While the staff’s approval of Tulsa City-County Library CEO Gary Shaffer significantly dropped, he took 41 work-related, out-of-state trips, a nearly four-month sabbatical and added more public relations services, according to records analyzed by the Tulsa World and FOX23.
Judy Randle, chairwoman of the oversight commission, said Shaffer was hired in January 2011 to make a cultural change, and his decisions have been approved by the commission members.
“Gary is a visionary,” Randle said. “Because of his education, he knows what the library needs, and he has the ability to interact with other people.”
The library manages a budget of about $27 million, largely coming from county property taxes. It also gets funding from the Tulsa Library Trust, a nonprofit supporting the system through private donors. Unlike state and city budgets, where shortfalls have led to layoffs and elimination of programs, the library has enjoyed a healthy bottom line.
“We have had very good management on our part,” Randle said. “Costs are going up, and we are fighting to keep expenses down.”
Travel and time off
Between 2012 and 2015, Shaffer was absent more than 108 days on out-of-state trips, in addition to vacation, holidays and the sabbatical. Some of his travel has been paid by outside entities or the Tulsa Library Trust. For comparison, directors in library systems including Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, Texas, and Little Rock, Arkansas, took no more than three trips last year, while Shaffer took 10 trips plus his sabbatical.
So far this year, Shaffer, who earns $171,966 annually, has taken six work-related trips to conferences and symposiums. In total, the cost has been $45,474.01.
Shaffer said in an interview with the Tulsa World and FOX23 that his travel is typical for leading library administrators, saying it is a time for collaboration and sharing of ideas.
“Tulsa is a global city,” he said. “Our churches, headquarters and companies work globally and nationally. Why not the library? We are a leading library system by paying attention to what other systems are doing.”
The oversight commission does not require travel for specific professional development but approves all trips.
“They want us to take trips,” he said. “They absolutely want the library to be out and visiting library systems and attending conferences. We want Tulsa to have the best library system possible, and you don’t do that by staying in your four walls serving up the same thing year after year after year.”
The commissioners have consistently approved travel requests without dissent. Randle said the expense and time was necessary for a library of Tulsa’s size.
“We do approve it all,” Randle said. “I think it’s important to have a CEO that is known. When we hired Gary, we wanted someone to take us into the next century. ... We can sit here at our computer and at our desk and look and read about the programs that other cities are doing. But, if you go there or send your staff there, that’s how all these programs become alive.”
Three international trips — China, Taiwan and Switzerland — were paid by other organizations. In June 2014, the University of Oklahoma invited Shaffer on a visit to Shanghai, China, paid by OU, the Chinese government and the library trust.
In November 2014, Shaffer represented Tulsa in a Sister City conference in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, for the opening of its central library, funded by the Tulsa Global Alliance and the library trust. In May, Shaffer went to Geneva, Switzerland, for the World Intellectual Property Organization, and that was paid by the Tulsa Library Trust.
Shaffer credits the professional travel for discovering the self check-out kiosks and customer relations management system and for improving children’s programming and book collection. He said it took two years of meetings for the Tulsa library to get the Cherokee language added to the Mango Language Learning program, which offers 60 languages through online classes in libraries across the county.
“If you want the best here in Tulsa, you have to go out and find it,” Shaffer said. “If you want to be a leader, you have to be engaged in Tulsa and outside Tulsa.”
Last year, the commission approved a sabbatical for Shaffer to finish his doctorate. He left on Sept. 15 and returned Jan. 12. He studied in Italy in a program about organizational sustainability and completed the degree in April from Simmons College in Boston.
Shaffer did not ask for his salary in the sabbatical request, but oversight commissioners offered and granted it. The agreement requires Shaffer to remain for at least three years or the salary — or a portion of the amount, depending on the time of the notice — must be returned.
“We just wanted, we just felt like, to give him something that year for that. ...That’s why we put it in. A library director of his stature with a Ph.D., there aren’t very many of them. We’re very fortunate to have him,” Randle said.
Since 2010, the library has approved four other employee requests for time off to complete a degree, according to information provided to the Tulsa World and FOX23. Also, 72 employees have received adjustments in their work schedules to pursue more education.
In Shaffer’s absence, Chief Operating Officer Kim Johnson is in charge.
“But it’s a team effort,” Shaffer said. “I have a laptop. I have a phone. They are in communication with me. I’m in full communication with Tulsa.”
Adding public relations
Before Shaffer entered the library profession, he worked 15 years in a private public relations firm. Since he took over the Tulsa library, he added a contract for outside public relations work in addition to the existing full-time staffers handling communications internally and with news media.
Propeller Communications has been receiving monthly payments since December 2012 for a total of $113,835.40, in records provided to the Tulsa World and FOX23. The library has two experienced public relations/communications employees — Jackie Hill at a salary of about $71,000 and John Fancher at $52,000. Propeller’s contract as a library consultant has a starting date of July 1, 2013. Since then, the firm has been paid between $2,500 to $5,000 a month.
Shaffer said the firm was needed as the Central Library began renovation, which displaced employees through the system. The Central Library closed in the fall of 2013 to begin its $55 million transformation. About $25 million came from property taxes and other public funding, and the rest was raised by private donors.
“The contract we have is very typical of an agency, particularly when you are undergoing a huge thing — the Central Library,” he said. “The library system still operates. The public relations office still has to do everything they normally have to do. Now, we are opening up a Central Library.”
Some of the services by Propeller Communications include building a website, assisting in the creation of an intranet system for employees and promoting events. Among the responsibilities of the full-time staff are handling media releases, producing the monthly Tulsa Book Review and also promoting events.
“If you look at the results of the PR office in combination with the firm, you will see how much media coverage we are getting. It’s pretty substantial,” he said.
Jesse Boudiette, founder of Propeller Communications, said the vast majority of his clients have in-house marketing staff but often need outside services. The Central Library project has been a significant undertaking along with internal changes, he said.
“It is very common for governmental entities to contract out for PR marketing counsel,” Boudiette said. “The reason they hire us is with something specific they need, and we have the level of expertise and experience to complement their staff. We do the same things, but they have an unusually big project coming up that will burden their job in addition to their normal duties.”
Shaffer said the staff has been happy with the work of Propeller Communications. The contract, which was approved by the library commission, does not have an end date.
“As long as someone is adding value, you keep them on board,” Shaffer said. “The beauty of using a firm like this is that you can end when you wish to.”
In a library workplace survey conducted in 2013 and 2014, the majority of staff reported satisfaction with nearly all aspects of their environment, including salary and equipment. The only exception was with Shaffer’s performance.
The Singer Group conducted the analysis at a cost of $16,000. The report comparing the two years was released last year.
When asked, “How satisfied are you with each of the following aspects of your job?” employees’ view of Shaffer fell from 53 percent to 37 percent. Those not satisfied at all or not very satisfied grew from 20 percent to 32 percent.
Shaffer said the surveys were held at a time of upheaval from the Central Library move. Since then, he said, he has started visiting the branches more often, meeting with staff one on one and inviting employees to tour the Central Library construction.
“I was surprised they weren’t worse, honestly,” he said. “What we were doing with the system — with Central and changing staff — some people thought we’d never close Central Library. The fact we did so well on those measures is extraordinary. I credit staff, and I credit the commission, their leadership and their foresight.”
The previous Tulsa library CEO, Linda Saferite, was criticized for being absent from the workplace after the commission approved her to work from home two days a week.
When asked by the Tulsa World and FOX23 if his time away due to travel could be part of the low-employee approval, Shaffer said it wasn’t.
“There may be one or two who wish they could be going somewhere,” Shaffer said. “But, trust me, traveling in coach on a plane these days is not a fun experience. ... I don’t like the experience of traveling. I do like the learning that happens. That’s the key part.”
Randle agreed with the results being skewed by the changes happening at the time.
“Right after the moving ... there was a lot of unhappiness,” she said. “I think it’s been a lot calmer.”
The commissioners use a different matrix when considering Shaffer’s raises, Randle said. She would like to see an updated employee survey after the opening of Central Library.
“We’re very concerned and pay attention to those things,” she said.
Library directors and trips, 2015
Tulsa City-County Library, central library and 23 branches
Gary Shaffer, $171,966 annual salary
Nine trips — American Library Association mid-winter conference, Innovative Directors symposium, Tulsa Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce visit, National Library Legislative Day, American Library Association conference, Urban Libraries Council event, visit to the Cincinnati, Ohio, library, Orange Boy Idea Exchange meeting, Tulsa chamber intercity visit
Sabbatical — Approved by the oversight commission for him to finish his doctorate degree, from Sept. 15 to Jan.12
Oklahoma City Metropolitan Library, central library and 18 branches
Tim Rogers, $150,000 salary
Three trips — American Library Association conference, Public Libraries of America conference and National Legislative Day
Fort Worth, Texas, central library and 15 branches
Gleniece A. Robinson, $155,571 salary
Three trips — Urban Libraries Council, National League of Cities Education Alignment National Briefing and Urban Libraries Council Conversation on Effective Summer Learning in Libraries
Little Rock, Arkansas, central library and 17 branches
Nate Coulter, $135,000 salary (hired in December)
One trip so far this year — American Library Association conference
*Previous director was the head for 27 years and took no trips. His last out-of-state trip was in 2009 to visit a children’s library in North Carolina. He opted to send assistants and librarians to specialty conferences. One trip by staffers was to Tulsa to look at the self check-out system.
“I can see the new director taking more trips to conferences. He was approved for the American Library Association conference,” said spokeswoman Leeann Hoskyn.
Wichita, Kansas, central library and 7 branches
Cynthia Berner, director, $136,601 annual salary
Two trips — Innovative Directors Technology Symposium and Activate Wichita Development Team in Kansas City, Missouri
Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376