Douglas County commissioners reclaim library appointments

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The Douglas County commissioners took over the process of nominating and appointing library trustees, with a 3-0 vote at the March 26 commissioners’ meeting.

Prior to the change, the Douglas County Library District Board of Trustees had, since the early 1990s, recommended new appointments for ratification by commissioners.

With adoption of the new policy, two of the three commissioners will act as a nomination committee for new trustees when positions open, and a two-thirds majority vote of the commissioners will be required to approve the recommendation.

The commissioners’ decision was preceded by nearly two hours of public comment, most of it critical of their proposal. Of the handful of people who supported the commissioners’ decision, half were rejected library trustee applicants, or were related to someone who applied but was not selected as a trustee.

The now-discarded process of the library board handling its own nominations is one of two protocols allowed under state law, which prohibits an elected trustee board.

The second option is to have county commissioners appoint trustees, as they do with the planning commission and other public volunteer boards and commissions.

Critics of the commissioner-appointed process fear it will politicize the library board. Commissioners adopted the process to create greater accountability to taxpayers, said Commissioner Jill Repella, District 3.

“The first thing that goes through my mind and my heart is how disappointed I am that the word ‘politics’ is being thrown around in this issue,” Repella said. “This is about governance to me. It is a very large budget of taxpayer dollars. If something goes wrong, I ask who’s responsible.

“Ideally a separate government should be an elected body,” she said. “This is the only connection to an elected body the citizens have. We are taking it from a weak link to a stronger link.”

The commissioners’ solution was to create the two-commissioner nomination committee for a trustee nomination. The committee will submit its recommendation to the three-member board of county commissioners for ratification.

The commissioners’ resolution was designed to mirror the provisions allowed in state statute, said county spokeswoman Wendy Holmes. The prevailing concern was that its effect could change the future of the library district.

“The library board of trustees doesn’t need fixing,” said Carla Turner of Larkspur. “There is no evidence that a change in protocol or procedure is going to add any value to the process or improve the number one library in the nation.”

Commissioner Jack Hilbert, who in past weeks expressed discontent with the controversial viewpoints expressed by library director Jamie LaRue, made no comments at the March 26 public hearing.

LaRue’s wife, Suzanne LaRue, pointed out the positive gains made at the district, despite adverse economic conditions.

“We have gotten through the recession in a manner that is the envy of every library in the country,” LaRue said. “Even libraries in Arapahoe County and Denver are laying off people. We have services that serve the needs of everyone. I think (commissioners) should investigate the library’s board and how they do things in the selection process and see there is nothing shady going on there.”

 

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