Arlington Heights library official: Controversial initiatives led to firing

Fired Arlington Heights Memorial Library Deputy Director Jeremy Andrykowski said he thinks some library staff members' unhappiness with the direction of the library led to his and Executive Director Jason Kuhl's departure.

That includes some of the administrators' more controversial initiatives and programs, like last month's canceled immigrants' rights seminar, he said.

Andrykowski, a 17-year employee who worked his way up from driving the bookmobile to deputy director, spoke to the Daily Herald at length on Wednesday and Thursday after his firing on Monday by Acting Executive Director Mike Driskell. Driskell, the director of administration, was appointed by the library board after Kuhl's resignation Sept. 25.

“Jason Kuhl initiated an inclusion initiative, which was difficult for that library,” Andrykowski said. “People in powerful positions didn't like that. He stuck his neck out for inclusion and diversity and it finally caught up with him.”

But, Andrykowski added, the “Know Your Rights” workshop originally scheduled for Sept. 25 “was just one of the last few daggers” he believes led to Kuhl's resignation.

Kuhl, who received a $73,589 severance and six months of health insurance under a separation agreement, has cited “personal reasons” for his resignation. He didn't respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Andrykowski also suspects the finalization of a multiyear restructuring of library departments — and the resulting pushback from some staff members to the library board — may have led the board and Kuhl to part ways. And as Kuhl's right-hand man, Andrykowski says he isn't surprised to have gotten the pink slip.

“I think the minds were already made up,” he said.

Driskell cited discussions with unnamed staff members in firing him, saying “he didn't see how he could move forward with me” in that position, Andrykowski said. It was only his second meeting with Driskell since Kuhl left, despite several requests he made to meet to discuss operational concerns, he said.

In their first meeting weeks before, Andrykowski said, Driskell instructed him to tell managers they needed to show support for the board during meetings with the 240-person library staff.

“I understood where it was coming from and I understood the winds had changed,” Andrykowski said. “I spoke to all my managers and explained this is a new world order.”

Driskell didn't respond to requests for comment.

Andrykowski said he thinks the library board, led by president Deb Smart, played a role in his dismissal, even though on Wednesday Smart said the decision was Driskell's.

During a strategic planning meeting last summer, Smart referenced some 30 unnamed staff members who raised concerns to the board about the library's direction, according to Andrykowski.

As a result of these “morale” issues, he said, the board put the brakes on three top strategic initiatives, including expansion of English as a Second Language services, and creation of “tween” and maker spaces.

“Jason was asking, ‘Why were those issues never brought to me?' We were never given an answer. We never knew who it was,” Andrykowski said.

Andrykowski said he and Kuhl knew restructuring plans, which began under the previous executive director in 2010, would be controversial. It merged certain functions of formerly separate youth, teen, adult and senior departments into new departments, like programming and customer service. Some staff members haven't liked the changes, while others have embraced them, he said.

While saying he personally liked Driskell, Andrykowski pointed out that Driskell's job has included oversight of nonpublic service library functions, including IT.

According to his LinkedIn page, Driskell has a degree in computer science and a certificate in financial management. Unlike Kuhl and Andrykowski, he doesn't have a library science degree.

This year, he became chairman of the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce board.

“The (library) board president now has the guy she wants — all tied into the chamber of commerce,” Andrykowski said. “A tight clique — that's good for them.”

Smart didn't respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Andrykowski, 50, said he wants to continue his career in the library field. While upset he did not get any severance, he said he is unsure if he has any legal recourse because he was an at-will employee.

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