L.A.-based ex-library director gets $75,000 payout for “emotional damages” and legal fees

Chad Helton’s tumultuous tenure as head of the Hennepin County Library system from afar in sunny California may be over, but not before one last departing bout of controversy.

As part of Helton’s resignation from the position, the Star Tribune says the Hennepin County Board agreed to give him a going-away payment totaling $75,000 in attorney fees and unspecified “emotional damages.”

As part of a settlement agreement, Hennepin County will pay Helton $60,000 for “emotional damages” and $15,000 to St. Paul law firm Collins, Buckley, Sauntry & Haugh, which represented him. There was no explanation of what the emotional damages were. The county will pay for Helton’s health insurance through the end of 2022.

The agreement also states that “Helton and the county agree not to disparage each other … to the extent not inconsistent” with state law.

It all started when Hennepin County administrators originally okayed a plan for Helton to supervise the county’s 41 libraries from his condo in Los Angeles at a salary of $184,000 during the pandemic. But as word spread among library staff and the public, the unusual arrangement soon created a backlash that led the county board to rethink the policy late last year. News that a search for a new supervisor who will be on the ground and in person was presumably well-received by employees.

Word of Helton’s resignation spread through the library system late Friday as staff members received the news in the e-mail announcement from Hough.

“I think everybody was pretty happy about it,” said Shane Clune, a member of the library clerical staff at the East Lake Library in Minneapolis. “There is some confusion why the director of operations for Hennepin County is taking over when we have two deputy directors at the library.”

Yet questions remain about the reason for the $75,000 payment. Not only about details regarding the “emotional damages” involved, but also over the board’s apparently voluntary decision to offer Helton taxpayer funds at all.

County Board Chair Marion Greene on Friday said the settlement was “voluntary” and that she wished Helton well. None of the county’s seven commissioners publicly criticized the arrangement that allowed Helton to work from Los Angeles.

According to the settlement agreement, Helton actually resigned on Feb. 1, though the resignation was not finalized and signed by Helton until Feb. 8.

Helton remains a candidate for the top library job in Seattle. One of the requirements? Employees must live in the immediate area.