Meaford's council held a special emergency meeting on Thursday morning (December 15) to appoint four new public library board members after all volunteer board members resigned in the wake of council's decision earlier in the week to bypass the board in an attempt to make an arrangement with Owen Sound's council to continue library services for Sydenham residents for the coming year, and to open membership at the Owen Sound North Grey Union Public Library to all Meaford residents after negotiations between the OSNGUPL board and the Meaford Library board had reached a stalemate.
At Thursday's special meeting, council appointed four new members to the Meaford Library board: Lloyd Mohr of Sydenham, James Sullivan of Sydenham, Linda Van Aalst of Sydenham, and Bob Wright of St. Vincent. Council representatives on the library board are Deputy Mayor Harley Greenfield, Mayor Barb Clumpus, and Councillor Mike Poetker.
When asked why no public notice had been issued seeking applicants for the vacant library board seats as is required by Ontario's Public Libraries Act which states that “The clerk of the appointing municipality or county or, in the case of a union board, the clerks of the affected municipalities shall give public notice of vacancies on the board by publishing a notice of them, inviting applications, in a newspaper of general circulation in the municipality,” Mayor Barb Clumpus told The Independent that in an emergency situation council can bypass that procedure.
“It was an emergency situation, so there were a number of expressions of interest that had come forward, and that's allowed in the Library Act,” Clumpus told The Independent.
When asked why all newly appointed board members were from Meaford's rural areas of Sydenham and St. Vincent, with none appointed from urban Meaford, the Mayor said they couldn't find anyone in urban Meaford interested in filling a seat on the library board.
“It's not because we didn't try. It's because of busyness, busy lives, and this is an emergency situation,” said Clumpus.
Mayor Clumpus suggested that the Public Libraries Act empowers council to recruit new board members in an emergency situation without adhering to the established procedure of giving public notice and allowing residents to apply for a spot on the board.
“Communication went out to many people. It wasn't a recruitment process as is normally done, we were empowered through the Library Act to do what we could, so we (council) were all empowered with contacting those who have expressed interest in the past, or have had an interest in the library and that's how the recruitment process went through,” Clumpus explained. “So we went through a number of names in the urban area as well as in the rural area.”
Asked why in the absence of the time required to issue a formal public notice seeking library board applicants, the municipality didn't post a notice on their Facebook page in this era of instant communication seeking applicants for the vacant board seats, Clumpus said it hadn't been considered.
“To be quite honest I didn't even look at the Facebook page,” responded the Mayor. “We were just looking for suggestions of people who had expressed interest in the past, and are library users, and have a connection to the library. Through the emergency situation, we had to bring it together, and there's limited talent from my prospective (for the use of Facebook). It was a question of seeing who we could recruit on even a temporary basis until we were able to regroup because we couldn't allow the library to falter because we didn't have a board.”
The municipality commonly uses their Facebook page to promote municipal programs, to post notices of loose dogs picked up by bylaw enforcement, and to announce the dates and times for council and committee meetings. Their Facebook page currently has more than 1,500 followers.
Anne Marie Madziak of the Southern Ontario Library Service told The Independent that there is in fact no provision in the Public Libraries Act for the emergency appointment of library board members as was suggested by Mayor Clumpus.
“I am not aware of there being a special allowance for an emergency situation,” Madziak told The Independent on Thursday afternoon, adding that it was possible that there might be wording to that effect in the Municipal Act, but she said the Public Libraries Act would normally override the Municipal Act. “But the Public Libraries Act, because it is more specific, usually overrides the Municipal Act where it's talking about boards and committees.”
Madizak suggested to The Independent that the fact that the Public Libraries Act doesn't provide direction in emergency situations as Mayor Clumpus had stated it does, can make it difficult to determine if Meaford's council has contravened the provincial legislation.
“It is still my sense that section 11 of the Public Libraries Act indicates that the vacancies should have been advertised in the local paper, and that the Public Libraries Act is silent on the issue of urgent or emergency situations. The problem is that when the legislation is silent on a situation, it makes it less clear as to whether contravention of the law has taken place,” advised Madziak.
The Southern Ontario Library Service was established in 1989 and is responsible for delivering programs and services on behalf of the Ontario Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport by to Ontario library boards by “Increasing cooperation and coordination among public library boards and other information providers in order to promote the provision of library service to the public, and assisting public library boards by providing them with services and programs that reflect their needs, including consultation, training and development."
Outgoing Meaford Clerk Rob Tremblay explained that the Public Libraries Act directs municipal councils to fill empty library board seats “promptly”.
“With the resignation of all but two members of the existing board on December 13, 2016 the Meaford Public library board was not compliant with the Public Libraries Act whereby the board shall be comprised of at least five members appointed by municipal council. The by-law that was passed on December 15, 2016 is compliant with the Public Libraries Act specifically section 9.(1) and section 12 . Per section 12 of the act, vacancies shall promptly be filled. Our appointment policy is not mandated by the Municipal Act and is the corporate procedure. Given the urgency of ensuring an operational board to continue overall management and oversight of library services consistent with section 3 of the Public Libraries Act, it was not possible to conform with section 11 (Notice of Vacancies). However, as I mentioned at the meeting, we will continue to receive expressions of interest to serve on the board or on sub-committees. With the holidays approaching and office closures, as well as the on-going issue of access to the Owen Sound library, it was critical to ensure that board members were in place to continue discussions on a board to board basis as mandated by the Public Libraries Act.” advised Tremblay.
While the Public Libraries Act does state that vacant board seats must be filled “promptly”, there is no definition of what “promptly” means in the context of the Act, or an indication of an acceptable length of time to fill vacant board seats.
The first meeting of the newly appointed board will be on Wednesday January 11.