The events surrounding the sudden departure of the longtime director of the Lawrence Public Library took a new twist on Wednesday.
Lawrence leaders learned that recently retired Bruce Flanders has taken a new job as director of the Mabee Library at Mid-America Nazarene University in Olathe. He starts his position Nov. 1.
Lawrence library leaders said the announcement was news to them.
“I was very surprised,” said Joan Golden, a member of the city’s library board that is responsible for overseeing the operations of the facility. “I had absolutely no inkling of it. We were totally under the impression that his intent was to retire.”
But library leaders and Mayor Aron Cromwell on Wednesday insisted that none of this is a sign that Flanders was forced out of his position, which plays a key role in overseeing an $18 million expansion of the downtown library. That project currently is in design stages.
Cromwell sought to assure community members that Flanders’ departure was not an indication the director had concerns about the direction the project was heading.
“He was with us through the entire project, and he expressed no problems or concerns with it,” Cromwell said. “He was very excited about the entire project.”
Flanders’ retirement announcement, however, was sudden. The library board last Thursday announced that Flanders — who had been its director for 16 years — was retiring, effective immediately. Flanders did not attend the board meeting, and the press release announcing his retirement included no comments from him. He also did not return telephone calls at the time seeking comment.
When asked about the suddenness of the announcement and the absence of Flanders, the library board’s chair noted that Flanders had been on medical leave.
On Wednesday, library board chair Deborah Thompson said Flanders had mentioned nothing to her about another job. She said Flanders’ decision to leave the position was completely his own.
While no one indicated that Flanders had expressed any concern about the direction of the $18 million expansion — which he advocated for years — several sources did say that some design decisions recently had not gone smoothly.
Both Golden and Thompson confirmed that library board members this summer were asked to make some relatively quick decisions about issues related to radio frequency devices, types of computer work stations and other issues that had to be decided before the design could proceed. Those issues had been presented to Flanders who was responsible for presenting them to the board.
“The board was caught a bit unaware that there were several things that had to be approved in a relatively short period of time,” Golden said.
But Golden and others said they did not know whether the rigors of overseeing the expansion project played a role in Flanders’ departure.
Flanders left a voice mail message with the Journal-World on Wednesday afternoon. He said had not taken the Mid-America job at the time he informed the board of his retirement. He said retirement is an appropriate term because he is retiring from the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System, which is the pension plan that covers many public government employees.
Flanders also said he would miss the library, and continues to be supportive of its expansion plans.
“They’re on the right track in terms of the library expansion and all the services they’ll offer,” Flanders said. “I will miss that, but I’m really excited about all my new challenges.”
As for his health, Flanders said he had undergone some medical treatments this summer that required him to miss work, but he said a doctor now has cleared him to return to work.
An attempt to reach Flanders for further comment was unsuccessful.