Mesa working to rid library of ‘culture of fear’ - East Valley Tribune: News

Mesa working to rid library of ‘culture of fear’

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Posted: Sunday, April 27, 2003 10:43 pm | Updated: 12:59 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Mesa will spend the next year and several thousand dollars trying to erase a “culture of fear” in its library system, which was discovered during a sexual harassment investigation of library director Patsy Hansel.

“There's issues of trust and morale that are just concerns on the part of the library employees,” said Debbi Dollar, deputy city manager. “We've got to heal the damage that's been done.”

Hansel, who makes $110,000 a year, is being disciplined following a city investigation that concluded she sexually harassed a female employee. The woman who was the target of her harassment is moving out of the main library branch at 64 E. First St., where Hansel works.

Still to be dealt with are the broader issues concerning Hansel and staff members. According to a city report released April 18, more than a dozen current and former employees interviewed during the investigation expressed “intensely negative” feelings about Hansel's management style.

“Terrible. Dictatorial,” read sone employee's comments about Hansel in the report. “Hostile, dishonest, vindictive, oppressive, attempts to intimidate. Enlists others to spy, tattle and talk about others.”

As a result of the findings, the city plans to spend about $5,000 to hire a consultant to bring management and staff closer together, Dollar said. There are about 200 paid library staff members. A “leadership coach” under contract with the city will be moved to the library to provide even more help for Hansel, she said. Finally, a departmentwide management study will be launched next year to determine whether conditions have improved. Mesa officials said spending the extra money and resources on Hansel is worth it, despite the sexual harassment that occurred.

“It's a very complex matter, but she has the skills to lead the library,” said City Manager Mike Hutchinson.

Hansel, 54, was hired as Mesa's chief librarian in early 2000 after longtime director Vince Anderson retired. She has master's degrees in library science and history and has worked in libraries most of her adult life. In 1989, she moved from North Carolina to Virginia after signing on as director of the Williamsburg Regional Library.

Current and former supervisors said Hansel is a high-energy, take-charge manager who is good at obtaining what she needs for the libraries she oversees and has high expectations of subordinates.

“She was a very forceful advocate” for the library, said Ken Wolfe, her former supervisor in Williamsburg. “I thought she did a terrific job, and she had a really strong staff.”

Wolfe confirmed Hansel had once been the subject of a formal complaint by a Williamsburg employee who felt Hansel ran an abusive workplace. However, the complaint was not sustained by the region's library board, Wolfe said.

“The board viewed this more as an isolated case,” Wolfe said.

In Mesa, Hansel's strategic planning has moved the library into the 21st century, Dollar said. As part of her efforts to make the library more accessible to the Hispanic community, Hansel is taking Spanish lessons, she said.

“She's trying to bring in improvements to the library and make sure they are using every resource available,” Dollar said.

In early 2001, after her first year on the job, complaints about Hansel surfaced in an employee survey. Still, a large majority of survey respondents rated her performance as either good or very good.

Negative comments increased the next year. While only 9 percent of employees rated her performance as fair or poor in 2001, the figure jumped to 28 percent in 2002. Anonymous comments collected for the 2002 survey included statements such as “Her heavy-handed supervision, abrupt manner, caustic remarks and management style negated any good she has done.”

Gary Manning, a Mesa personnel administrator, said he asked 23 current and former employees about Hansel's management style as part of his investigation into the sexual harassment complaint.

In 12 years of investigating similar complaints, Manning said he had never run across such an atmosphere of fear and anxiety in a city department. At least 14 employees spoke of how Hansel had created a circle of friends and a “culture of fear” among those outside the circle. Some employees said low morale affected library service.

The investigation ultimately concluded that Hansel had harassed her subordinate and created a hostile work environment.

Yet Mesa officials saw some mitigating factors, the most important being that none of the most “ugly” allegations were backed up by witnesses, Dollar said. Other people had heard Hansel make inappropriate, sexually charged comments to the employee. But the employee's accusations that Hansel had touched her buttocks and stroked her hair were uncorroborated.

Dollar did not heed the investigators' recommendation to terminate Hansel. Instead she gave Hansel two weeks of unpaid leave, a year's probation and an order to take more sensitivity training classes.

Hansel decided not to appeal the punishment, but she still denies all of the allegations.

The employee who complained of harassment now feels too uncomfortable to work in the same building as Hansel and has been offered the opportunity to transfer to another library branch or to another city department, Dollar said. It is understandable why some people are concerned about Hansel getting to keep her job, but the decision represents the “middle ground” of a tough situation, Dollar said.

“It certainly doesn't create . . . for the best work environment,” she said. “Is it going to be fair to everybody? Absolutely not.”

Hansel will be watched closely during the next year, and any further allegations will be dealt with quickly, Dollar said.

Hansel declined to speak with the Tribune, but she answered a few questions via e-mail.

“I am responsible for whatever feelings people have about me as a manager,” Hansel wrote. “It is never easy to hear negative feedback, but I know that it is from feedback that one learns what one needs to know to improve.”

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