This is the first 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.
What began as a request from Farmington Hills city council members for information about the Farmington Community Library’s budget and bylaws has developed into a rift between the two bodies – and even among city officials.
Farmington Hills council members and library representatives have different views of that request and all that followed. Some on council have wondered aloud whether the library board has something to hide, while other city officials say information was withheld in the process of appointing new library board trustees.
Library Director Elyse Streit seems baffled by the sudden replacement of a long-time board member. Hills Mayor Ken Massey says he’s disappointed that two other board members have since chosen to resign.
The only thing everyone seems to agree upon is this: The catalyst for the conflict that spilled into Monday’s city council meeting was the 2017 closing of Chapters Cafe.
Questions about cafe closure
In minutes from 2017 study sessions, Massey prefaced the library discussion by saying it would not focus on the closing of Chapters Cafe. He does admit the closure led to his questioning the library board. Published reports show cafe owners Jim and Christine Bezy presented trustees with hundreds of signed petitions to save their business.
The petitions, Massey said, eventually landed on his desk. During Monday’s council meeting, he said trustees told him the closing was a budget issue.
“If you’re going to use the budget as ‘that’s the reason’, I want to see it,” Massey said.
Streit said Monday that the cafe only generated about $5,400 per year for the library, and the owners had not kept it open for the amount of time required in their lease agreement. She said some council members in November asked for more information about the budget – a request she took back to library trustees in January, as their December meeting was cancelled.
The day after the November study session, Streit said, she received a call from City Manager Dave Boyer’s office asking about the reappointment of long-time library board trustee Bruce Lazar. She contacted Lazar, confirmed he was interested in reappointment, and passed that information along.
Two months later, Streit said, she was notified via email that Lazar had not been reappointed. Farmington Hills resident Bill Largent, a vocal opponent of the Chapters Cafe closing, would take Lazar’s place. When library trustees Pam O’Malley and Clark Doughty got the news, they resigned.
While city officials showed unanimous support for Largent, they split 5-2 in a March vote to fill those positions. Council members Theresa Rich and Samantha Steckloff said they didn’t object to the appointees.
But they’ve got problems with the appointment process.
Next: Farmington Hills and Farmington councils each appoint four members to the Farmington Community Library Board. But they make those appointments in very different ways.