The Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library System may soon be getting a permanent executive director for the first time in more than a year.
The library system’s board of trustees met Monday with two finalists out of an original list of 12 applicants for the position, according to Tommy Brown, vice-chair of the library system’s board of trustees. The library board has asked that the names not be made public until someone is officially notified that they have been chosen for the position.
The library has been without a permanent director since Dec. 15, 2015, when the board voted to fire former director Michael Sawyer. Then-president Donna Mooney said the firing was due to differences between the board and Sawyer regarding library advancement methods. Much has transpired in the interim.
Interim Library Director Taylor Eubank and the board launched a campaign for a $14 million tax increase called Jumpstart Jefferson County, with the goal to fund construction of a new library in Pine Bluff and upgrades to branches in White Hall, Watson Chapel, Redfield and Altheimer. The campaign succeeded on Nov. 8, when voters passed separate millage increases for Pine Bluff and Jefferson County.
Stevan Dalrymple took over the interim director position when Eubank resigned in November after the election.
Vice-chair Tommy Brown said the board formed a search committee for a new director roughly a year ago, but most of the board members’ efforts were devoted to the millage campaign until after the election. Thereafter the search for a new candidate accelerated.
The board received roughly 12 applications after advertising the position on the internet, in newspapers, trade locations and looking into referrals from the Arkansas Library Association, Brown said. The board interviewed four candidates via teleconference on Skype, then conducted in-person interviews with two candidates on Monday.
The board was primarily looking for experience managing libraries and the ability to work with community leaders as the representative of the library, he said.
“We’re looking for depth of experience, variety of experience, leadership and visionary skills, because we’re going to be building a new library, and that’s important for this community,” Brown said. “So we need to have someone with good leadership to put a good, top-quality face on the library.”
Brown said the board hoped to have the new executive director at work by mid- to late January. Until then Dalrymple will continue as interim director.
Board members have previously said they are looking at Main Street between 6th and 12th Streets for sites to build the new library. The library is expected to be 35,000 square feet, board member Ann Talbot said.
A working group of Talbot, Eubank and architect Fred Reed has narrowed the search for a site for the new library to three parcels downtown, Talbot said at a past meeting. The board on Wednesday voted to table a request by Talbot for $3,000 to hire an appraiser for the three sites until after a permanent director is hired, so that the new director could be involved in the process.
Some trustees also said the money would likely have to come from the recently passed bond measure, which they said will not start accruing until the summer.
“We could spend $3,000 and someone else could buy [the property],” Gunter said.
Pine Bluff voters approved the library millage by a count of 9,710 to 4,875, board member Stephen Bronskill said in November. The measure, which will fund construction of the new Pine Bluff library and renovation of the Watson Chapel branch, adds 3.0 mills on property tax bills in Pine Bluff. Currently the city levies a 1.60 millage for maintenance and operation of public libraries. One mill equals a tenth of a cent. The measure will sunset after 30 years and raise $14,060,000.
Jefferson County voters passed a separate millage increase for the county to raise $1.2 million for renovation of the Altheimer, Redfield and White Hall branches. The measure, a millage increase of about three dollars per year, passed with 5,380 people for and 4,957 opposed, Bronskill said. It will sunset after two years.