By New Times
By Connor Radnovich
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Ray Stern
By Keegan Hamilton
By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
The district was on the verge of opening a state-of-the-art, $6 million library on 32nd Street north of Bell Road to serve the northeast part of the county. While Stillwell was on vacation, she says, Pederson started negotiations to turn the building over to the City of Phoenix library system and give it $1 million a year of library district funds to operate it.
Even before Pederson's appointment, Stillwell had been caught in never-ending turf battles with the librarians of several Valley cities--including Phoenix library head Ralph Edwards--over the district's finances.
When it was created, the district was given taxing authority. City librarians wanted the county district to funnel some of the money to their operations, but Stillwell refused. She believed it was illegal for the county district to pass along tax money to city facilities, unless the cities involved gave up control of their libraries and folded them into the county system.
The fighting has continued since, despite legal opinions from both the county attorney and state Attorney General's Office backing Stillwell's interpretation of the law.
"The city librarians are not happy," says Dottie Smidt, a member of the county district's advisory council. "They want the dollars."
When Pederson, a former manager of two cities, arrived, he weighed in immediately on the side of the cities seeking money, Stillwell and others say.
"He was severely criticizing me and putting a lot of pressure on me," Stillwell says.
Stillwell contends Edwards and other city librarians have, along with Pederson, engaged in a "vendetta," hoping to remove her from office so the cities can tap the county district's budget.
"It's been a rather cowardly effort to undermine me," she says. Edwards bluntly dismisses Stillwell's assertions. Although he says he hasn't talked much with Pederson about the situation, Edwards acknowledges he would like to see Stillwell go.
"I don't think it's any secret. Anybody who knows anything about library service in this county knows I'd like to see a different person in that job," Edwards says. "We could get somebody who is cooperative and supportive rather than the situation we have had."
Stillwell's administration, he says, has not done enough to cooperate with city libraries, either through revenue-sharing or by providing other services. He accuses Stillwell of "empire building. She wants to take over all the libraries in the county."
But Stillwell's supporters--and there are many--say she has built the groundwork for a first-class library system. They contend she is being pecked to death by the politics that surrounded the district's creation.
The $6 million northeast library, they note, was built and paid for out of operating funds without requiring a bond issue or any debt, and was cheap at the price. The district runs 11 satellite branches and is the only local library system that sends bookmobiles to various parts of the county.
"It befuddles me why they are trying to get rid of her," says John Cordova, head of the library's Citizen's Advisory Committee and president of South Mountain Community College. "We have a highly competent professional. She's been very open from the outset. My observation of how she works with her staff, it's just superb."
Even Pederson has praised Stillwell's accomplishments in letters. But he has also been trying to fire her since day one, she says. In fact, one allegation in Wayne Collins' lawsuit against the county is that he was fired because he refused to dismiss Stillwell two years ago.
Pederson denies that he attempted to have Stillwell canned earlier, but both Collins and county insiders say it happened.
"The sore point between Pederson and Collins was this very issue," says one official who observed Collins' firing. Ironically, if Stillwell is finally pushed out, it may be one of Pederson's last major personnel acts, should Bruner step down and Pederson lose the support of a majority of the Board of Supervisors.
But critics say that even if he leaves soon, Pederson will have succeeded in running off a wealth of experience and institutional memory during his tenure.
"I think it's unfortunate," says former board member George Campbell. "I think maybe the board has allowed the county manager to have more authority than he should. There's a lot of inside politics that have been played.