At a Committee of the Whole meeting of Council Monday, April 11, Councilors heard from the administration about its proposed changes to the City’s administrative code, a significant amount of which related to the future of the Everett Public Library Board of Trustees (LBoT).
Mayor Carlo DeMaria, Chief of Staff Kevin O’Donnell and City Solicitor Colleen Mejia spoke to these changes in a two and a half hour meeting that drew robust community input.
Previously, the proposed language abolished the LBoT entirely, which had been met with vehement public opposition last month. The revised language keeps the LBoT intact but changes its fundamental role.
The Everett Libraries are governed by the 13-member LBoT appointed by the Mayor and approved by Council. Historically, its responsibilities have been wide-ranging and the City hopes to narrow their scope.
Changes would include the following:
•The City would take over the human resources duties of the LBoT. This is consistent with all other boards and commissions.
•The City Treasurer would become the default treasurer of the LBoT. This is derived from the will of the Library’s founder Frederick E. Parlin.
•The LBoT would go from overseeing the whole library system to overseeing the management of the trust left by founder Frederick E. Parlin. The trust will be used to purchase items benefiting the library but for no other purpose.
These changes were introduced in accordance with the will of the library’s founder, Frederick E. Parlin, as well as state laws from the early 20th Century that were recently unearthed by Mejia.
“We were researching every board and commission in the admin code,” she said. “We’re not targeting the LBoT.”
While the City is not required to have a LBoT, Parlin’s last will and testament requested one for the administration of his trust.
Mayor DeMaria, whose wife serves on the LBoT, said he wasn’t trying to diminish the board’s importance, but said that a group that only convenes once a month should not be asked to run a library.
“It’s a $1.2 million enterprise being run by a somewhat-volunteer board,” he said.
Currently, the Library Director works with the LBoT on matters relating to human resources. The Mayor would like to see the Library Director working with the City on such matters.
“We can resolve issues with employees,” he said. “We want to work with the Director to make sure that [HR issues] are resolved in the interest of the taxpayers.”
O’Donnell said that the City was better suited to handle human resources issues than the LBoT.
“[Human resources] is a complicated function,” said O’Donnell. “The skill set remains [with the administration] and that’s why it’s important we have more of a say.”
Members of the community in attendance at the committee meeting expressed their ongoing concern about the proposed changes, emphasizing the importance of an LBoT that operates independently from the administration, precluding potential political entanglement.
Pat Ells, a librarian in Everett, said that the way the LBoT currently functions “allows the library to run without having to adjust itself to political changes” as new administrations come and go.
“I urge you to leave the library administration as it is,” she said. “We don’t need these changes.”
“Why change the libraries that have been responsible for producing good kids year after year?” asked Patricia Graciano. “Why are we even here questioning this today?”
Resident and City Council hopeful Renee Solano said that “one or two meetings” wasn’t enough time to get sufficient public input on the changes being presented. She also suggested that meetings be held in the community in addition to in the Council chambers.
Michele Capone, wife of Councilor Fred Capone, spoke at length about her support of the LBoT, of which she has been a member for seven years.
“The LBoT has a long, rich history as an independent service of Everett,” she said. “Our LBoT has worked well with 32 different administrations.”
She urged Councilors to reject any language that would compromise the autonomy of the LBoT.
In a letter addressed to Council, library trustee Samantha Lambert suggested that “a larger conversation of how boards and commissions are staffed is in order.”
Next week, the Council will be asked to accept or reject the amended administrative code. Councilors are required to vote on the document as a whole and cannot pick and choose which amendments or sections to approve. The language regarding the library might be a deal-breaker for some Councilors.
Councilor Peter Napolitano said he just wants to be sure that the libraries continue to “operate in the same manner and the same quality of service.”
Added Councilor Michael McLaughlin, “This [revised code] has a lot of good stuff in it. But to be able to keep the [language about] libraries in here, I would have to vote no on the whole [code.]”
If the document is voted down on Monday, Mejia requested that the Council state their reasons so that she could work with the administration to come up with an alternative.
However, the City may not have much leeway when it comes to amending their proposal.
“If the law is on the books, that’s what we have to follow,” said O’Donnell.