Members of the Baltimore County library board of trustees usually deal with issues such as budgets, library rules and staffing — but in recent months, the panel has found itself in the middle of a political dispute.
A disagreement between the board and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz began in the spring when the executive proposed transferring 28 information technology positions from the library system to the county Office of Technology.
Now the board has a whole new look after Kamenetz replaced most of the seven-member panel last week. His administration says new appointments are unrelated to the dispute, but some believe the replacements were retaliation for those who questioned the IT transfers.
"The ones that disagreed with Mr. Kamenetz are now being replaced," said Carol Buell, a member since 2008 who was not reappointed. "I have a problem with that. That's pure politics."
Buell and other members of the previous board had hired an outside law firm for advice after plans came to light to move the IT positions.
Kamenetz has worked to consolidate services throughout county agencies since he took office in 2010, saying it saves taxpayer money and makes government run more efficiently. But some considered the library plan an overreach of authority.
Though the library system is funded through the county, its operation is autonomous, with policies set by the trustee board. Critics contend the positions require specialized knowledge of library science, and the change could hurt services.
In June, the board told the county it had decided not to pursue litigation; that was reinforced Friday when the new board formally voted to halt legal action against the county and fire the outside law firm the previous board had hired.
"Many of the issues seem to be resolved," said John Holman, the board's new president. He had been the lone member of the previous board to oppose pursuing legal action against the county.
Holman and Frank Regan, who still has a few years left in his term, are the only members remaining from the previous panel. The county executive did not reappoint Buell and former president Sharon Knecht, even though the board had recommended they be reconfirmed for new five-year-terms. Their terms had expired last year.
Knecht had been outspoken about the IT transfers, complaining to the County Council that the administration had not sought board approval.
To replace Knecht and Buell, Kamenetz appointed Chip Hiebler, who is retired from the county IT office, and Mike Netzer, academic dean of the School of Applied and Information Technology at the Community College of Baltimore County.
Don Mohler, Kamenetz's chief of staff, said the new appointments are not related to the disagreement over the IT positions. The addition of Hiebler and Netzer is intended to give the board technical expertise, he said.
Kamenetz believes "their specific skill set would be invaluable as we try to make sure Baltimore County is on the cutting edge of … implementing new technology in our library system and delivering services to our branches," Mohler said.
The executive did appoint three new members the board recommended — Jane Eickhoff, Aaron Slater and Paul Schwab — to replace people whose terms were expiring. He also reappointed Holman, a move the board also recommended.
Mohler said that after negotiating with the board, the county ultimately agreed to leave eight positions with the library system.
Assistant library director James Cooke told the board Friday that the way the county handled the transition created anxiety among staff, but the library is trying to move forward.
"It's going to be an adjustment, but we are making progress," he said.