The Library Board took a major step Monday night, Feb. 13, toward taking over control of the Library’s budget, including the right to fund operations as a separate taxing authority. It did so with barely any comment from City Council.
Council introduced an ordinance that will essentially “remov[e] the Library as a formal City department,” said Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, at the Rules Committee meeting on Feb. 6.
All authority to manage the Library will pass from the City to the Library Board of Trustees, which will continue to have nine trustees appointed to three-year terms by the Mayor.
The Library Board’s authority will include setting and adopting a budget beginning Jan. 1, 2013, and setting a property tax levy to fund that budget.
The ordinance also provides for the creation of a joint City Council-Library Board committee “to develop recommendations for changes in further administrative operations of the Library,” according to the staff memo.
Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, voted against the ordinance at rules committee calling the Library Board “an entity that can tax people without any real accountability.”
She urged that the joint committee include individuals who opposed Library autonomy and supported the closure of the Central Street branch library. The joint committee must be “fiscally cognizant,” she said.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, expressed concern that an unelected board will have the authority to levy taxes Citywide. She asked if any other unelected body had such authority in the City.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that while no other unelected City board had taxing authority, the Library Board model is specifically provided for and therefore comes straight from State of Illinois law.
Ald. Grover emphasized the importance of continued cooperation between the Library and the City even after the transition is complete.
Many services the Library provides or will provide could potentially “overlap with City services,” she said, and the joint committee should work to coordinate those services to avoid redundancy without allowing important services to fall away.
Mayor Tisdahl said that the new library director should be appointed by the Library Board. “I think that in order for the new library director to be successful, the new library director should be appointed by the Library Board. I am arguing for that,” she said.
The Library is currently under an interim director, Donna Dziedzic, since former director Mary Johns departed in July 2011. Ms. Dziedzic was appointed by City Manager Bobkiewicz.
At Council, the ordinance effecting the transition passed on the consent agenda without discussion.