At their January 23 meeting, Meaford's council appointed five new library board members to replace the board members who resigned in December, but not before offering the new board some guidance in the form of a 'value statement regarding library services', read by Mayor Barb Clumpus.
After a total of 18 candidates applied for the five vacant library board seats, a nominating committee consisting of Mayor Barb Clumpus, Deputy Mayor Harley Greenfield, and Councillor Shirley Keaveney narrowed the field down to five candidates for council to consider. Frank Emptage, Kimberly Grafton, Jeremy McCoubrey, Lloyd Mohr, and Nancy Primak were unanimously approved by council for appointment to the board. Councillor Mike Poetker and Deputy Mayor Harley Greenfield will remain as council representatives on the board.
While it was stressed throughout the discussion that the library board operates independently from council, Mayor Clumpus read a statement that caused some members of council to question whether the intent was to give direction to the new board.
“The foundation for Council’s 2015-2018 strategic priorities is our commitment to values of respect, integrity, inclusivity, and the common good, and include a focus on strengthening our community and ensuring sustainability,” said the mayor. “The Council of the Municipality of Meaford respects the responsibility of the Meaford Public Library via the Public Libraries Act and their role to provide excellent, cost effective and comprehensive library services for all residents of the municipality. Through our Service Delivery Review initiative Council has demonstrated our commitment to a comprehensive review of all the services we deliver, and this includes library services. It is the objective of Council to ensure there is value for the tax dollars spent on library services.”
The statement from the mayor went on to make the following 'suggestions' to the new board:
No-fee reciprocal agreements as we currently have now with neighbouring library systems are strongly encouraged and supported.
Access for all students to library services is critical. There should be no fee or a minimal annual fee (like $5) charged for any student to be a member of any public library.
We support the exploration and financial analysis of a county-wide library model for Grey County.
Where fee-for-service relationships are established for library services these should reflect an evaluation of other similar arrangements throughout Ontario.
This funding model should be reviewed annually in the municipal budget process.
Any savings resulting from fee-for-service arrangements with neighbouring service deliverers to be directed to infrastructure.
Despite the statement read by the mayor offering suggestions to the new library board, when Councillor Steven Bartley suggested that a top priority of the board should be to sign a two-year agreement with the Owen Sound North Grey Union Public Library to continue services for Sydenham residents, he was told that council can't offer direction to the board.
“I truly believe that as council we should encourage the new Meaford Public Library Board to put in place a new deal with the Owen Sound library board as soon as possible. They were looking for a two-year deal, I would like to see a two-year deal. That was brought forward by the former Meaford Public Library board on November 7, I would like to encourage that to be done again,” suggested Bartley, who is the council representative on the OSNGUPL board.
Meaford CAO Denyse Morrissey told Bartley that to make such a suggestion would overstep council's authority.
“It is outside the purview of the Municipality of Meaford council to be directing those conditions and/or parameters,” Morrissey instructed Bartley. “The Library Act does not allow you to provide parameters and/or conditions for them to start a new relationship.”
Morrissey told council that any statements made by council relating to the library board should be high-level commentary with no specific direction.
Given the value statement and suggestions read by the mayor earlier in the meeting, some members of council were understandably confused about what council can and cannot say or do with regard to the library board.
“I was actually confused on this value statement, and why we needed to do that,” Councillor Tony Bell told council. “You just said that our direction should be really high level, but there are some pretty specific, pretty detailed directions as far as I can see,” offered Councillor Tony Bell.
Morrissey insisted that the value statement read by the mayor did not provide 'conditional direction', but rather it reflected the overall strategic priorities of council.
“You were simply suggesting to the library board that these are your (council's) values in this statement. You were not providing any firm costing, or terms of agreement,” said Morrissey. “It's important that you don't stipulate in advance that the term of the agreement needs to be this, that there has to be an agreement, that there has to be a contract. There has to be flexibility for a board-to-board process.”
Mayor Clumpus said that her value statement was not intended to offer direction to the new library board. “It was intended to be simply a support for our newly appointed library board,” said Clumpus.
Councillor Bell, however, saw the statement differently.
“When I read this you see, I see the second bullet (regarding fees for students), and the fourth bullet (regarding the determination of appropriate fees for library services), and I think that's a direction we're trying to give them when we're telling them that their fee should be five bucks for a student. I think that's something the board themselves should figure out. And telling them that we should look at what the costing is throughout the province of Ontario, again I think that's something that the board should look at,” suggested Bell.
Deputy Mayor Harley Greenfield suggested that the value statement was merely offered to the new board without any expectation that they would follow the suggestions contained within the statement.
“There are some suggestions that they may accept, or they may not,” said Greenfield.
Later in the meeting, council discussed the potential for the development of a county library system as well as a proposal put forward by the Owen Sound North Grey Union Public Library last week to merge the Owen Sound and Meaford libraries.
“The Library Board invites the Municipality of Meaford to begin discussions on the amalgamation of the Meaford Public Library and the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library,” the OSNGUPL board wrote in a letter sent to Meaford's mayor and council on January 17.
Meaford's council didn't appear interested in the invitation.
“I'm sorry, that's completely off the radar screen as far as I'm concerned,” said Deputy Mayor Greenfield in response to the invitation from the OSNGUPL board.
CAO Morrissey reminded council again that it is not for council to decide how the relationship between the Meaford library board and the Owen Sound library board should move forward.
“You have a board now in place, and it will be board-to-board that will resurrect those relationship issues,” noted Morrissey.
Politics aside, Meaford Library CEO Cathie Lee told The Independent that she is thrilled to once again have a library board in place.
“ I am thrilled that a new library board has been appointed and am looking forward to working with these folks. I think Council has done a great job appointing citizens from across our entire community, and while I haven't had the opportunity to meet some of these new members, I do know quite a few of them from the MPL,” offered Lee.
The Library CEO said that the coming months will keep the new board busy.
“At the top of the list would certainly be getting new members in place, including nominations for Chair and Vice Chair, review of bylaws, policies, and so on, and then a full training of how we provide library services to our community, which includes a review of the Strategic Plan. Then at our next meeting on February 15, we have scheduled a full orientation session with Anne Marie Madziak from SOLS (Southern Ontario Library Service),” Lee explained. “As you know, we certainly have some work to do with how we proceed with the OSNGUPL, so I am sure that members will be looking at discussing that as well. I hope that the value statement that the mayor and Council provided today will be a good starting point for that discussion.”
Lee also reminded residents that library board meetings are open to the public.
“All of our meetings are public so residents are more than welcome to attend. I will note however that at this time meetings do take place in the library board room so accessibility is an issue,” Lee told The Independent.
The first meeting of the new library board was scheduled for January 25.