The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Little tidbit of the past shows up for forward-looking library; past director Barkema wins jobless claim on top of $65,170 in severance benefits

In Cedar Rapids Public Library on April 21, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Much of the news about the city’s flood-damaged main library is forward-looking. The library board is now hoping for a spectacular new library at a new site to replace the empty, flood-damaged one on First Street SE.

The library board and the City Council last week said they will ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency to approve their request to allow the city to build a new central library at a new location. FEMA can permit the building of a new facility at a new location if the existing building has sustained more than 50 percent damage. FEMA has concluded that the main library did in the 2008 flood.

The City Council will approve the letter to FEMA this week.

Another tinier tidbit of library information has surfaced this week, too. It is backward-looking.

The city has decided not to appeal an unemployment claim filed by former library director Lori Barkema.

Barkema resigned a year ago, leaving with $65,170 in severance benefits. The total included about $15,000 in unpaid leave and four months of salary and benefits, the city said then.

Barkema subsequently filed for jobless benefits. Initially, a state of Iowa claims representative denied her jobless claim, saying that she resigned voluntarily.

However, Barkema appealed the decision to a state administrative law judge. That judge, Steven Wise, ruled in Barkema’s favor in December. The city could have appealed the decision to the state Employment Appeal Board, but has chosen not to, Conni Huber, the city’s human resources director, noted on Tuesday.

In the administrative law judge’s decision, he concludes that Barkema did not really have a choice but to leave. The library board offered to let her resign in the face of what seemed likely termination, so she didn’t leave of her own choice, the judge says.

“To voluntarily quit means a claimant exercises a voluntary choice between remaining employed or discontinuing the employment relationship and chooses to leave employment,” Wise states in his December ruling. “The unemployment insurance rules provide a claimant has not voluntarily left employment if the claimant was compelled to resign when given the choice of resigning or being discharged.”

The ruling also provides a look into the process that led to Barkema’s departure from the library in April 2008.
The ruling says:

In January and February of 2008, the library board created an ad hoc committee to look at “concerns regarding” Barkema’s job performance. Barkema addressed the concerns with an action plan, a plan that the board found “inadequate.” The board then hired a consultant, John Langhorne, to evaluate matters.

Langhorne interviewed Barkema, library staff members and board members. He determined that a “significant lack of trust” between Barkema and the board and that the trust was “damaged beyond repair,” according to the administrative law judge’s ruling.

Langhorne and Joe Lock, a library board member on the board’s ad hoc personnel committee, then both met with Barkema. According to the judge’s ruling, Langhorne told Barkema she needed to resign or the board was going to terminate her. Lock knew that Barkema’s mother had recently died, and he suggested to her that “this would be a good reason to give the public for her resigning,” the judge’s ruling states.

The judge states Barkema “reasonably believed” that she had been given a choice, and she chose resignation over termination because she did not want to be discharged.

In an e-mail to Barkema’s attorney on April 23, 2008, the city’s attorney’s office stated that, “Lori was not asked to resign, but allowing her to resign and accepting it is very much part of the consideration here.”

She resigned and the library board accepted the resignation later that day, the ruling states.

An employer may be justified in discharging an employee, but the city presented no evidence of any misconduct by Barkema that would justify the denial of jobless benefits, the judge notes.

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  1. Good thing the library board was advised by Conni Huber, the City’s Human Resources Director thru the entire process – the same Conni Huber who Jim Prosser gave a $ 10,000 a year raise to -retroactive no less. This is the same Conni Huber who less than a week ago announced that seven people would be let go from the library; and whom I am sure would claim there is no connection between having to find the money in a library budget by laying off front line staff to cover the failure of an unprofessional and fouled up termination process. A termination process that she, as the lead Human Resource person in place for the city, was responsible for to see that it was done correctly and not expose the city to unnecessary risk exposure and a waste of tax dollars.

    I wonder who will step up in front of Council and offer this amount be taken out of their paycheck by claiming ownership of the decision; Conni Huber or Jim Prosser?

  2. With the city not wanting to fight this they are admitting that they were in the wrong.Then to tell her to lie and say she was leaving due to her mother’s death.That is absolutely uncalled for
    and very inconsiderate.If Lock is still on the Library Board then he should be asked to resign.

    We have a City Council that we can’t trust and it looks like it’s just running over into the other boards.

  3. I forgot that Conni Huber got that big raise.How many days elapsed from the time that “High Rolling,Speed Dial” Prosser saw fit to give those outrageous pay increases to the time that seven people were laid off at the library?Now Cedar Rapids has to pay unemployment for how many people just from the library alone then you add on the big pay raises.No wonder there’s no money in the kitty to give CRPD more funding.With the way this City Council has been spending money,we could have bought several brand new helicopters.Prosser and City Council,do you know that we are in a recession or doesn’t that matter.Oh well,not too many more months and we can give you walking papers,so maybe you should all start packing.If you need empty boxes just let me know.

  4. Why does Cedar Rapids need a library? How about a County library? How about using the Marion or Hiawatha library?

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