Getting your Evanston news from Facebook? Try the Evanston RoundTable’s free daily and weekend email newsletters – sign up now!

At their June 15 meeting, the Evanston Public Library trustees (the Library Board) began budgetary discussions for the new year. Although it will not begin until Jan. 1, 2012, the Library’s next fiscal year promises a lot of firsts: the first year in which the Board itself will determine its revenues and expenditures, the first term of many of the board members (as current members’ terms expire), and the first year of what could be a two-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Library Board and the City.

Paul Gottschalk, administrative services manager for the Library, described three major capital projects the Board could consider in the near- to medium-term: repairing the roof and the front entrance and undertaking miscellaneous masonry work at the Main Library; rehabbing the North Branch on Central Street; and purchasing a radio-frequency identification system (RFID) for Library materials, which he said could minimize loss and save Library staff time. The total cost of these capital projects is about $1.5 million. In the coming weeks, the Board will vote on the amounts to be allocated for operating costs, reserves, capital, etc. As a Library Board, they will not be able to issue bonds, but they may opt to build up a capital fund.

During citizen comment, Lori Keenan of Evanston Library Friends said she hoped that the Friends and the Board could work cooperatively in the future. The Friends group organized more than a year ago to raise money to keep both branches of the Library open after the City Council approved closing them.  The City opted not to renew the lease on the South Branch, and the Library Board agreed not to fund it further. When the Friends’ offer to donate money to keep the branch open was rejected by the Board, the Friends opened The Mighty Twig on Chicago Avenue, across the street from the former South Branch. The Mighty Twig, staffed entirely by volunteers – and there is a waiting list to volunteer – costs $154 per day to operate Ms. Keenan said.

The Friends maintains a book nook at BooCoo café and would like to see the Library establish a branch on the west side of town – and keep the North Branch open as well, Ms. Keenan said. She also said she felt that the Board “is missing opportunities left and right … We would really ask that you take advantage of the Friends organization and that we start to work collaboratively.”

In an emotional moment at the end of the meeting, Dr. Christopher Stewart resigned from the Board. He had led the Board members with remarkable decorum through the arduous and often tense moments of deciding to follow the Illinois Local Library Act and of understanding and addressing the ramifications of that decision. Susan Newman, Board vice president, will serve as president pro tem through July, when new officers take over: Sharon Arceneaux, president; Susan Newman, vice president; Diane Allen, treasurer; and Mildred Harris, secretary.

The Board next meets on July 20. Dr. Stewart said Mr. Bobkiewicz will attend the meeting, as will the Library Board’s attorney.

The Library Board of Trustees and the City of Evanston are forging a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to guide them for the next two years. The differing premises from which they approach the MOU, however, presage, at best, a showdown or two: The Library Board members say they are acting under the auspices of the Illinois Local Library Act, and the City  Manager says that, as a home-rule community, the City does not recognize the authority of the Local Library Act. 

History

When the Library Board voted on Aug. 4 of last year to invoke the Local Library Act and assume responsibility for the Library’s personnel, revenue and expenditures, it chose that option from among four presented by a Mayor-appointed Sustainability Task Force. A history of subpar funding for collections and services and a perennial threat to close the branch libraries formed the backdrop for this decision. The Board promised that they would be prudent in determining the tax levy in the early years so as not to overburden taxpayers.

Last August, shortly after the Library Board’s decision, Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar said he would not comment on whether the City’s home-rule powers pre-empted the Library Board’s statutory powers … “because it related to a matter of potential litigation.” On Sept. 15, Mr. Farrar said, “None of the cases [in Illinois] is 100-percent in line with the facts presented by the City of Evanston.” Courts in Illinois have held that an ordinance adopted by a home-rule municipality, depending on the facts of the case, may supersede a conflicting state statute.

Present

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told the RoundTable on June 16 that the City’s legal department says there is no case law to support either side. He said the City is proceeding under the assumption that it still has authority over the Library but will allow the Board members – Library trustees – to make some independent decisions.  “The City of Evanston does not believe the Illinois Local Library Act applies.  We have not operated this library under the terms of the Act for years,” Mr. Bobliewicz told the RoundTable. He added, “The “community standard has changed, and if the community standard has changed, how do we move to a new model?”

If Diane Allen and then-Board president Dr. Christopher Stewart, who had met within recent weeks with Mr. Bobkiewicz, were aware of the City’s position, they did not indicate it at the June 15 meeting. All the members of the Library Board who spoke at the June 15 meeting indicated they were proceeding on the assumption that the City recognized their authority and autonomy under the state act.

The MOU

The City presented a proposed MOU to the Board in May, and Board members discussed it at their June 15 meeting.  While members called several of the clauses “vague,” the meaning was clear: The City wants to retain control of most of the Library’s functions and decisions. 

Article II of the proposed MOU states, “The City of Evanston will own and maintain all real and personal property occupied and/or used by the Library as of the date of this agreement. The Library shall not sell or change use from library purpose any real property without consent of the Evanston City Council.”

Several Board members questioned the terms of Article II. “This is a really, really unacceptably vague paragraph,” said Ms. Allen.  “We asked the City Manager, ‘If the City owns the property and manages it, how do we operate?’ The City Manager said, ‘If you want that kind of [specificity], I can send it to a committee.’” She said he had threatened at other times during the meeting with her and Dr. Stewart to “send things to a committee,” which would protract if not obstruct the transition process. The “committee” was not specified.

Mr. Bobkiewicz told the RoundTable his reference to committee action occurred in the context of simplifying matters.  “What I said was that whatever MOU we come up with, we take to the City Council. The fewer moving parts, the better chance of coming to an agreement at budget time.”

Under Article IV of the proposed MOU “The City Manager shall point, employ and direct the Library director. The Board shall advise the City Manager in the appointment of the Library Director and advise regarding the performance of the Library Director. Library /Staff will be hired, disciplined and fired by the City Manager pursuant to City Personnel rules.”

Ms. Allen and Dr. Stewart said they were concerned as well. “We assured the City Manager that this was our right under the law and his response was … [animated],” Ms. Allen said. Gail Bush said, “We are all writing Evanston Public Library history. … I am concerned [about] the path that we are on step-by-step. … This is an enormous issue in libraries across the state. … This is not just ‘Let’s give a little to get a little.’ It feels like bully tactics.”

Ms. Allen said that she felt that Board members should not express a lot of opposition, for two reasons: first, because the City will pay Library expenses in 2012 until the Library receives its first monies from property taxes, and second, because of Mr. Bobkiewicz’s threat to send the matter to a committee.

Thus it appears that the City has offered a short leash rather than an olive branch or even a carrot. Membership of the Library Board is likely to change over the next year, as several members’ terms expire.

Analysis: The State of the Library

The Library Board of Trustees and the City of Evanston are forging a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to guide them for the next two years. The differing premises from which they approach the MOU, however, presage, at best, a showdown or two: The Library Board members say they are acting under the auspices of the Illinois Local Library Act, and the City  Manager says that, as a home-rule community, the City does not recognize the authority of the Local Library Act. 

History

When the Library Board voted on Aug. 4 of last year to invoke the Local Library Act and assume responsibility for the Library’s personnel, revenue and expenditures, it chose that option from among four presented by a Mayor-appointed Sustainability Task Force. A history of subpar funding for collections and services and a perennial threat to close the branch libraries formed the backdrop for this decision. The Board promised that they would be prudent in determining the tax levy in the early years so as not to overburden taxpayers.

Last August, shortly after the Library Board’s decision, Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar said he would not comment on whether the City’s home-rule powers pre-empted the Library Board’s statutory powers … “because it related to a matter of potential litigation.” On Sept. 15, Mr. Farrar said, “None of the cases [in Illinois] is 100-percent in line with the facts presented by the City of Evanston.” Courts in Illinois have held that an ordinance adopted by a home-rule municipality, depending on the facts of the case, may supersede a conflicting state statute.

Present

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told the RoundTable on June 16 that the City’s legal department says there is no case law to support either side. He said the City is proceeding under the assumption that it still has authority over the Library but will allow the Board members – Library trustees – to make some independent decisions.  “The City of Evanston does not believe the Illinois Local Library Act applies.  We have not operated this library under the terms of the Act for years,” Mr. Bobliewicz told the RoundTable. He added, “The “community standard has changed, and if the community standard has changed, how do we move to a new model?”

If Diane Allen and then-Board president Dr. Christopher Stewart, who had met within recent weeks with Mr. Bobkiewicz, were aware of the City’s position, they did not indicate it at the June 15 meeting. All the members of the Library Board who spoke at the June 15 meeting indicated they were proceeding on the assumption that the City recognized their authority and autonomy under the state act.

The MOU

The City presented a proposed MOU to the Board in May, and Board members discussed it at their June 15 meeting.  While members called several of the clauses “vague,” the meaning was clear: The City wants to retain control of most of the Library’s functions and decisions. 

Article II of the proposed MOU states, “The City of Evanston will own and maintain all real and personal property occupied and/or used by the Library as of the date of this agreement. The Library shall not sell or change use from library purpose any real property without consent of the Evanston City Council.”

Several Board members questioned the terms of Article II. “This is a really, really unacceptably vague paragraph,” said Ms. Allen.  “We asked the City Manager, ‘If the City owns the property and manages it, how do we operate?’ The City Manager said, ‘If you want that kind of [specificity], I can send it to a committee.’” She said he had threatened at other times during the meeting with her and Dr. Stewart to “send things to a committee,” which would protract if not obstruct the transition process. The “committee” was not specified.

Mr. Bobkiewicz told the RoundTable his reference to committee action occurred in the context of simplifying matters.  “What I said was that whatever MOU we come up with, we take to the City Council. The fewer moving parts, the better chance of coming to an agreement at budget time.”

Under Article IV of the proposed MOU “The City Manager shall point, employ and direct the Library director. The Board shall advise the City Manager in the appointment of the Library Director and advise regarding the performance of the Library Director. Library /Staff will be hired, disciplined and fired by the City Manager pursuant to City Personnel rules.”

Ms. Allen and Dr. Stewart said they were concerned as well. “We assured the City Manager that this was our right under the law and his response was … [animated],” Ms. Allen said. Gail Bush said, “We are all writing Evanston Public Library history. … I am concerned [about] the path that we are on step-by-step. … This is an enormous issue in libraries across the state. … This is not just ‘Let’s give a little to get a little.’ It feels like bully tactics.”

Ms. Allen said that she felt that Board members should not express a lot of opposition, for two reasons: first, because the City will pay Library expenses in 2012 until the Library receives its first monies from property taxes, and second, because of Mr. Bobkiewicz’s threat to send the matter to a committee.

Thus it appears that the City has offered a short leash rather than an olive branch or even a carrot. Membership of the Library Board is likely to change over the next year, as several members’ terms expire.