Bay takes no action on supers proposed library agreement
By Cassandra Favre
Aug 11, 2017, 17:42
The Bay St. Louis City Council on Tuesday took no action on the Hancock County Board of Supervisors' proposed library services agreement, which would cut the city's representation on the Hancock County Library System Board of Trustees from two to one. It would also give the county three representatives and Waveland one.
Prior to the council's own discussion on the agreement, several members of the community spoke out against it.
Laurie Johnson said the HCLS is one of the "most incredible library systems" she's ever been a member of.
"I really feel like the size of the headquarters in Bay St. Louis deserves more than one representative on that board of trustees," she said. "I feel like you're being bullied. I feel like all of us are being bullied a little bit. I feel like they think the library system belongs to them alone, it doesn't. It belongs to us, it belongs to Waveland."
Kent Miller said, as it stands now, board trustees recommend replacement members at the end of their respective terms.
"When I read this new agreement, board members are appointed by the various entities," he said. "So then it becomes a political appointment."
Mark Isaacs said that all should be "congratulated" for agreeing to a savings of $129,000 in the library's new fiscal year budget.
Isaacs said there is a reason behind the current HCLS' board, appropriate representation.
"The county argues that they are paying 70 percent of the library funding and therefore the interlocal proposal is realigning representation with the funding source," Isaacs said. "True, the county is the main taxing authority. But to be clear, the county collects and is reallocating our money. The real question is 'who's money is it anyway?' It's our money coming from Bay St. Louis citizens. Thirty-five percent of the fiscal year 2017-2018 proposed library budget comes from Bay St. Louis residents whether in the form of their county taxes or your budgeting process. Only 32 percent of the budget comes from the unincorporated. Therefore, keeping the two Bay reps, two county reps and one Waveland rep is entirely proportional."
HCLS Board of Trustees Chairman Stephanie McConnell said the board is the administrative authority of the library system.
"We feel that the board of supervisors are trying to usurp the city's control of library services to its constituents, services that were first established in Bay St. Louis in 1936," McConnell said.
McConnell said the current board had no input into the proposed agreement and has not been provided a copy.
She said the 1991 library services agreement which the supervisors chose to opt out of has "stood the test of time and could still possibly be in effect."
McConnell asked the council to verify that the proposed agreement from the supervisors is a legal document and decide what's in the best interests of Bay St. Louis.
"We feel that this proposed agreement does not conform to some of Mississippi's library laws or the interlocal services contract of 1991," she said.
McConnell said it is the HCLS Board of Trustee's position that the 1991 library services contract is still in effect.
At the last council meeting, the council voted to send Bay St. Louis Mayor Mike Favre and councilmen Gene Hoffman and Josh DeSalvo to a workshop hosted by the supervisors about the library services agreement.
Favre said they discussed having a library board of trustees of nine members, but said they decided that "less is best."
Favre said he also discussed that one of the county's appointed representatives be from Bay St. Louis.
Councilman Jeffrey Reed said he doesn't want to lose any representation and would like to keep it at two appointees from Bay St. Louis.
"We have that, I don't believe we need to fix something that's not broke," he said.
Councilman Larry Smith said he would also like to keep two representatives from Bay St. Louis.
"We have a bigger stake in this," he said. "The county made mention that they had three libraries out there. Well, their three libraries look like little mom and pop shops. We got super Walmart. Everybody from the county, from Poplarville, Kiln comes to Bay St. Louis. We're providing services to the people of the county."
Hoffman said one of the discussions he had at the workshop was about bringing in a brand new board.
"There's no reason to fix something that's not broken," he said. "We have something that's very successful."
Determining how many members on the board can be "hashed out," Hoffman.
However, he said he would like to see the current board of trustees stay in place for the duration of their terms.
"I don't think there's a reason to create a new five-member board on Oct. 1," Hoffman said. "I personally don't want to see a reinvention of this library system. I want to see it continue on as it is. If they need a new agreement to make themselves happy, I guess I can understand that. The old one was written some time ago and was a little outdated as far as from a legal standpoint. That one still holds water in my book. The two cities never opted out of this agreement, only the county did. As far as we are concerned, this agreement is still in place."
Councilman Josh DeSalvo asked if the mayor always appointed someone to the HCLS Board of Trustees.
McConnell said members are nominated by the sitting board. The nominee is then submitted to city and county leaders for approval or not, she said. It's spelled out in the bylines of the board of the trustees.
"The issue I see is you hand-picking your own people all the time," DeSalvo said. "This is not personal, I support the library."
HCLS Executive Director Courtney Thomas said it's "not a stacking-of-the-deck type thing, it's a commitment issue."
When the board selects a potential trustee, Thomas said, it looks for someone who is a library supporter and has the commitment to follow through.
"Our library system is the best in the state," she said. "That is a direct result of the board members that we have. The worry about where the members come up in the geographic makeup, Bay St. Louis is the primary funder and should have a say in who the Bay St. Louis representatives are. The cities as a whole are the primary funder. So we should not have an entity that's not a primary funder calling all the shots."
Councilman Buddy Zimmerman asked Thomas if they are ready to "tighten the belt and cut spending down?"
He said the city is in "dire" need of those tax dollars.
Thomas said they "actively reduce" the budget every year.
"When you decide what you want to give us, we will make our budget work," she said. "We will tighten the belt if necessary. I know that we have the highest per capita funding. You're getting bang for your buck. You are the best library system in the state. We will continue to work with whatever funding we get."
DeSalvo asked what would happen to funding if an agreement is not reached by Oct. 1.
Thomas said that she hopes the entities would continue to fund the library system during ongoing negotiations.
Hoffman said even if the county opted out, "they would still have to continue the level of services that were in place at the time they opted out."
Thomas also told the council that the new proposal is an interlocal agreement to create a new system. The former agreement is a library services contract, she said.
"We have a library system," she said. "There's no reason why we can't get another services contract."
Thomas said there are other areas in the proposal agreement that may violate state code.
Hoffman said he recommended amending the old agreement during the workshop with the supervisors. He added that he hasn't had enough time to review the new agreement and compare it to the services contract created in 1991.
"I'm of the opinion that it can be handled in two ways," he said. "We can amend and go forward with the current library system and do a new services contract. Or we can do a contract with the interlocal agreement to create a new library system, but within that contract, we can basically agree to adopt the board as it is, adopt the system as is and bring it in under the new umbrella."
City Attorney Trent Favre said there was an Attorney General's Opinion issued last month about the library agreement, but he said he received it Tuesday and had not had time to review it.
Favre said the council could amend the current agreement but he was unsure about the second option Hoffman offered.
The council took no action on the proposal and scheduled a workshop on it for Monday, Aug. 21 at 6 p.m.