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Library board owes community honesty, transparency

 
August 27, 2021

By Lee Haarstick
Bonners Ferry

Upon reading the 9B.news article relating to the August 19 annual budget meeting, it saddens me to learn again about the lack of transparency at the Boundary County Library. As a tax paying citizen I would like to know where my dollars are being spent.

Some of the most serious board of director offenses fall into four categories; criminal, sexual, fiduciary and financial misconduct. All are critical, however my focus are the latter two.

BCL directors must address all situations in which they are implicated in any kind of questionable activity. Disclosing the Lewiston law firm investigative report, as well as disclosing annual budget details is a starting point. The July 6 investigative report has never been released to the taxpaying public. The four "whistleblowers" were placed on paid administrative leave by the interim director as the library reopened and staff ordered to cooperate with another investigation by Wilson Law firm.

BCL directors should step aside of their duties and responsibilities until allegations are cleared to the publics satisfaction.

BCL directors who make unwelcome verbal threats against anyone could be accused of misconduct. Verbal harassment, sexual exploitation and stalking are other serious sexual offenses. Irresponsible or fraudulent behavior pertaining to financial issues is also a very grave matter.

BCL, a non-profit entity, has a fiduciary duty to oversee all facets of the library's operations. The board’s policies and procedures are designed to protect board directors and staff from potential problems. BCL directors need to be sure that they are overseeing the policies and procedures, and make sure they are being followed. Oversight also means taking more than a cursory look at financial reports, committee reports and other documents. BCL directors need to understand the reports, ask questions and challenge the information provided.

My understanding is that at the August 19 meeting attending patrons requested deeper detail of the proposed budget before submittal to the county clerk. There was no disclosure and patrons were ignored and overruled.

BCL Directors must review their fiduciary responsibilities where misconduct can occur:
  • Reviewing financial statements
  • Travel and expense reimbursement policies
  • Whistleblower policies
  • Overseeing audits
  • Overseeing investments
  • Set reasonable compensation for the library director and review their performance
  • Micromanaging staff rather than leading by planning, strategizing and overseeing staff
  • Avoiding hard questions and giving in to groupthink
   • Not knowing and understanding federal, state and local laws as a non-profit
  • Having ex parte discussions outside the boardroom
  • Failure to cultivate diversity and independence on the board; lax board director recruitment
  • Failing to document/disclose actions of meeting minutes.
  • Having or allowing conflicts of interest
  • Failing to hold interim directors accountable, or to restrict access to information during an investigation
  • Inconsistency in filing disclosures

In addition to serious offenses and failure to meet fiduciary duties, misconduct of board members can also be related to personal matters. Board directors are not allowed to put their own personal interests above the interests of the library when conducting business.

Board directors are held to a higher standard of behavior because they hold a position of greater responsibility. They should be above unethical behavior both inside and outside of the library. It’s not only the board director who suffers — the reputation of the library is also at stake.

It’s common for board members to develop friendships and camaraderie, but it’s not permissible to let them get in the way of business.

Strong relationships between board directors may make it hard to call someone out for unethical behavior, unwise choices, and other misgivings that affect BCL and its patrons. Board directors should never hold their relationships above the best interests of those they serve.

When one board director engages in inappropriate behavior, on the larger scale, it’s always a reflection on the rest of the board and on the leadership of the BCL.

When allegations of misconduct arise, BCL directors have an obligation to investigate the details, take a proactive stance and when appropriate or required, communicate the results to the patrons and public. In addition to dealing directly with scandals and debacles, the public will be watching to see how well the board handles such matters, which goes a long way toward restoring credibility.

There is strong evidence that BCL has no “whistleblower” or human resources policy to deal with complaints, harassment and transparency without retaliation.

What’s really in the annual budget details, when individuals reflect on BCL’s 103 day closure and myriad of articles?

Are there plans to retaliate? Is there a clandestine lay off strategy? Is BCL going to lay off the whistleblowers for budgetary reasons, or are they trying to create budgetary reasons to lay off the whistleblowers?

Release the Lewiston law firm investigative report and annual budget details!

Then let the tax paying public decide before October 1 new budget year!

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