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Posted: 04/23/14

Wash Twp considering
lawsuit against library

by JERRY FRAEYMAN
Observer Special Writer
      Washington Township is considering a lawsuit if the Romeo District Library (RDL) doesn't seek approval for its budget.
       At its April 16 meeting, the Washington Township Board of Trustees reaffirmed its intention to file a lawsuit if the RDL does not submit its budget for board review. The RDL's budget begins July 1.
       "This board has made the decision that, if you do not follow the law, we are going to enforce our rights. A judge is going to decide," Supervisor Dan O'Leary told RDL Board President Elizabeth Miller and approximately two dozen library supporters who attended the meeting.
       The supervisor's comments echo those he made in March, in which he said "if they (the library) do not come to us before spending money . . . on July 2 we will be filing suit to force them to."
       At issue is a dispute over who controls the RDL budget. The RDL says state law grants them the authority to establish their own budget without prior approval or oversight from the municipalities they serve.
       The Washington board contends that, under township ordinances, the library must seek the board's OK before spending any of the funds contributed by township residents.
       The RDL operates under terms of Michigan District Library Law and receives funding from a perpetual millage created in 1996 by voters in Romeo, Washington Township, and Bruce Township. Each community appoints two members to the six-member RDL board.
       Wednesday's meeting did not include a formal vote by the board, but did include 45 minutes of open forum discussion.
       Miller led things off on a conciliatory note, inviting the Washington board to a May 12 preliminary budget meeting.
       "We welcome your input at that time and also invite you to attend a public hearing on our budget that will be held in June," she said.
       For O'Leary and his peers, the gesture was too little, too late. He said the board has sought input from the library for some time with no response.
       "It is now two-and-a-half years since I raised comments," O'Leary said. "None of the specific concerns about the financial management of the library and some of the performance issues have been addressed. There was no dialogue until I threatened to sue."
       The supervisor said data from the state's library website shows RDL with higher operating costs compared to other libraries. He calls the library "fiscally mismanaged" and wants to review and approve its budget.
       He says the tri-community operating agreement that created the library grants him that authority. Miller and the RDL say that state law, granting autonomy to the library board, supersedes local ordinances.
       To date, O'Leary has been the most vocal board member on the matter. At Wednesday's meeting, former RDL board member Joann Lenaway asked what other trustees thought.
       Clerk Kathy Bosheers said it was her opinion that "we should be seeing the budget before it is approved," a view echoed by trustees Lisa Rapp, Art Grimes, Harold Miller and Abby Jacobson.
       Rapp suggested the board might be able to help RDL find ways to trim costs, as they've done for Parks and Recreation and other township departments.
       Bosheers, a former library board member, praised the current RDL board.
       "You have one of the best groups of library trustees you've had in years," she said. "Don't let that momentum slow down."
       For his part, O'Leary said he is not anti-library.
       "This isn't Dan O'Leary versus the library," he said. "It's about our board expecting its right to be respected. We will enforce our rights."
       A copy of the State of Michigan District Library Law is viewable at http://www.michigan.gov/documents/hal_lm_distliblaw_51001_7.pdf. Library performance data can be accessed at http://www.michigan.gov/libraryofmichigan/0,2351,7-160-18668_61707---,00.html.


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