INSET BELOW: Mari Suarez
By Rich Pollack
Saying she is unhappy with being micromanaged by the Town Commission and the town manager, Highland Beach’s longtime library director, Mari Suarez, submitted her resignation late last month.
“Based on the new directives given to me on my last evaluation, with which I cannot comply, I am, with sadness, resigning from my position as library director after 18 years, effective June 5,” Suarez wrote in her resignation letter.
Suarez, who is credited with taking the town’s library from a small space adjacent to Town Hall and finding $500,000 in grant money to build the 11,000-square-foot library that opened in 2006, says she believes the Town Commission, through Town Manager Beverly Brown, is being too heavy-handed in its oversight of the library.
“I resigned because of micromanagement,” she said.
One of the key factors leading to Suarez’s resignation was a required change in her work schedule.
For several years Suarez, who had a base pay of $95,907 plus a $4,000 annual education bonus, has been working from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. In her latest performance review, however, she was required by Brown to work regular town administrative hours, which are from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Suarez, who will soon turn 70, says she needs to be home in the afternoons to care for her aging mother. She said she is able to do a lot of the administrative work that comes with running the library during the early morning hours before the doors open at 10 a.m.
But Brown said the town has heard from residents who feel that Suarez’s hours make her less accessible.
“We’ve had library patrons who have complained that when they need to talk to the library director, she’s never there,” she said.
Brown says that the town’s personnel policy specifies that town administrative offices are open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and that the town manager is authorized to change those hours. She said she found no previous documentation authorizing a change in Suarez’s schedule.
“The town of Highland Beach has to operate as a professional organization,” she said. “We have rules and regulations that must be followed.”
Suarez says she was also told to change the hours of a library employee who comes in early but leaves for a short time in order to get his young son to school and then returns to work.
“I find the micromanaging overwhelming,” she said. “I decided I’m not going to abide by directives that are not fair. I would not have resigned if things were running the way they were running before.”
In addition to Suarez, part-time library employee Alice Witkowski also resigned.
The Highland Beach library has been the subject of much discussion by the Town Commission in recent months as commissioners struggled to find contractors for two patio enclosures.
Commissioners have requested bids for the project four separate times and each time rejected the recommendation of the town’s selection committee. One of the recommended contractors was Suarez’s son-in-law, whose bid was rejected when commissioners learned that Suarez’s daughter owned 50 percent of the company.
Last month, town commissioners decided to place the project on hold for about a year after Vice Mayor Bill Weitz questioned the need for the enclosures and also raised questions about funding for the project.
Initially, the Friends of the Highland Beach Library, a nonprofit organization that supports programs and materials not funded by the town, agreed to try to raise money to pay for half of the $150,000 cost. The organization was unsuccessful in its efforts, however, and as a result, the town was set to absorb the entire cost.
Weitz and others also raised questions when they learned that the Friends organization had purchased paintings for the library for $20,000 from Suarez.
Suarez said she has since returned the money and received the paintings back.