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Library board has chance to rebuild trust

July 14, 2021

By Mary Ollie

Bonners Ferry The Boundary County Library has been in “dry dock” too long. Dry dock was the term used by Sandy Ashworth on April 15 to describe plans for a two-week closure. The two weeks turned into two months and then more. Boundary County residents were told the closure involved serious safety issues and the rumors started a flyin’.

In trying to make some sense of the situation, I filed a public records request for the agendas, minutes and board packets, including the financial statements. A public records request made by an individual is a public record and as such can be shared among interested parties. I say this because another set of eyes or two might prove useful.

Reviewing the records was not easy, as the files were presented out of chronological order. I finally made a chart referencing agendas, minutes and meeting documents.

Despite the disorderly presentation, I came across minutes missing a page, an executive session held with three rather than four required board members and a curious lack of information regarding the May 18 election. As far as I know, the two trustee positions up for election were uncontested. In that case, according to Idaho Statute, “the board of trustees shall no later than seven (7) days before the scheduled date of the election declare the candidate elected as trustee, and the clerk of the library board shall immediately make and deliver to this person a certificate of election.”

One would think this would be noted in the minutes.

Another missing piece of information was any reference to annual performance reviews. The content of these reviews is confidential and does not come under the public records law. However, it is a board responsibility to review staff and library director job performance as the board hires and fires.

That review process should be noted in the minutes.

I hope the library board of trustees will work to increase transparency in how our county library operates. One place to begin is to put the board policy manual, the budget and all agendas and minutes on the library website, and provide them to local media for the widest dissemination possible. Agendas and minutes should include key actions that fall under the duties and responsibilities of a governing board.

With the technology we have today, our public institutions and elected officials have an excellent opportunity to show transparency and to build public trust.

The events of this past year have undermined trust in the library and in the trustees. That trust can be rebuilt by publicly responding to the points made in the independent investigator’s report and creating an action plan to address those areas of concern.

Boundary County Library patrons interested in knowing more about how a library board operates can find a number of resources on the Idaho Commission for Libraries website. A well-run county library depends on the board of trustees. It’s not an easy job and having support from voters to stand up and correctly do that job is important.

As that famous sign on Harry Truman’s presidential desk said, “The buck stops here.”
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