Farmington Hills Mayor Vicki Barnett and several council members on Monday indicated they would support letting voters elect Farmington Community Library (FCL) trustees.
Their comments came during a council meeting during which a number of residents and library employees accused library trustees and new director Riti Grover of mismanagement. Most placed the blame on trustee Bill Largent, who is the subject of an online recall petition with more than 1,000 signatures.
FCL is a district library; Farmington and Farmington Hills city council members appoint trustees. However, Barnett said only Michigan’s governor can remove them, “and I will tell you right now, she is a little busy with a few things.”
The issues raised, she said, “have exposed a great weakness in how we manage taxpayer dollars that don’t go to the city.”
Financial concerns led to Largent’s appointment in 2018, council member Ken Massey said during the meeting. As mayor at that time, Massey said, he decided to replace a long-time trustee after the library board refused to provide detailed budget information at the council’s request.
Though he did not name Largent, Massey said he appointed an individual who was “not only interested in the library of the past.”
“Technology is driving us in new ways, and new uses of the library are going to become very different,” he said. “The interest is how do we…make sure we are not only meeting the needs of today but the needs of tomorrow. I really wish folks at the library would realize that we need our library to change.”
Following Largent’s appointment, library director Elyse Streit and six trustees resigned, with one former trustee describing the board as “toxic” and Largent’s style as “confrontational”. While he was the focus of Monday’s comments, Barnett said there is plenty of blame to go around.
“There are problems on all sides that are not being addressed,” she said. “There are many, many issues we are dealing with that are popping up all over the place.”
Thousands of requests waiting
Several library staff members said the board’s decision to furlough more than 80 employees has left the library unable to provide adequate service to the public.
Trustees have said the decision was made to save money as a hedge against possible COVID-19 budget impacts. Speaker Steven Kish pointed out that the library remained open and fully staffed during a previous economic downturn. He wanted to see financial information to support the board’s decision.
Furloughed staffer Mark Flessa, who worked in circulation, explained that placing books on hold, long a popular service, is now the only way patrons can check out materials, with curbside service. As of Monday, he said, nearly 3,600 hold requests (between the Farmington and Farmington Hills libraries) remain unfilled.
By contrast, Flessa said, Novi’s library has 220 requests pending, and Redford, Auburn Hills, Commerce, and Northville libraries each have fewer than 90. According to their websites, all of those libraries are also open to patrons for “grab and go” service and short visits. None have furloughed employees.
“Libraries in other cities are doing the job that citizens paid for,” Flessa said. “The citizens in Farmington Hills need their library. They have paid for it with their millage. We are public servants, and we want to serve.”
Open library board seats
The City of Farmington Hills has one open library board seat; the City of Farmington now has two. Farmington council members were set to interview four candidates at a recent study session, but did not have a quorum.
In Farmington Hills, council members vote on appointees recommended by the mayor. Barnett said she plans to wait until after the August primary to present her candidate.
Council members will likely receive more information at their next meeting about moving to an elected board. If voters have to weigh in, City Clerk Pam Smith said, there’s no time to get a question on the November ballot.
Farmington residents interested in serving on the library board should apply by July 31. The application is posted on the city website.
To apply in Farmington Hills, submit a letter of interest with the name of the specific Board or Commission, along with a resume, to CMO@fhgov.com.