This is the third in a series of articles about a rift between the Farmington Hills City Council and the Farmington Community Library Board of Trustees, which has resulted in accusations of politicized board appointments, violations of the Open Meetings Act, and a lack of transparency on both sides. Read the first two:
- LIBRARY BOARD, FARMINGTON HILLS COUNCIL SPAR OVER APPOINTMENTS
- FARMINGTON HILLS MAYOR CHOSE LIBRARY APPOINTEE, IN PART, TO ‘SHAKE THINGS UP’
Some Farmington Hills city officials say they need more information about Farmington Community Library’s $6 million budget.
Library board trustees say city officials have received a budget document and a copy of the library’s audit. They want to know why that’s not enough.
So in the relationship between the Farmington Community Library and the cities of Farmington and Farmington Hills, who is entitled to what?
The three entities have a unique relationship, one defined by the state’s District Library Law, passed in 1955. It allowed the City of Farmington and Farmington Township (now the City of Farmington Hills) to share the library system and create a district library board.
The local agreement gives each city the authority to appoint four trustees, but the board – under state law – remains autonomous. According to the library’s website, the board is empowered to:
- establish, maintain and operate a public library for the district;
- appoint and remove a librarian and necessary assistants and to fix their compensation;
- supervise and control library property;
- adopt bylaws and regulations;
- establish a district library fund, over which it shall have exclusive control;
- and do any other thing necessary to conduct district library service.
The cities’ only “power,” so to speak, lies in board appointments – four members each from Farmington and Farmington Hills. And the cities exercise that power differently.
Mayoral appointments, public interviews
The Farmington Hills city charter gives the publicly elected mayor power to recommend appointees, who are then approved by the city council. Mayor Ken Massey has said he consults with city staff and matches applicants’ areas of interest and expertise to the needs of the board or commission. He said council members have the opportunity to privately express concerns about any appointee before they vote.
In Farmington, where council members choose the mayor, applicants are interviewed during a public meeting. Applications are also part of the meeting agenda packet posted on the city’s website.
Farmington Hills city council members Theresa Rich and Samantha Steckloff say they have no problem with their city’s charter provision. They do question Massey’s process in replacing longtime library trustee Bruce Lazar.
Massey said during an April 9 council meeting that he knew the January 22 appointment of Bill Largent would be controversial. Largent has raised questions about the library board’s closing of the Chapters Cafe at the Main Library on 12 Mile Road and whether trustees violated the Open Meetings Act.
“I had no reason to distrust the appointment process,” Rich said. “I certainly didn’t know that it was intended to be a ‘shake things up’ non-reappointment.”
Requests for information
Rich said she assumed Lazar had chosen to step off, and she didn’t learn he wanted to stay until several weeks after the council’s unanimous vote to replace him.
“That’s material information that we should have known,” Rich said. “The fact that the mayor chose not to share that with all of council, I think that reflects poorly on us.”
Rich and Steckloff requested copies of all applications for two recent library board positions and were told those wouldn’t be available until the day after the March 26 appointments. After multiple requests, they expect to receive those documents in their April 23 council packets.
Overall, the council members would like to see a more transparent process, with access to all applications before voting on appointments. They’d also like applicants to receive more information.
“People don’t know the status of their applications,” Rich said. “If they submitted one to two years before, is it still live? Are they still under consideration? Do they get a reply? We need to be respectful of our residents.”
“I think we need to revise the process because right now, we are making decisions in a vacuum,” she added. “And just because it’s always been done that way doesn’t mean that’s always how it should be done.”