By CHRIS HARRIS, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
Library boards have been a hot topic in Pulaski County in recent months. Now they’re becoming a talking point for Frankfort too.
Senate Bill 20, which was introduced to the Kentucky State Senate by Sen. John Shickel of Boone County last month, stands to have a significant effect on the way library boards are built if it’s passed.
This bill would allow a county judge-executive — with the approval of a fiscal court — to appoint members to such a board when any prospective appointees presented to the judge, “in the judge’s opinion, are not suitable,” as the bill reads.
Previously, the judge-executive had been given the opportunity to approve the names brought to him, such as Pulaski County Public Library Director has done with Pulaski Judge-Executive Barty Bullock here locally. If Bullock wouldn’t approve them, the director would then go back and bring him new names. The county government itself, however, did not select people to hold seats on the board.
How much influence the county government should have over the library board became an issue locally last fall, when a petition drive began to dissolve the Pulaski county Public Library taxing district. Barbara Sanders, who spearheaded the petition, sought to give the fiscal court more oversight of the library board, which she felt was increasing taxes without proper accountability. Sanders eventually said she would stop accumulating signatures if the current board members would step aside and allow new ones to be appointed.
“The library supporters think the library board is selected by elected county officials. It is not,” Sanders said at the time. “(Bullock) has no input. They bring him two names that they have selected themselves and say ‘here, you must appoint them.’ As a formality, they run it by the state librarian first. ... This is not participation; it is autocratic.”
Sanders eventually withdrew the petition, noting that the Kentucky General Assembly was set to address special taxing districts like this one this year, which she felt would likely address the problem as she saw it.
When asked for comment about Senate Bill (SB) 20 on Tuesday, Sanders noted that she wasn’t familiar with the legislation itself yet.
However, “I’d be for that,” she said when given a summary of the bill. “I think (the board members) need more oversight. As it is, they select whomever they want and nobody has to approve it. The judge-executive signs off on it, but that’s just a formality.
“That (bill) sounds like what I’d be in favor of,” she added. “They’d still select two names (for appointees), but the court and judge would have to approve. As it stands now, the court doesn’t have any say.”
Those who opposed Sanders’ petition drive — which threatened to inadvertently shutter the library’s doors because of the library being in debt — again see things differently.
The blog site for the group Friends of the Pulaski County Library (friendsofthepcl.wordpress.com) features a post urging individuals to contact their legislators and tell them to say no to SB 20. The legislation “will allow local political influence to change how library board members are appointed,” reads the blog. “This bill will only harm our library system.”
The blog also mentions that February 20 is “Library Legislative Day” in which library supporters and personnel are encouraged to go to Frankfort and let their “voice be heard” by legislators about these issues.
Keeney herself said that should the bill pass, she doesn’t think there would be any problems working with Bullock and the court.
“He stated to me that he’s a huge library supporter,” she said of Bullock. “I think we could work together.”
However, Keeney is not so keen on the bill itself and what it represents — as she sees it, the proverbial “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” scenario.
“The way they are currently appointed, board appointments allow non-partisan political influence on library boards. The system we currently have in place has worked for over 60 years,” said Keeney. “To my knowledge, there have been very little issues as far as board members being removed.”
Keeney said that the process for appointing board members looks for “local citizens who will provide oversight for the library,” which are limited to two four-year terms, for uncompensated positions. She also said that she looks for “friends that are library supporters and library users” to be potential board members.
“I don’t know why there would be a problem,” said Keeney. “It just works the way it is.”
Keeney also said that she would support House Bill 1 (as did the blog, which urged library supporters to show their approval to legislators) which was passed by the House last week before moving on to the Senate. This bill would set up a system for auditing the entities and would create an online database where taxpayers could review financial reports for each taxing district.
This “would be wonderful, as far as I’m concerned,” said Keeney, who said she felt support by State Auditor Adam Edelen’s statements that library boards had shown some of the greatest compliance with the rules and accountability among all the special taxing district in the state. A survey on these districts by Edelen ultimately prompted the state legislature to consider what ultimately became HB 1.
“When (Edelen) makes statements like that, it makes me believe our boards are doing it right,” said Keeney.