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County, city officials push for library system changes


The future of the Sonoma County Library and possibly its controversial director are on the line as momentum builds for revising the library’s operating agreement with the county and nine cities.

County officials and several city managers are pushing to form a committee that will consider revisions to the library’s joint powers agreement, which was enacted in 1975 to consolidate library operations and provide funding for the system through property taxes.

The Sebastopol branch of the Sonoma County Library. (John Burgess / PD)

County Supervisor Mike McGuire, who is spearheading the review, said he is seeking a more collaborative relationship with the library, the cities and the county.

McGuire has criticized Library Director Sandy Cooper, telling her during a budget hearing in June that he felt the library system has been operating “like an island.”

Cooper also was the subject of a scathing county grand jury report released the day after the budget hearing that called her an “unresponsive” leader who “undermines the spirit” of the joint powers agreement.

McGuire said this week that the library review is not aimed at relieving Cooper of her duties.

“This is not about a specific personality,” he said. “Whoever is sitting in that director’s seat, we want to have a collaborative relationship in the long-term.”

But Julia Freis, chairwoman of the library commission, warned about the possible “unintended consequences” of such an undertaking. She said she’s concerned the library could lose its protected funding status or be subjected to increased political pressure depending on the outcome of the committee’s work.

“I am not clear on what the problem they think changing the JPA would fix,” Freis said.

County supervisors in March directed staff to review library operations and to return with recommendations for improvement. That has fueled speculation that supervisors are seeking more direct control of library functions, including the ability to hire or fire the director.

Supervisors currently have limited budget authority over the library system, which receives most of its funding through a share of property taxes that are deposited into a fund specific to the library’s needs. The formula, which last fiscal year amounted to about 2.25 percent of one percent of the tax levy, was set in 1978 with the implementation of Proposition 13, according to Erick Roeser, the county’s property tax manager.

The seven-member commission is in charge of spending the money. Its members are appointed by county supervisors and by officials in the cities of Santa Rosa and Petaluma.

The library’s current system of governance has elicited praise for giving patrons across Sonoma County equal access to the library system. But it’s also fueled complaints that decisions are made without enough consultation with the library’s partners, particularly those in smaller communities.

Cooper and the library commission have borne the brunt of these concerns. The basic premise of the grand jury’s report was that Cooper rules by fiat with the commission going along with whatever she wants.

That view was contested in the commission’s draft response to the grand jury. Freis said the response should be finalized at the commission’s next meeting in September. She also reiterated her support for Cooper.

In an Aug. 8 letter to the Sonoma County Mayors’ and Councilmembers Association, County Administrator Veronica Ferguson and four city managers expressed support for revising the library’s operating agreement so that it “best fosters representation and accountability countywide.”

Sonoma City Manager Linda Kelly, who drafted the letter, said there is no way for the city to know if it is paying its fair share for maintenance and operation of its library building, which the city leases from the county library.

The West Napa Street facility recently underwent a $2.4 million renovation, the bulk of it paid for with redevelopment funds authorized by Sonoma city leaders.

Kelly said the renovations included energy-saving upgrades such as a new “cool” roof and heating and air conditioning systems. But she said any potential savings that result from those improvements will be shared with other communities under the current terms of the joint powers agreement.

“I’d like to see that return on the city’s investment go to our residents,” Kelly said.

She said she’d also like to explore whether Sonoma and other communities should have more of a say in the library’s decision-making process.

The review committee will include one representative each from all nine cities, the county, the board of supervisors and the library commission. It is expected to begin working in October and have recommendations by the end of the year.

Any amendments to the library’s operating agreement require the unanimous consent of the county and the cities of Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, Petaluma and Sonoma, which were the original signatories to the 1975 document, according to Kathy Larocque, deputy county counsel.

8 Responses to “County, city officials push for library system changes”

  1. Brenda Woolrich says:

    It is well past time to turn the county library system back to the local cities where local government can manage and account for their libraries.

    This county system has become a failure because of a lack of leadership, fiscal management and bureaucratic bungling. The county has not demonstrated that it is capable of managing the libraries. Our country roads are exhibit one.

    Get the county out of the library system and lets have a system that actually service the communites.

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  2. Follower says:

    Thank god these people aren’t running out Health Care!
    … oh, wait.

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  3. ArthurAndrew says:

    Its good to see the Library in the news. This means that people are interested in their local Library. Derek fails to point out critical information in this article about the Libraries financial situation. This information can easily be found on the Libraries web site. It is particularly important to see the budget figures on pg. 105 of the linked document. This cart shows the Library spent $452,687.00(2nd column) less than it budgeted and received $119,007.00(3rd column) more in revenue than anticipated. That’s a total of $573,737.00 of unspent tax revenue. In June of last year the Library claimed it had a financial crisis and the Library Commission voted to close the Library on Monday’s. In this article Library Commissioner Tom Colbert said “We heard their concerns(the public and staff) and very emotional response, and this is a lousy thing to have to do. I honestly don’t see an alternative.” and at that same meeting Library staff read a letter to the commission stating their belief was that the deficit was exaggerated. “What you term a ‘10 percent decline in revenue’ is, in our estimation, a problem of allocation and over-inflated line items for expenditures in the library’s budget,” Well it turns out the allocation problem was just the tip of the iceberg. Why isn’t the PD reporting this? This is a complete failure on the part of the Commission and Library management to provide library services to the public. The Library has been closed on every Saturday before a Monday Holiday as well as every Monday for the entire year plus it was closed in between Christmas and New years that’s a total of 84 days CLOSED! It was stated that the closures would save the Library $399,00.00 which was desperately need to provide other vital services. What services are more important than being open? Well apparently they didn’t cost that much and must have been provided on Mondays.

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  4. Snarky says:

    Brenda Woolrich:

    Encourage the Press Democrat to publish photos of each of the Library Commission members along with their supposed qualifications AND most importantly, their attendance record at the meetings.

    The Press Democrat fails its subscribers, as it always has, by being too cozy with the government people.

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  5. Reality Check says:

    People are dreaming if they think a county takeover of the library will result in:

    Ridding libraries of the homeless.

    More money for buying electronic books.

    Longer hours.

    More likely, the county will do for the library what it’s doing for county roads.

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  6. Reality Check says:

    McGuire isn’t seeking “a more collaborate relationship.” He’s seeking more power over the library. And maybe the county should directly govern the library. It’s a fair point to consider.

    I’d be more inclined to support the idea if the county had a good track record at administrating its existing responsibilities. But it doesn’t.

    If or when the board controls the budget of the library, the likely cutbacks will make the ones people complain about today look small.

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  7. Brenda Woolrich says:

    Finally something may happen to improve the county library system. It is in disarray and has been for a long time. The management needs to be replaced, reorganized and redirected. Much more accountability needs to be built into the funding and accounting system.

    Too many of the libraries are day care centers for the homeless and their often disruptive behavior which goes unchecked.

    The bathrooms are filthy and the staff are intimidated by the unruly homeless antics.

    Why is there no access to ebooks? Why are so many books stolen from the Santa Rosa downtown library and therefore unavailable to the public?

    Why are the libraries closed on Mondays?

    The whole system is a mess and needs a total shakeup and cleanup and soon.

    Our tax dollars are being wasted and the head of the library commission does seem to have a clue as to the real problems facing the whole library system.

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