The Lexington Public Library is entering mediation with Kathleen Imhoff, the chief executive it fired in July, in hopes of avoiding a costly court battle.
Imhoff hired a lawyer and threatened to sue unless the library pays her $137,035 annual salary and benefits for the remaining two years of her contract. She also filed a gender discrimination complaint against the library with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Library officials said Tuesday that they want the matter resolved after a year of questions about Imhoff's spending of library funds on travel, meals, gifts and other items, and a critical city audit that turned up pornography on her library-provided laptop computer.
"We're looking to hire a new chief executive officer, and we would like to have all of this behind us once and for all so we can move forward," said Larry Smith, chairman of the library board of trustees. He would not disclose what the library might be willing to pay.
Even without a payoff to Imhoff, the library faces financial difficulties because of an essentially flat property tax. The library board voted in September to cut the budget by 2.6 percent, taking $373,557 from about $14.5 million in planned expenditures.
In an interview, Imhoff and her attorney, Richard Getty, said nobody wants a prolonged fight. But the library damaged Imhoff's reputation by firing her without cause and allowing city auditors to make allegations about her without letting her provide her version of events, they said.
Imhoff has started a blog to criticize the Urban County Government, the library board and the news media (http://watchcatkathleen.com) for what she considers their unfair treatment of her.
For example, the city audit reported that 1,522 images of "adult materials" — either nudity or sexual acts — were found on Imhoff's library-owned laptop computer, which she took home with her, in violation of library policy.
Imhoff denied viewing those images. She said she discovered in February that someone had used her computer at home to view the images, and she took steps to make certain it did not happen again.
Also, the city audit said more than 14,000 files were deleted from Imhoff's computers after she was instructed not to alter or remove any documents.
Imhoff said she did not delete anything. The city auditors' hired specialist, Cyber Agents Inc. of Lexington, said at least 486 files and possibly more were deleted manually. But the library hired its own specialist, AC Forensics of Louisville, which said all of the files could have been deleted by an automatic process used to clean the system.
Dueling experts aside, Imhoff said, everyone seemed to ignore the fact that her office was burglarized several times and other library employees were found to have access to her office computer. If anyone deleted a file, it was somebody else, she said.
Imhoff also dismissed criticism of how she spent library money, raised by the audit and by the Herald-Leader.
In April, the Herald-Leader detailed more than $134,000 in spending by Imhoff on expenses such as trips to Europe and Africa and expensive meals at upscale restaurants, with little oversight provided by the library board. After the stories were published, Mayor Jim Newberry called for spending reforms and removed the board chairman and vice chairman.
Until the newspaper stories, nobody had questioned her spending and she always balanced her budgets, Imhoff said.
When the library board fired Imhoff, it cited a clause in her contract that allowed her to be terminated without cause given 30 days notice.
Imhoff said the board didn't offer her a formal reason for her firing or a chance to improve her performance, despite the protections her contract was supposed to provide.
"They have to give me 30 days to correct a problem," Imhoff said.
"Which they never did," Getty added.
Imhoff said she filed the gender discrimination complaint with the EEOC because her predecessor, Ronald Steensland, a man, received better treatment than she did when he retired in 2003 following a quarter-century at the library. The EEOC can investigate or dismiss such complaints, or it can suggest the parties enter into mediation.
Library documents show that as part of Steensland's retirement, the library board approved a total of $50,055 in pay for five months after his last day at work, plus the extension of his benefits.
Smith, the library board chairman, said he's unaware of the library treating Imhoff unfavorably because of her gender.
"Not that we're aware of, but I don't know exactly what she's going to allege there," Smith said.