It’s been a week now since the Commissioners reacted to our petition by passing a resolution on January 25, 2011.
We’re in a bit of limbo and the future is not entirely clear, but I think I owe it to you to describe the situation as I see it.
For those who don’t know the facts, the Commissioners passed a resolution “opting out” the entire County from the library district that would have been created as a result of our petition.
Let me pose and answer a few questions that might help explain.
What does that mean?
It means that they would exempt the entire County (which actually means JCPL) from the district, leaving nothing for the district. Presumably, JCPL would continue to operate as-is.
Can they do that?
Well, that’s the 64-thousand dollar question. The Library Law provides an “opt-out” for libraries like Westminster, which would be wholly-enclosed by the district. The Library Board negotiated with Westminster three years ago, when it proposed a district to the commissioners, and agreed that Westminster would not opt out, but would be compensated by the Library Board for staying in.
It seems clear that the intent of the “opt-out” provision is specifically for cases like Westminster, and if the Commissioners can opt out the whole County, it would defeat the purpose of the petition process, which is clearly defined in the law.
What can we do about it?
I can’t fully answer that yet. Undoubtedly, the Commissioners can be sued. Basically, that means asking a judge for a “declaratory judgment” to decide whether what they did is legal. We, as the petitioners, can sue them. But unless we can find an attorney willing to undertake this on a pro-bono basis, it would be very expensive.
We are exploring many other options as well.
What are the implications?
My personal belief is that the implications of the Commissioners getting away with this could be fairly dire. The Commissioners have now established that they can:
- Siphon money out of the library’s mill levy and into their own, thus raising taxes for the County by lowering taxes for the library
- Bully the Library Board using the threat to cut funding
- Appoint compliant agents to the Library Board, including themselves, to carry out their will
- Derail the petition process given to citizens in the Library Law to fix the problem by creating a district
The net result is that the Commissioners can now do anything they want with the Library’s funding. The Library’s mill levy, contrary to the Library Law, becomes fully fungible with the County’s general levy. But another ominous consequence is that, by having complete control over the funding, and by appointing willing agents to the Library Board, they can impose their will on Library policy issues as well.
It is clear to me that the Commissioners are improperly, and probably illegally, imposing their will on the Library, taking tax money that the voters approved for the Library, and openly thwarting the will of the people.
I’d like to thank each of you for your efforts in trying to secure and protect the Library’s future funding and independence through the petition process given to us as voters by State law. Witnessing the Commissioners’ reaction has convinced me more than ever that we are doing the right thing and that the Library’s need is even greater than I had feared.