" through the financial turmoil.

The commission is likely to discuss when and how to replace Cooper at the July meeting, he said.

Cooper declined to speak to the press Tuesday, but her chief critics seemed to be looking forward to a new administration.

"I'm sorry she's left the library in a shambles but I am not sorry she is retiring," said Tom Popenuck, library lead building mechanic and chapter president of SEIU local 1021, the union that represents library employees.

He said management has been heavy-handed and chaotic and morale is at an "all-time low." Labor relations under Cooper have been frosty, with the union and management locked in a long-standing dispute over cost-of-living increases that employees agreed to suspend in 2009, he said.

Dena Bliss, founder of Sonoma County Save Our Libraries, an organization founded in response to the 2010 budget cuts, said the library system "needs someone with vision, excellent communication skills, an understanding of this county and a willingness to negotiate and collaborate," she said.

Bliss and other members of the group have been harshly critical of Cooper and the commission. They have called for the Board of Supervisors to take a more direct role in supervising the director, among other changes.

In the wake of the critical grand jury report last year, the supervisors agreed to take a new look at the agreement among the county and incorporated cities that created the current system in 1975. That process is likely to wrap up later this year.

While details are still under negotiation, Bliss said it appears that a revised agreement probably will revamp the library commission, including having representatives from all the participating cities. Currently, the seven-member board includes members from Petaluma and Santa Rosa and one from each supervisorial district.

It does not, however, seem likely that the new agreement will make more far-reaching changes, such as exerting direct supervisorial control over the system, she said.

May declined to speculate on the shape of the new agreement, but he said the board might decide to delay hiring a permanent replacement for Cooper until the new document is approved.

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