Activists this week pressed the Sonoma County Library Commission to do more to restore hours that have left the system's 11 branches closed on Mondays and evenings for two years.
The public pressure came Wednesday night shortly after the commission announced the appointment of two managers to serve as interim co-directors after embattled director Sandy Cooper steps down Sept. 20.
Jaime Anderson, division manager, and David Dodd, collection manager, will lead the library system until a replacement for Cooper can be found. Both bring a "high level of expertise and dedication to the oversight of our library," said commission Chairman Tim May.
The announcement was largely overshadowed, however, by library critics who attended the meeting demanding the commission take steps to restore hours or resign.
"There is no priority more important to us than restoring these library hours as these critical facilities," Jonathan Greenberg, a sharp library critic, told the commission.
Since 2011, libraries in the county have been open 40 hours per week instead of 52, a 23 percent reduction.
Greenberg, a father of two from Sebastopol, delivered the commission a petition he said was signed by 1,825 people requesting sufficient funding be found to allow the hours to be restored. He made a similar case to the Sonoma County Supervisors in June, unsuccessfully.
He suggested that the commission hold a meeting to consider ways of increasing the hours, including by dipping into reserves, getting additional funding from the Board of Supervisors, or reallocating money from other parts of the library. If they would not, he said they should resign.
After Greenberg's remarks, May defended the commission and said he shared residents' concerns.
"We hear you. We have heard you. It would be impossible for us not to," May said. "But we also know that we are trying to limp through on a limited budget."
The commission has to take a "wider view" of the budget than just restoring hours, he said, including ensuring workers are paid a fair wage and their unfunded health and retirement benefits are addressed.
"I am not happy with the library being closed on Monday, either," May said. "But I also know that we have had to make decisions with limited funds."
He expressed hope that the airing of the concerns might lead to a solution that could resolve some of the library's financial issues.
"It would be really heartening to hear somebody say 'Let's figure out how to increase library funding,' " May said.
Spending the library's reserves is not the way to go about it, said commission member Julia Freis. Such a short term solution would quickly leave the library with no funds, she said.
"As commissioners, it's our responsibility to try to make sure we don't end up in that position," she said.
The county library system is funded by a property tax. The joint powers authority created by the county and four cities in 1975 to run the system is in the process of being revamped, and the new agreement should give future commissions more ways to generate funds, including through ballot measures, she said.
Sonoma County government pension costs, at glance:
2016-17 taxpayer costs: $99.6 million
Pension bond debt: $404 million
Long-term unfunded obligations: $374 million