We have a court ruling in the matter of our library district petition and I wanted to make sure you hear it directly from me ASAP. It’s good news and bad news.
The bad news is that we will have to refile our petition along with a bond and we do not have a decision on the important legal issue in our case – whether Jefferson County officials can refuse to create a library district by “opting out.” The court did not rule on the substantive issues.
The good news is that the court has ruled that our petition was properly filed, so we can refile a petition in the same way except with a bond.
I’ve quoted the important points from the court order here.
1. In our favor, the judge ruled that the county attorney was wrong in claiming we should have filed the petition with the county clerk and gotten the clerk’s approval before circulating our petition. He ruled that the Colorado Library Law (CLL) takes precedence.
“Simply, the CLL clearly governs the formation of county libraries and library districts. Had the legislature wished to extend the requirements of Title 31 to those in county library situations, they would have presumably done so by explicitly stating as much within the CLL.”
2. The court ruled that we should have posted a bond with our petition.
C.R.S. § 24-90-107(3)(c)(I) states, “at the time of filing the petition for the establishment of a library district, a bond shall be filed with the county or counties sufficient to pay all expenses connected with the organization of the library district if such organization is not affected.”
We had argued that the CLL permits us to request that the bond be waived, and we did so in writing with the petition, and because the County Commissioners “opted out” of the district and declined to set an election, a bond was not required.
The judge disagreed with us:
“The Court is not persuaded by this argument because it is clearly refuted by the above-cited, express language of the CLL. By failing to pay a bond “at the time of filing the petition,” the petitioners failed to comply with the CLL and the Petition was therefore invalid.”
3. As a result, the court declined to rule on the substantive issues:
“Additionally, because the Court finds this issue [lack of a bond] to be fatal to Plaintiff’s claims, it declines to address the remaining issues present in the parties’ briefs.”
Although it is disappointing that the county’s decision to “opt out” was not addressed in the court ruling, there are reasons for encouragement in this decision. We know all the county’s objections to our first petition and the court has provided guidelines for filing a new one.
All of the advantages of a library district identified by the joint JCPL–Jefferson County steering committee in 2007 and 2008 are still true today, and the financial advantages in particular have become painfully obvious. At that time, the Jefferson County Library Board of Trustees warned that remaining under the county could cost the Library millions of dollars by 2012. Sure enough, county officials have siphoned off nearly $6 million since then. Had the Library become a district in 2009, the staff layoffs and cuts in service and hours now being imposed would never have been necessary.
Our view remains that the Library, the Library Law, and the issue of a library district are too important to walk away from, even though we will have to post a potentially expensive bond. As you know, the county’s refusal to honor our petition is important to all library systems in Colorado because of its implications for the CLL. We are in talks with other library systems regarding their possible assistance.
We are, of course, actively in discussion with our attorneys on the process going forward. Because the judge made the effort in this order to rule that we were correct in the procedures for filing the petition except for posting a bond, the ruling has encouraged us to file a new petition in accordance with the CLL and with an appropriate bond.
We are committed, however, to doing this thoughtfully, carefully, and collaboratively with legal experts as well as the advice of our many friends in the library community throughout the state.
As soon as we’ve had a chance to meet with our attorneys to clarify our legal position and options, we will have further information to report.
In the meantime, don’t forget: converting JCPL to a library district is the only way to protect it from blatant political meddling and secure our tax money from the sticky fingers of the county commissioners,
It’s up to us!