Seattle Library Finalist at Center of Remote-Work Controversy

Seattle Public Library finalist Chad Helton. Image via Hennapin County
Seattle Public Library finalist Chad Helton. Image via Hennapin County

By Erica C. Barnett

The Seattle Public Library announced two finalists for its chief librarian position on Wednesday: Current interim chief librarian Tom Fay, and Hennepin County, MN library director Chad Helton. Fay has headed up the library on an interim basis since former chief librarian Marcellus Turner left to head up the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library system last March.

The Hennepin County library hired Helton in May 2020, apparently believing he would relocate to Minnesota. Helton did live in the state for about a year, but last summer, according to the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, he informed employees via email that from then on, he would do his $183,855-a-year job remotely from his home in Los Angeles, where he has lived ever since.

Helton’s decision to run the 42-branch system from 2,000 miles away made national news, prompted at least one scathing editorial, and prompted a new county policy last month requiring county supervisors whose employees interact with the public, including the library director, to live in the state unless they receive special dispensation from the county administrator.

Last summer, Helton informed employees via email that he would do his $183,855-a-year job remotely from his home in Los Angeles, where he has lived ever since.

Seattle library board chair Carmen Bendixen told PubliCola that while she couldn’t “share anything that Mr. Helton shared with us in his first-round interview… it is important to me that a successful candidate shows a commitment to the Library’s community focus in the final round of interviews with the Board.”

The job description the library used during its national search, Bendixen added, was “intentionally community-focused, making it important that the successful candidate be able to conduct community-centered work, including staying connected to our physical facilities and interacting in-person with Library patrons, partners, staff and other stakeholders.” When Helton was first hired in Hennepin County, he said he had an “inexplicable love for Minnesota,” according to the Star Tribune.

Helton told PubliCola, “I am in compliance with the directive of Hennepin County Administration in regards to its Future Ready Hennepin plan,” which outlined standards for county employees to work remotely or on hybrid in person/remote schedules. “Should I be hired as the next Chief Librarian, I will be in compliance with all directives set forth by the SPL Board,” Helton added.

The library board will hold one public forum on each of the finalists in February; information about the forums is available on the library’s website.

7 thoughts on “Seattle Library Finalist at Center of Remote-Work Controversy”

  1. Two finalists, one of whom is obviously problematic. Could we already have a winner?

  2. Smarmy, dishonest, half-committed to public service, fully committed to serving himself. Dude is perfect for Seattle.

  3. Intelligent readers will immediately realize that the new Hennepin County Progressive policy of requiring in-state residence does not actually solve the problem, because supervisors could all move to anywhere beyond commuter distance (like St. Vincent) and still be within the rules…. yet have the exact same problem. They can also set up a fake in-state residence. We know this is a Progressive policy because that specific administration is one of the most Progressive in the nation. Stupidity in action. Drop criminal charges, release convicted felons, let buildings burn down, smash windows, increase violence, give away more free stuff, waste the taxpayers’ money….Progressivism. Steve Willie.

  4. How did this dude even make it to finalist status? He doesn’t seem like the most honest guy – even if he’s meeting the letter of the policy in his current job, he certainly isn’t meeting the spirit of it. I don’t trust him to be honest if he worked here.

  5. Do you think they noticed that the majority of his current workers go on strike next week? I wonder how he spun that…..

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