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Library services manager dismissed

MANATEE -- Manatee County has dismissed the leader of its library system after more than 20 years in the position, according to multiple sources.

Library Services Manager John Van Berkel’s last day as a county employee was Thursday, according to the sources. On Friday afternoon, a receptionist at the Central Library confirmed the 62-year-old Van Berkel is no longer with the library system.

Spokesman Nick Azzara said the county will have no comment, and Van Berkel was unavailable. The library system is a part of the neighborhood services department, led by Manager Cheri Coryea. Neither Coryea nor county Administrator Ed Hunzeker responded to multiple messages left for them Friday.

Bradenton City Councilwoman Marianne Barnebey, who serves as chairwoman of the library’s board of trustees, said she was informed of Van Berkel’s dismissal Thursday by e-mail. She said the board has no input into personnel decisions.

“Mr. Van Berkel serves in an at-will position, which means you serve at the will of the county administrator,” Barnebey said.

Asked what she thought of Van Berkel as library services manager, Barnebey said, “I think Mr. Van Berkel is a very nice man,” declining to elaborate.

A look at Van Berkel’s personnel file revealed concerns about his interaction with county staff and library patrons, although the file did not contain an evaluation since Aug. 1, 2009, when the library system moved from the information services department to neighborhood services.

Effective customer service has been a guiding principle for the county since Hunzeker took over in early 2007.

In Van Berkel’s most recent evaluation, dated April 23, 2008, Information Services Director Diane L. Frenz wrote, “John continues to work at improving his leadership and interpersonal skills. Needs to watch that he does not interrupt other people when they are speaking.”

In 2007, Frenz wrote of Van Berkel: “continues to work on his interaction skills with the library staff and community.”

But in both evaluations, Frenz received a “meets expectations” grade in each of six categories, the highest available.

The county hired Van Berkel, a Miami Beach native and Florida State graduate, on April 23, 1990, after he served six years as assistant director at the Gaston County, N.C., Public Library.

He has overseen the Manatee library system’s switch to a computerized card catalog system and the construction of new buildings for the Braden River and South County branches. A new Rocky Bluff branch opened in 1994 in a storefront at Ellenton’s Ridgewood Shopping Center. He was earning approximately $77,500 per year.

On Friday, commission Chairwoman-elect Carol Whitmore said she knew about Van Berkel’s dismissal but had little information about it.

She indicated Van Berkel may have had trouble adjusting to Hunzeker’s and Coryea’s leadership. Hunzeker assigned Coryea to run the new neighborhood services department he created in late 2007.

“When things change, maybe you have to change with them,” Whitmore said.

There had been hints Van Berkel was on the outs with the administration.

On Tuesday, the neighborhood services department presented its annual report to the county commissioners with Coryea and the heads of the department’s six divisions detailing their operations. Van Berkel did not make the library presentation, deferring to Outreach Services Supervisor Linda O’Connor Levy.

Commissioner Joe McClash said he was unaware of Van Berkel’s dismissal until a reporter contacted him Friday morning.

He said it is common for Hunzeker to keep commissioners in the dark about personnel moves, a situation that irks him as an elected official.

“It’s the worst I’ve seen it in 20 years I’ve been commissioner,” McClash said. “There’s a protocol, a professional courtesy, to let us know things beforehand.”

Tim Wolfrum, Herald staff writer, can be reached at 745-7049.