New chapter for county library system
Published: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 8:37 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 8:37 a.m.
More cities would have a say over how the Sonoma County Library operates, including whether to increase hours when certain branches are open, under proposed revisions to a joint powers agreement to be unveiled today.
A revamped library commission, presumably with members drawn from all nine cities in the county, also would play a more prominent role in budget affairs, including having the ability to seek new taxes that could in theory help cover costs for expanded hours and services.
The review of the 1975 agreement was launched in October amid a torrent of criticism over Library Director Sandy Cooper's management style and the commission's perceived acquiescence to her demands.
Cooper, 67, announced her retirement in June. Her last day is Friday.
North County Supervisor Mike McGuire led the review, which was widely interpreted as a bid on the part of the supervisors to gain more control of the library system, including possibly the ability to hire and fire the director.
McGuire on Monday said the proposed changes are “only going to strengthen the commission and ultimately hold that director accountable.”
But a case also could be made that the proposed changes would further distance supervisors from the library's day-to-day operations and allow them to deflect any future concerns to commissioners or to city officials who appoint them.
“The board won't have to put up with people standing up and complaining about the library all the time,” Cooper said Monday.
However, the departing director said she supports having a stronger, “totally independent” commission.
The review committee includes one representative each from the nine cities, the county, the Board of Supervisors and the library commission.
Under the draft agreement, county supervisors would appoint a single member to the commission, as opposed to the current practice of five members drawn from each of their districts. City councils in all nine cities also could appoint representatives, not just those in Santa Rosa and Petaluma.
“Every city is involved. Everybody has a voice,” said Julia Freis, who was appointed to the library commission by Supervisor Shirlee Zane and is the commission's representative on the committee making the recommended changes.
Freis said she supports the library commission being given exclusive budget authority and the ability to seek new taxes. The library system currently receives most of its funding through a share of property taxes.
The draft agreement would allow communities to raise and spend money for the purpose of increasing hours and services at individual branches. Currently, all 11 of the largest branches operate with the same hours, with the exception of the central branch in Santa Rosa, which unlike the others is open Sundays from 2 to 6 p.m. All branches are closed Mondays.
Tom Popenuck, lead building mechanic at the library and chapter president of SEIU Local 1021, said employees generally support having the library open as many hours as possible, so long as staffing is adequate.
He also raised concerns about funding oversight, and perceptions that county supervisors “are kind of letting” the responsibility for that go.
Under the draft agreement, the county will continue to oversee the collection of money for the library system. The library commission also will have to hold public hearings at least one month prior to approval of a budget. McGuire said that recommendation is a nod to some in the community who he said felt “caught off guard” by budget reductions announced in the past.
Supervisors are scheduled to review the recommendations at their meeting Tuesday. They then are scheduled to be presented to city councils in all nine cities, starting Oct. 1 in Santa Rosa.
McGuire said he's hoping to have a new agreement in place by February. Any amendments to the library's operating agreement require unanimous consent of the county and the cities of Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, Petaluma and Sonoma, which were the original signatories to the 1975 document.
You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @deadlinederek.
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