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Choice for BPL president declines offer

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Jill Bourne at the Boston Public Library on the day she was interviewed, May 21.

After an exhaustive national search for a new president, Boston Public Library's top choice to be the city institution's next leader has officially declined the offer, citing personal reasons.

Now library officials are in the awkward position of naming a second pick for president in less than a month, and will probably turn to the current interim leader as their choice.

The Boston Public Library board of trustees had extended the job offer to Jill Bourne , who leads the San Jose Public Library in California, on May 21. The board spent several hours publicly interviewing Bourne and the current interim library president, David Leonard.


Bourne did not immediately accept, and after weeks of negotiations, Bourne turned down the offer Thursday. Officials would not disclose any details, saying they are legally prohibited from publicly discussing them.

"Jill has declined our offer of the presidency for personal reasons,'' said Bob Gallery, chairman of the board of trustees, in an interview. "We've had ongoing discussions with Jill over the last three weeks now. Ultimately, it was a decision she had to make due to circumstances in her life."

On Friday, Bourne, 46, said she was honored to have been offered the position of library president, citing the institution, staff, and community support that attracted her to the job.

"However, I have made the decision to withdraw my candidacy for personal reasons that were not anticipated while I participated in this process,'' she said in the statement included in a library press release. "This has been an incredibly difficult decision. . . . While I cannot accept this opportunity, I am fortunate to stay in San Jose with a wonderful staff, colleagues, and community."

The trustees will hold a special meeting to vote on a new library leader at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday in the Commonwealth Salon at the central library in Copley Square. Bourne and Leonard were the two finalists publicly interviewed last month for the position.


Besides Leonard, there are no other candidates slated for public interviews on Tuesday, officials said.

Leonard, 49, was appointed in June 2015 to replace former library president Amy E. Ryan, who resigned after two expensive pieces of art were temporarily misplaced at the library.

At the start of the search, more than 100 candidates were recruited or submitted applications to lead the city's library system, including the central library in Copley Square, 24 branches, and 450 employees. The library spent at least $110,000 to hire an executive search firm, Spencer Stewart, to seek a new president. None of those funds came from taxpayer dollars, an official said.

When news of her candidacy broke, San Jose officials, including city manager Norberto Duneas, jostled to keep Bourne in their city, said David Vossbrink, the city's spokesman.

"He has had serious heart-to-heart conversations with Jill. And she was weighing her alternatives,'' said Vossbrink, who said he was not part of those talks. "I don't know. . . how that weighed in to tipping her decision."

He said Bourne's current salary is $211,000.

After Boston officials extended the offer to Bourne, the process moved smoothly at first, according to e-mails obtained from the mayor's office through a records request.

John Palfrey, chairman of the presidential search, praised Bourne in an April 21 e-mail after a teleconference, telling her that she did a "truly extraordinarily good job." Bourne responded hours later, thanking Palfrey and the search panel for making the teleconference "very easy and warm."


But by Monday, Palfrey was having concerns about whether Bourne would move to Boston. He wrote that he had heard through mutual friends from the library's search firm that "the last two weeks have been complicated for you,'' his June 6 e-mail to Bourne said.

But Palfrey said he wanted to underscore that Boston officials were eager to welcome and support Bourne "should you be able to see your way to join us." He also stressed to Bourne that she was the right person, at a crucial time, to lead the library.

"I can see you being successful in an historic fashion,'' he wrote. "I do hope you're able to accept (whether right away or even after some kind of delay). Speaking only for myself, we've waited a long time to find someone as terrific as you for the job — and hope that it will come together before long."

In an e-mail dated Tuesday, Bourne told Palfrey that when she started the process, she had every reason to believe that a move was possible. She apologized for "the difficulties."

"I feel horrible that I haven't been able to just say 'YES!' because that is what should happen,'' she wrote. "I hope you know. . . I've been racking my brain to come up with a solution to these family issues. I hate that this situation is causing stress for you and all the great people I've met who were involved in this process. . . . I feel absolutely sick about it, and I'm sorry because it should be a celebration for everyone.''


By Thursday, she had decided not to take the job, making Leonard the sole candidate for Tuesday's vote.

Elissa Cadillic, president of the library's largest union, said she has worked well with Leonard and is excited that the trustees are poised to appoint him as library leader.

"I hope he will not maintain the status quo with respect to the organization, but will instead do a full review with input from [our union's leadership] and not be afraid to implement change where it is necessary,'' said Cadillic, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Local 1526.

Leonard, who was born in Dublin, took charge of the Boston library system amid the controversy over Ryan's resignation. He kept his position as director of administration and technology after being appointed interim library president. In his seven years at the library, he has held several positions, including acting director of administration and finance and acting chief financial officer.

He recently began a doctorate program in library information science at Simmons College. Before his library work, Leonard pursued an academic career.

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at