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N. Versailles commissioner wants answers about library

| Friday, July 26, 2013, 5:01 a.m.

The president of North Versailles Township's board of commissioners says he wants answers from public library trustees about their decision to fire the library director and first assistant.

George Thompson was out of town on Wednesday when Michael Kowalcheck and Karen Schmidt-Ramsey were notified that their employment had been terminated. Thompson said he plans to meet with trustees on Friday when he returns.

“Somebody's got to explain why they fired both these people,” Thompson said Thursday when reached by phone. “Something's been brewing but I don't know what.”

Thompson said he wants to talk specifically to Mary Ann Fetsick and Sharon Dunbar. Kowalcheck said it was they who entered his office accompanied by three township police officers and told him he was fired. Schmidt-Ramsey, who had her hours cut and was demoted from children's librarian to clerk by trustees last week, was notified by phone on Wednesday.

The terminations occurred on the same day an article about Schmidt-Ramsey's demotion and its impact on library programs was published in The Daily News. Kowalcheck said he had to cancel about 12 programs because Schmidt-Ramsey would no longer be able to administer them as a clerk.

The library was open Thursday but, according to a release from the board of trustees, it will not be open Friday or Wednesday. The library will operate on a temporary schedule of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday; and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday.

In the release, the board said “the library is going through a transition period to develop better ways to serve the community” and that the “board is committed to providing a high level of library service and programs to patrons.” The release invited prospective volunteers to contact Fetsick at 412-824-6616, the number for the township tax office where she is tax collector.

Reached by phone Thursday, Fetsick said library programs would resume on Monday.

“That wasn't the board's decision to cancel those programs,” she said.

Fetsick would not discuss staffing because it is a personnel issue.

The library's only employee now is a part-time clerk, according to Kowalcheck.

Kowalcheck worked for the library 19 years and had been director since 2001. Schmidt-Ramsey was employed by the library for eight years. The seven-member board of trustees is appointed by commissioners.

Fetsick initially said Schmidt-Ramsey was demoted because trustees did not receive an adequate description of her job duties. Kowalcheck said there have been differences of opinion between staff and the trustees, mostly related to questions about bylaws.

Township commissioner Sam Juliano said saving library programs is a top priority for the community.

“We work so hard as the township. We want these programs to continue,” he said.

He said Fetsick assured him that they would.

“The main thing is, the kids aren't going to suffer,” Juliano said.

Kowalcheck said he notified the Allegheny County Library Association. The association has not responded to requests for comment.

Schmidt-Ramsey said she is waiting to present her side of the story to commissioners at their meeting on Aug. 15 at 7 p.m.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1966, or eslagle@tribweb.com.

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