Pratt director fired discrimination suit is filed against city

October 15, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer Staff writer William F. Zorzi Jr. contributed to this article.

Pratt library director Anna Curry has been fired by the library's board of trustees for alleged poor management and has responded by filing a federal age, race and sex discrimination complaint against Baltimore.

Mrs. Curry agreed to retire only if the library paid her $1 million, trustee president James Ulmer said yesterday. She was told that would not be possible.

"The board looked at what the library is and is not doing and decided we needed new leadership," Mr. Ulmer said. "We voted in August that the director be terminated. It was pretty much unanimous. She will be on the payroll through the end of the year."

The 22-member board that voted to fire the director is made up of 10 white males, three black males, five white females and four black females. Their ages range from the mid-30s to over 70. Mrs. Curry is 58.

Mrs. Curry said she could not comment on the discrimination complaint on the advice of her attorney, Barbara Franklin of Washington.

Mr. Ulmer said a national search is now under way to replace Mrs. Curry, a Pratt employee for 38 years who has served as director since 1981.

The board's vote marks the second time in almost three years that Mrs. Curry finds herself fighting the trustees to stay in control of Baltimore's sprawling library system.

In February 1990 -- again because it had no faith in Mrs. Curry's ability to manage the Pratt -- the board announced it was appointing a chief executive officer to handle library administration.

That decision set off rounds of political sparring that ended when Mrs. Curry threatened to quit if her authority was weakened.

The board dropped the idea after learning that only a professional librarian could hold such a position and Mrs. Curry remained, although she was shaken by the vote of no confidence.

Since that time, the board has paid for Mrs. Curry to attend business management classes at Harvard, although they continue to believe that her administrative talents are lacking.

The problem, Mr. Ulmer said, goes beyond the Pratt's chronic budget problems. This year alone, the state has cut funding to the Pratt by $1.5 million with another $320,000 in cuts expected.

"We're using our resources less well than almost any other library in the country," Mr. Ulmer said. "We are not being as responsive to the community as we should be, although we say we are. We announce initiatives [without follow-up.] We announce partnerships with the schools but only serve four schools. The Race to Read program is wonderful, but we're down 20 percent from last year. We simply are not doing the kind of job that we ought to be. In Atlanta, they have branch libraries in the housing projects, and kids are lining up outside after school to get in. We don't have that here."

For her part, Mrs. Curry said yesterday: "I'm worn, I'm very weary. I've been fighting this a long time, and my inclination is to say, 'Hey, you've been there a long time, if they don't like what you've done, let them have their way.' But I owe it to too many people, including myself, not to take that position."

Mr. Ulmer said that before the vote was taken to fire her, Mrs. Curry rejected a retirement package -- including an unspecified non-library city government job that would have paid the equivalent of her current salary, estimated at about $84,000.

Instead, Mr. Ulmer said, she countered with an offer to retire "if the library paid her a little over a million dollars in cash and continued to pay her salary to run an institute for teen-age education with a salaried staff and overhead."

Said Mr. Ulmer: "We can't pay money like that, nor would we."

After refusing the $1 million demand, the board repeated its original retirement offer, which was again rejected and followed last week by the discrimination complaint.

Jesse E. Hoskins, director of the Baltimore City Civil Service Commission, said that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint was sent to his agency and forwarded to the city solicitor's office.

"I met with the EEOC all this morning," said Mr. Ulmer. "The complaint does not have substance, I'm really sorry it was filed."

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