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You are Viewing an Archived IssuePosted: 03/26/14
WT says lawsuit on the
horizon against library
by CHRIS GRAYA lawsuit between Washington Township and the Romeo District Library could be on the horizon due to disagreements on budget approval.
Observer Staff Writer
Washington Township Supervisor Dan O'Leary said the township's main concern was that the library should approach the three communities for approval of its budget according to local law.
He said a 7-0 vote by his Township Board decided that if the district does not request and get approval of the budget prior to July 1, the township will sue.
"We'll go to court and a judge will decide who is right," O'Leary said.
In a letter to his board, O'Leary said since the Library Board is appointed and not elected, local governments are responsible for the library's results and requires it to seek annual approval of the budget.
"I believe our involvement is justified based on given the precedent of the other ventures, the existence of the local ordinance, the clear language of the ordinance, the need for accountability to the taxpayer and the horrendous performance of the appointed RDL board over the years," O'Leary said in a letter to his board.
He claimed the library's perpetual millage is causing poor spending practices, contesting that Romeo has the highest percentage of employee costs as a percentage of total operating costs when compared to similar libraries.
"The cost problem can't be blamed solely on the extra branch we have<they are simply overpaying at entry level of the organization," he said.
Attorney Lance Werner, a past president of the Michigan Library Association and past Michigan library law specialist, presented information regarding district library law on March 18 to the board that countered O'Leary's argument.
Werner said according to Section 13 of district library laws, the board has the authority to determine the amount of money necessary for establishing and operating the library.
"The library board is the master of its budget, of approving its budget, of formulating its budget and the whole nine yards," he said.
The library law of 1955 was retooled in 1989 to replace the establishment law. Werner said the local communities established the board in 1969, but later re-established the library under the new act.
"The library board is its own thing, in a sense it has the same level of authority as any municipal boards do," he said.
He said additional powers comes from Section 12 of the law, which says the board can appoint and remove a librarian, buy and sell property and exclusive authority over any money that goes into the district's fund.
Even so, he said local governments should have the ability to review the budget even though their approval isn't necessary.
"I think having that level of engagement is extremely important," he said.
He noted that tax money going into the district's funds, like the library millage, must be used in accordance with its ballot language.
Library Board President Elizabeth Miller said the township's plans to pursue legal action would be disruptive to the community.
"I feel it would be an unfortunate loss for the residents because they would be paying for two legal fees through two different millages," she said. "The attention of the staff and board and community would be focused on something that could be resolved."
Miller said the next step for the library is to conduct business as usual and to continue searching for a new director, but library staff and board members are open to hearing concerns from residents.
More than 380 public libraries are in Michigan, 153 of which are district libraries. The most widely-used funding mechanism for these libraries is a district-wide millage.
Werner said a new vote on the millage, such as to end it or change it, would have to be authorized by the Library Board, not the local government.
Though he didn't offer legal advice, Werner's recommendation for the community and library was to work cooperatively in order to be successful.
"It's kind of like a marriage, and if you want to have a happy marriage, you have your ups and downs, but you work together," he said.