Hennepin County Library Director Chad Helton, who has been under fire for running the library system from his condo in Los Angeles, has resigned his position.
County Administrator David Hough notified library staffers of Helton’s resignation in a memo Friday. A search process for a new director will likely begin later this year, he said.
As part of a settlement agreement, Hennepin County will pay Helton $60,000 for “emotional damages” and $15,000 to St. Paul law firm Collins, Buckley, Sauntry & Haugh, which represented him. There was no explanation of what the emotional damages were. The county will pay for Helton’s health insurance through the end of 2022.
The agreement also states that “Helton and the county agree not to disparage each other … to the extent not inconsistent” with state law.
Helton did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
Helton announced last summer that he had permanently moved from the Twin Cities to Los Angeles and planned to direct the county’s 41 libraries using remote video conferencing.
That decision was criticized by leaders of two unions representing library employees and many library staffers, who said they believed the director should live in the community and regularly visit the library sites.
It was learned last month that Helton was one of two finalists for the job of chief librarian with the Seattle Public Library. Shortly before his interview with the Seattle library board, Hennepin County officials announced that he had taken an unpaid leave of absence on Feb. 2.
A spokeswoman for the Seattle Public Library said Friday in an e-mail that the library board is expected to make its decision at a meeting on Wednesday.
Hough said Assistant County Administrator Dan Rogan, who had been assigned to work with the library’s executive team while Helton was on leave, will “expand his role” and serve as interim library director.
According to Hough, Rogan “will work … on all areas of library business while continuing to oversee the wider operations line of business.”
County Board Chair Marion Greene on Friday said the settlement was “voluntary” and that she wished Helton well. None of the county’s seven commissioners publicly criticized the arrangement that allowed Helton to work from Los Angeles.
According to the settlement agreement, Helton actually resigned on Feb. 1, though the resignation was not finalized and signed by Helton until Feb. 8.
Word of Helton’s resignation spread through the library system late Friday as staff members received the news in the e-mail announcement from Hough.
“I think everybody was pretty happy about it,” said Shane Clune, a member of the library clerical staff at the East Lake Library in Minneapolis. “There is some confusion why the director of operations for Hennepin County is taking over when we have two deputy directors at the library.”
However, Cathy Fischer, president of the board of the Friends of the Plymouth Library, said she had had a recent e-mail conversation with Rogan about a library issue and was pleased with his prompt response and with the outcome. “I think having him in charge of the library system in the short term is a good thing,” she said.
Ali Fuhrman, president of AFSCME Local 2822, which represents county clerical workers including the library support staff, said that Helton “was absent when we needed leadership and the people who showed the leadership were the frontline staff who served the community throughout this whole pandemic.”
Helton was named library director in 2020. The library system temporarily closed as the COVID-19 pandemic spread and most other county employees began working from home. Hough approved Helton’s decision to work from Los Angeles at least through the end of 2021, saying that the county needed to be flexible to attract top talent.
However, public sentiment turned against the county and Helton over the arrangement. Hough announced in December that supervisors could no longer live outside of Minnesota and Wisconsin without obtaining an exemption, and indicated that supervisors of workers who interact with the public should live in Minnesota. County officials haven’t said whether Helton applied for an exemption to the policy.
During the interview process with Seattle library board members, Helton indicated publicly for the first time that he had moved to Los Angeles to undergo eye surgery. He said he had undergone five eye surgeries and that he needed to wear sunglasses because of his eye condition.