A Kentucky Senate bill that would allow county judge executives to appoint members of library boards has some concerned about the politicization of libraries.
The bill seeks amendments to various laws to grant more power to a judge executive, with fiscal court approval, to appoint members of a library board when prospective appointees proposed by the board are not suitable.
Presently, the fiscal court notifies the Department for Libraries and Archives to send recommendations to a county judge executive to consider. Should there be a vacancy under certain parameters, successors are recommended by the board to the Dept. of Libraries for the judge exec. to fill with approval from the fiscal court.
Western Kentucky State Senator Stan Humphries co-sponsored the bill, filed by Senator John Schickel in northern Kentucky. Humphries said the decision should be placed in the hands of the public official elected by the people. Someone has to be accountable, he said, and that would be the person people have elected to make decisions about placing trust in individuals to serve on boards.
Humphries said the bill seeks to clarify an exception library boards have, distinct from other boards appointed by judge executives and fiscal courts. “This is not unique. All boards and commissions in my estimation, that I know about, are appointed by the fiscal court and have their representatives serve in that capacity."
Dave Schroeder is on the Executive Board for the Kentucky Library Association. "As a state organization I think one of our major concerns is that the current way boards have been selected was established to keep library boards independent and to keep libraries independent as far as being pulled one way or another politically,” he said.
Being non-political is an effort the association works on throughout the state, a system he said has generally worked well for 50 years. "We just feel that there's not really an issue here to fix. That the system's working and working well. The auditor, a few years ago, when they passed House Bill 1 cited libraries as kind of the poster children of special purpose government entities doing what they're supposed to do."
Kristi Tucker is executive director and member of the KPLA Advocacy Committee and Marshall County library director: "I'm very concerned. It scares me because we want libraries to stay non-partisan,we don't want people who might bring a political agenda, it's one of the only government offices that has stayed non-partisan."
Schroeder said people tend to group ‘Kentuckians’ as being all the same, but depending on where you are in Kentucky, things differ dramatically like income, ethnicity and poverty level. He said he wants to make sure libraries not only represent majority interests, but also various minority groups. "Anybody in the community walking off the street can find something that resonates with them particularly. And our concern is if we become too political or if we're pulled in one direction or the other we're going to be leaving out segments of our community that are taxpayers, are paying their taxes and want really good library services."
Humphries represents Calloway County, whose judge executive Larry Elkins has had a months-long feud with the local library board. Elkins has taken issue with an expansion proposed by the board he has said is too expensive and has withheld filling board vacancies. Humphries said SB48 isn’t in direct response to local-level issues. "This is not in reflection of what's happening in Calloway County in my opinion. That's for the citizens of Murray and Calloway County to decide. I'm not a taxpayer there and so it's not my decision."
Schroeder said the KLA doesn’t typically get involved in local situations. He said issues like the one in Calloway County are better handled at the local level, though he did add that they would support the library if able to do so. Issues like the one in Calloway County are a rarity, he said.
Having served as a judge executive, Humphries said he had a 'great’ library board in Trigg County. Schroeder said libraries have to be able to build strong relationships with fiscal courts and sometimes those relationships breakdown and work needs to be done to rebuild.
As to the function of a modern library, Humphries said it should remain similar to it’s current service. "They have a real responsibility to provide adequate service to the community, scope and be aware of potential growth and needs of the community and try to find ways to accommodate those."
Schroeder said though technology has changed, the basic mission of libraries have remained the same over time: "To provide information services to the people of our districts.”
Humphries said there is a slim chance the bill will be approved. He anticipates it will be met with resistance, which could be a constraint in a short session. KLA’s advocacy committee is monitoring the bill with plans to contact state legislators.