Your Voice: Stop micromanaging the Farmington library board

TO THE EDITOR:

On February 14, 2018, an attorney representing the Farmington Community Library (FCL) Board of Trustees wrote a letter to Farmington Hills City Council, noting that the Michigan Court of Appeals “recently rejected a participating municipality’s argument that it had budgetary control over a district library.”

“A participating municipality, like the City, should not be micromanaging the Library Board,” Foster Swift attorney Anne M. Seurynck wrote.

One year later, it feels like déjà vu all over again.

At Monday nigh’s joint meeting between Farmington and Farmington Hills City Councils and the FCL Board of Trustees, some members of Farmington Hills Council continued to voice longstanding demands for information that neither city is actually entitled to: namely, extensive details of the library budget. Farmington Hills Mayor Ken Massey tried to justify his demand by saying that since trustees are appointed, “the ultimate fiduciaries responsible for funding are elected officials.”

Fact check: That’s not the way it works.

FCL is a district library, funded by its own voter-approved millage—not by city money. The cities’ only involvement is appointing members to the Library Board. The Michigan Public Library Trustee Manual (page 77) spells it out: “District libraries are completely self-governing.” The fact that board members are appointed doesn’t give the cities the right to oversee their budget. “Even though board members are elected by residents of a municipality or may be appointed by a municipality, their duty is to the library, not the municipality,” states an article in the March 2018 issue of Municipal Law News (“Ten Critical Issues that Every Michigan Library Trustee Must Know”).

There is such thing as an “advisory board” structure in district libraries, where board decisions require approval from another body, such as a council or township board. That is not the case in Farmington. FCL is a “governing board,” and as such, has complete and autonomous authority in regards to library decisions including the budget. Ultimately, the Library Board is responsible for library funds, not the cities.

By law, the Library Board doesn’t have to hand over that information. And while I do believe the library budget should ultimately be as accessible as our city budget, which is posted online (all 195 pages) for anyone to view, the decision on what to make available belongs to the Library Board—and the Library Board alone.

The key point here is that appointees are supposed to represent the best interests of the library—not the Mayor, not myself, or any other member of either Council. If there’s an appearance that those who are appointed are serving an agenda other than the library’s, it undermines the community’s confidence in the independence of the library. And it undermines the confidence of those who work for the library that those appointees are looking out for the library first.

It’s time for this little crusade—this attempt to micromanage the actions of the Library Board when there’s clearly no legal basis to do so—come to an end so the people we entrusted with leading our library can focus on their job.

Maria Taylor
Farmington City Council member