The CEO of the Windsor Public Library has left his position in the wake of a corporate credit card expense scandal.
Barry Holmes, who joined the library almost two years ago from the Victoria, British Columbia library system, and considered a visionary by some, departed June 26 after taking a prolonged sick leave after a routine library audit found numerous discrepancies in credit card spending.
Board chair Peter Frise read a statement saying that Holmes “will not be returning to employment” and that the board has “been informed” the former CEO “takes the position that he has been constructively dismissed,” a stance Frise said was “truly regrettable.”
Frise said the board “takes the position that Mr. Holmes has voluntarily resigned his employment.”
Meanwhile the library will begin to delve into matters that took place under Holmes’s watch regarding credit card spending.
“It should be noted that there were issues that arise out of Mr. Holmes’s employment with the library that require closer examination,” Frise said. “This process will commence forthwith.”
The chair said that should Holmes take legal action the board will “vigorously defend” itself.
Holmes, who chaired the Executives of Large Urban Public Libraries committee in Canada, has had extensive executive experience in Canadian libraries. He served as CEO in five systems including Windsor and Victoria.
The Windsor library had been riding high under his and former board chair Al Maghnieh’s leadership, ushering in the first no-fines policy for any major Canadian system in an effort, in Maghnieh’s words, “to project a modern, inclusive, welcoming and relevant image.”
Meanwhile the library was preparing to move to a “cultural hub” downtown attached to the underused Art Gallery of Windsor and across the street from a new family aquatics center.
Holmes wanted the library to be on the cusp of change, noting “people want to be in spaces where there’s co-activities.”
He said he was trying to transform the library from a “40-year-old” model based around stacks to one that was tech and active learning-centered. Last month the WPL won the 2012 Canadian Library Association’s Award for Innovation Technology for its “Tomorrow Today” project. This is mobile device software the library takes to non-library locations like community halls and housing projects. It can create library cards, check out books and offer instruction, in an effort to reach out to non-traditional users.
But after the KPMG audit cited “a significant number of non-compliance issues” board chair Maghnieh, who is also a Windsor city councilor, acknowledged it was he who had amassed a large number of personal credit card expenses even after being told it was in violation of library policy.
The spending included meals in high end restaurants and hotels, clothing, iTunes apps downloads, and general travel, although much of this was related to library business and for trips to check out library innovations in cities such as Philadelphia and Chicago. He then moved quickly to pay back the outstanding total of $13,496.18 whether for personal or legitimate expenses, which KPMG confirmed.
In the audit, KPMG found “a number of transactions for which detailed receipts, or any receipts, are not provided making it difficult to determine if personal or business in nature.”
In April Maghnieh also resigned from the board, as did the chair of the board’s finance committee, Alex Cameron, who was reportedly a personal friend of Maghnieh. A week later Maghnieh resigned from his position as administrator of strategic planning and communications for the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, saying he didn’t want the credit card scandal “to distract” from his role as board spokesman. As a councilor Maghnieh was also removed from all city council committees and boards by fellow council members. The next week he read a profuse apology and posted a “statement of contrition” on YouTube.
In the apology Maghnieh said he “wanted to be a big shot, I wanted to be a player” and that “with my ego and my arrogance and my pride I’ve shamed myself.”
After his school board resignation, similar spending irregularities by him at the school board came to light, sometimes during travel where he combined education and library business.
Maghnieh has since retained a lawyer and is threatening legal action against city council unless he is allowed to retain his committee seats, which his lawyer John McNair says his “integral” to his role as councilor.
Holmes entered the spending controversy in mid-May when The Windsor Star reported that he too had been using his library credit card to make the same kind of purchases including for personal items and unauthorized travel.
City Council requested Holmes appear before it to discuss the entire credit card issue but the CEO opted for sick leave, which was renewed every week for almost two months until his departure.
In a statement June 26 through his lawyer Larry Belowus, Holmes said he was the victim of “constructive dismissal” – whereby an employee continually has duties removed from him – which the library denies.
“I don’t think we’ve done anything to minimize his role or his employment and he could have continued,” board lawyer George King said. “Don’t get me wrong,” King added. “There are issues that we need to investigate but we haven’t been able to do that because he (Holmes) was off.”
Holmes’s lawyer says the former CEO “suffered from attacks on his character, integrity and abilities…based on unsubstantiated allegations” creating an employment environment that was “intolerable.”
Belowus said that unless a “fair resolution can be reached” with the board his client will start “appropriate action seeking damages and costs as a result of his wrongful dismissal.”
Holmes was hired by WPL after an extensive two year search. This followed the firing of the former CEO Brian Bell, who was found to be articling at a law firm at the same time he was on paid sick leave.
The Windsor Public Library has had four CEOs since 2003.