Hoping to turn the page on a dark chapter at the historic Boston Public Library, the board of trustees Thursday selected library administrator David Leonard as the system’s interim president.
The board also picked trustee John T. Hailer to replace departing chairman Jeffrey B. Rudman on an interim basis. Hailer, president and chief executive of Natixis Global Asset Management, was at the center of a lawsuit alleging harassment and discrimination against a senior saleswoman who rebuffed his sexual advances, the Globe has reported. Natixis denied the allegations in court filings and said the saleswoman was fired for poor performance. But Natixis quietly signed a seven-figure settlement in 2011.
“They were baseless allegations,’’ he told the Globe in an interview Thursday. “They do not accurately portray me.”
The latest development is another twist at the embattled 167-year-old public library, trying to steady itself after a few tense and rocky weeks.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who supports Hailer and Leonard, was aware of the lawsuit and stressed that his highest priority is ensuring the library’s valuable assets are secure during the transition, spokeswoman Bonnie McGilpin said.
“John Hailer is a proven leader, and the mayor stands behind the board of trustees’ decision to appoint him as the interim chair,” McGilpin said.
Leonard, the library’s 48-year-old director of administration and technology, will temporarily replace outgoing president Amy E. Ryan, a celebrated career librarian who resigned under fire this month after two valuable pieces of artwork went missing for more than a year before being found later. Ryan endured withering criticism from Walsh and his administration.
The prints — an etching by Rembrandt and an engraving by Albrecht Dürer, which together are worth $630,000 — were discovered a day after Ryan announced she would step down.
The disappearance sparked a criminal investigation into the library’s trove of rare books, prints, and other artwork. The keeper of special collections was placed on administrative leave. Then, a scathing city-commissioned audit revealed inadequate protection and haphazard storage of prized items.
The situation exposed a chasm between City Hall and the library, with the mayor and his team seen as highly critical of Ryan as she faced the biggest controversy of her nearly eight-year tenure.
At a special board of trustees meeting requested by Walsh, the mayor’s chief of staff, Daniel Koh, lambasted trustees for failing to serve as “an independent check” on Ryan and her staff.
A day later, a staff member discovered the missing pieces of art, a mere 80 feet from where they should have been filed, according to authorities. Ryan said they were simply misfiled.
Ryan, who has been working with the mayor’s office to smooth the leadership transition, recommended Leonard to the board Thursday, describing him as a capable leader.
His current duties include overseeing the administration of library facilities, human resources and labor relations, and the major projects office. He will start his new role after Ryan leaves July 3. A search will be launched for a permanent president.
“We’ve had many good, viable choices to step in as acting president,’’ Ryan told the board, whose members gave Leonard their unanimous support. “But David’s experience, knowledge, and his personal commitment to the success of Boston Public Library moved him to the top of my recommendations.”
Leonard said his focus will be addressing security and inventory challenges exposed in recent weeks.
“It’s quite clear that we need to get beyond the challenges of the last several weeks and really focus on delivering and improving our core services to the people of Boston,’’ said Leonard, a South End resident who joined the library in 2009.
Leonard is working on his master of library science degree, officials said.
At the meeting Thursday, Koh thanked Ryan and Rudman, and said Walsh’s administration looks forward to working with the board. Rudman also stepped down at the request of the mayor.
The board also unanimously approved Hailer. At Natixis, he is responsible for distribution strategies worldwide and oversees the business activities of the firm’s asset management affiliates in the Americas and Asia.
The 54-year-old Roslindale native was appointed to the library board in March 2013 under the administration of Walsh’s predecessor, Thomas M. Menino.
Hailer said he feels comfortable occupying the board chairman’s post, saying his experience will add value to the library in transition.
But on the day he was appointed interim chairman, Hailer had to answer questions relating to the harassment lawsuit from seven years ago. A senior saleswoman sued Natixis after being fired in 2008 — a day after telling human resources she was pregnant with her second baby, and months after allegedly rebuffing sexual advances by Hailer, the Globe reported.
Hailer said in an interview that he was saddened by the lawsuit, saying his years of work far outweigh “one false accusation.”
He said the company’s board reviewed Natixis’s regulatory and personnel practices and affirmed confidence in the company’s leadership and culture.
Hailer said he believes in the city and has spent his life working to improve the community, managing companies, and serving on the boards of nonprofits and colleges.
“I love that library. It's personal to me,’’ he said. “I believe that my experiences and my expertise will help us in really transitioning to a new CEO.”
Meghan E. Irons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.