By Patric Hedlund, with G. Meyer
In what some local readers have called “public pillorying in Bakersfield media,” The Bakersfield Californian reported on November 26 what reporter James Burger and his editors called “questionable work habits” of the Kern County director of libraries.
From September 20, 2011 to October 31, 2011 the Kern County General Services Department placed a GPS device on the county vehicle used by Library Director Diane Duquette.
Among other things, The Californian charged the library chief with infractions such as “manag[ing through email,” attending Rotary meetings during the work day and stopping for personal shopping while obtaining matting and framing for items to be placed in the new Frazier Park Library.
The Mountain Enterprise is reviewing the GPS records, gasoline card charges and administrative calendar entries from Duquette’s county computer.
In The Bakersfield Californian’s online version of the story, Burger mixes up the months he says Duquette did her shopping, citing dates as October which existed only in September.
Other charges are that Duquette attended job interviews in other counties without taking a vacation day, and on one occasion received a reimbursement from the Chula Vista library for travel when expenses were also covered by her county gas card.
Duquette has confirmed to The Mountain Enterprise that she has been placed on “paid administrative leave.” She turned in her county car on October 31.
She said she does not have access to her library computer system or email account.
The series of critical stories by Burger and his editors began shortly after the opening of the Frazier Park branch library on Park Drive. Over half of the $6.3 million project was paid by State of California funding, won through a rigorous grant research process directed by Duquette.
District 4 Supervisor Ray Watson said during the ribbon cutting ceremony that her work put the project in the top 10 percent of statewide applications. The other half of the funding was allocated by Kern County. The project has been in development for about 15 years. Specific questioning has arisen about providing the building with custom artworks.
Duquette has been known statewide as a whirlwind networker who has brought an entrepreneurial style to public service for 24 years with the county. She is a “policy wonk” who rarely speaks of any subject for longer than 5 minutes without bending it back around to relate to her job. She has built or expanded about 22 libraries in Kern County since she was hired in 1987.
“The main library [the Beale Memorial Library on Truxtun Avenue in Bakersfield—Editor] had just broken ground when I was hired,” Duquette said. She was hired to direct the development of the county’s library system. “There wasn’t a specific building program at that time. Now we have developed a 300-500 page document for building projects, which is also necessary for qualifying for state bond funding.”
Sixteen leasehold buildings have been remodeled and six new libraries have been initiated and completed under her management.
“McFarland, Lamont, Delano, Arvin, Kern River Valley, the Beale and Frazier Park are all new buildings,” she said during a fact-checking interview with The Mountain Enterprise on November 28. About 1997 she began the research and development needed to obtain state funding for a library serving the Frazier Mountain Communities. It finally opened its doors on October 22, 2011.
Duquette’s attorney, Barry Bennett of the firm Bennett & Sharpe in Fresno, specializes in law related to public employees. He said there is no hearing or legal action being initiated at this time by the county against Duquette, to his knowledge. But he observes that, “I believe there are some specific members of the board of supervisors who don’t like Diane…. And I believe they want the money she’s been able to raise independently [under the independent Kern County Library Foundation] to go into the general fund. Some of those have been big donations, in the five and six figure category.”
Public art and architecture reflecting the cultural environment of the communities being served have long been important components of building public spaces in the nation’s public libraries.
“Under the Kern County Library Foundation we’ve made art acquisitions with an art committee over several years that match the themes of each library. When we are doing art, it is all about the right work for the right building,” Duquette said.
“Tehachapi was a new leased building with special art. In Rosamond we had art commissions. We had also [received] donated work. I had designated funds for art through the foundation for some projects. For instance, money for artwork could not be funded by the bond act that funded the Frazier Park branch. The Library Foundation donated money. The rest of it was “built in” construction, such as the stained glass and the storybook entryway in the children’s section.
“In Rosamond we had airplanes that were commissioned to be built and installed as part of construction. We had a neon sign with a bomber flying through it as part of the interiors. That also was part of the construction budget. That project also allowed art to be included in the bond-funded project.”
Noted Mountain Community plein aire artist Roberta Jean Owens of Pineridge was tapped to provide commissioned and donated artwork to Arvin and Lamont branches reflecting the world of nature surrounding those communities.
In past interviews, the library director has discussed her duties to recruit participation in the Kern County Library Foundation’s funding efforts to benefit the county’s public library system, including recruiting donations from business people and other Bakersfield contacts. In that context, she gives frequent presentations to Rotary International members at meetings around the county about the system, its needs and its services.
“In the last several years I have gone to [give] over 20 presentations. My goal was to hit every single Rotary meeting in Kern County,” Duquette said.
Rotary is a primary networking organization between government and business interests in Kern County, These reporters have attended two meetings in which Duquette gave presentations to Rotary groups.
Of particular interest to Burger is the job interviews which Duquette allegedly attended driving a county car, on county-paid gasoline, during normal working hours. At least one of these visits is noted on Duquettes’ administrative calendar as a “libray tour.”
Duquette is well-known as a thorn in the side of the Kern County Board of Supervisors when budget cutting time rolls around. She is a fierce defender of the library system, and has been sharply effective in the past at using statistical data to illustrate the increase in public use of the county’s libraries in hard times, even as service hours and staff positions are being cut and the acquisition budget for new books has been slashed by the county to less than 1987 levels.
This is part of the December 02, 2011 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
Have an opinion on this matter? We'd like to hear from you.