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Sept 17 2018 Letter to Council v2

Letter to the Fullerton City Council from Fullerton’s Library Board of Trustees

Matthew Leslie

Tonight at an emergency meeting at Fullerton’s Main Library, the Library Board of Trustees adopted a strong statement against a proposal that members of the Fullerton City Council appoint themselves as Trustees of the Library instead of members of the public. The proposed change is to be considered at the regular meeting of the Fullerton City Council on Tuesday, September 18, 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Unilaterally suggested by Council Member Jennifer Fitzgerald during a May 1 meeting, the proposal has met with nearly universal condemnation, prompting the obvious question of why Ms. Fitzgerald would risk such political damage on something so high profile with so little seeming chance of success. Two other votes would be necessary to pass the item, and even Mayor Doug Chaffee, who frequently votes with Jennifer Fitzgerald, seems doubtful about that happening. In a Voice of OC story today he is quoted as saying:

‘“I’m unaware of any one of us wanting to take it over,” Chaffee said. “I don’t see support for it.”’

Like Jennifer Fitzgerald, however, Doug Chaffee favors selling off the Hunt Branch Library, and is quoted in the same article in reference to its possible sale:

‘Chaffee said, should the city sell the Hunt building, some of the money would go back to the library system. “It is city property for the council to decide on, without the library board,” Chaffee said.,’ revealing that our current mayor thinks it is perfectly fine to take property gifted as a branch of the Fullerton Public Library, sell it, and keep at least some of the money to use for whatever purposes the City Council decided would be appropriate.

The same day, the Trustees met to discuss both the proposed takeover and the utter lack of consultation about it with their body or the Fullerton Library Foundation or Friends of the Fullerton Library. Even Joshua Dale, Ms. Fitzgerald’s own appointee to the Library Board, speculates in the same Voice of OC story that the city’s general need for money is behind the proposal, revealing that she evidently hadn’t even consulted with him on the plan. According to the Voice of OC, “Fitzgerald did not return a phone call Monday seeking comment.”

The text of the Trustees’ letter in opposition to Jennifer Fitzgerald’s proposal is below, co-signed by her own appointee:

“September 17, 2018
Dear Mayor Chaffee and the Honorable Members of the Fullerton City Council:
The Fullerton Public Library has been governed by an administrative Board of Trustees for over one hundred years. In that time, generations of Fullertonians turned billions of pages of millions of books, but more importantly the Fullerton Public Library has been supplemented in its mission through the open hearts of volunteers and the open wallets of its generous patrons.
We find it deeply disturbing that the City Council would direct staff to prepare an ordinance to replace a century of precedent concerning the library’s governance without collecting input from the individuals and associations deeply invested with making the library the success that it is today.
The Council has not made its case for change, so it is impossible for this Board to offer a constructive argument for why it ought to justify its own existence, but the purposeful exclusion of the Library’s support groups from this important conversation does not require an argument to understand its obvious offense. The City Manager and the City Attorney had ample time and ability to include supporters and volunteers in this process. They chose not to. We strongly object.
Should the Council desire to assume direct management of the City Library, it ought to start with an inclusive conversation and receive input from its volunteers and supporters.
If the Council has a case for change, we invite an open and transparent discussion in the form of a joint meeting with the Library Board of Trustees. We traditionally include the Friends of the Fullerton Library and the Fullerton Library Foundation in all our discussions.
As such, we insist they have a seat at the table when discussing the future of our free and public library. Until this conversation occurs, it is in the best interest of the City and the Library to table decisions related to how our hundred-year library operates, serves its patrons, and promotes continuing lifelong learning.
Sincerely,
Sean Paden, President, FPL Carl Byers, Vice-Chair, FPLJoshua Dale, Trustee, FPL Ellen Ballard, Trustee, FPL Ryan Cantor, Trustee, FPL”

Fitzgerald Coyote Hills 714

Jennifer Fitzgerald’s war on Fullerton’s library should be stopped now.

Matthew Leslie

Back in May the Rag reported that Fullerton City Council member Jennifer Fitzgerald during the Council’s May 1 meeting requested that the council agendize an item to consider replacing Fullerton’s Library Board of Trustees with the city council members themselves:

“I do want to bring the library board code sections up to date. I want to add to that we institute a new organizational structure for the library board that calls for the appointment of the city council members to serve as the trustees to the library board and to form a library advisory commission.”

At the time no other member of the City Council commented on her request, letting it pass like the ravings of a demented relative at the dinner table. When asked privately about it, another member the Council responded that no one else supported the idea. But, five months later, the item has nonetheless made its way on to the Council’s September 18 meeting as part of the ongoing initiative to restructure Fullerton’s Committees and Commissions,

CITY OF FULLERTON BOARD / COMMISSION / COMMITTEE REORGANIZATION
Fullerton City Council | Successor Agency Agenda September 18, 2018 – Page 4

“Ongoing implementation of City Council’s final direction regarding boards, commissions and committees, specifically elimination of Planning Commissioner stipends, changes to the Library Board of Trustees and creation of a Library Advisory Commission and Active Transportation Committee.”

The staff reports explains that: “The attached draft code amendments reflect City Council direction provided at the May meeting in which the City Council directed Staff to return to the Council with code updates regarding the Library Board of Trustees as well as having the City Council serve as the Library Board of Trustees in the future.” So, no one on the City Council stopped the idea either.

The effort to restructure Fullerton’s commissions and committees goes back to the Joe Felz days, and some actions to that end have already been taken by the City Council. Though discussed for staff direction at the May 1 meeting, however, this latest round of restructuring options has taken many by surprise–including all three boards serving the library. Neither the Fullerton Library Foundation, who privately raise funds for the library, The Friends of Fullerton Library, who operate its bookstore and organize its periodic books sales, nor the Library Board of Trustees themselves were consulted about the idea or even apprised of its imminent appearance before the Council next Tuesday night. That’s a lot of people, and they are not happy about it.

The city staff’s proposed ordinance calls for replacing parts of the Fullerton Municipal Code (FMC)’s section on the Fullerton Public Library with language that establishes a Library Advisory Committee, but makes no mention of the City Council populating the Library Board with their own membership, presumably because it isn’t legally necessary–it’s just that no one ever does it, because there is no reason to do so. My mistake. It actually does say:

“2.16.020 Library Board – Appointment – Term.

The Fullerton Public Library shall be managed by a Board of Library Trustees consisting of five members appointed by the City Council. Appointees shall be current members of the City Council.” (Boldface added).

The staff report calls for “replacing current Library Board of Trustees members with current City Council Members as Trustee’s terms expire,” meaning that some Council members could begin serving as Library Trustees as early as December.

This unilaterally proposed action cannot help being seen in light of Jennifer Fitzgerald’s support for selling the Hunt Branch Library and her other recent outlying suggestion that the Orange County Public Library system take over Fullerton’s century old plus library.

Adopting the proposed changes would effectively reduce the Library Board to serve only in an advisory capacity, altering a practice dating back to 1901, before Fullerton was itself even incorporated. Amendments governing the Library Board of Trustees date to five years later in 1906, and, for what its worth, specifically hold that “Men and women shall be equally eligible to” to be appointed–that’s fourteen years before women even had the right to vote in elections in this country, for those of you counting.

And for what purpose? In May Jennifer Fitzgerald gave no rationale whatsoever for the City Council to appoint itself as members of the Board of Trustees, but somehow this change to 112 years of the Council appointing members of the public to serve as Trustees to the library has appeared on a City Council agenda anyway. This unprecedented and unwarranted change should be adamantly opposed by all members of Fullerton’s City Council until and unless some compelling reason is given for the change–and it would have to be a really compelling reason at that. Further, members of the City Council should be more proactive in stopping wastes of staff, City Attorney, Council, Library Trustees, and public time if none other than one of their number seriously support idiotic ideas like this one in the fist place.

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Matthew Leslie

On May 15 the Fullerton City Council voted to form Library Ad-Hoc Committee to consider recommendations to explore future uses of the Hunt Branch Library. The library is currently closed, and leased out to neighboring Grace Ministries on a month-to-month basis. Although the Library Board of Trustees seems generally to favor retaining the Hunt as a city facility, opinions on that board differ about what can, and should, be done with it. The City Council is more sharply divided, with two members, Bruce Whitaker and Jesus Silva, voicing support for keeping it in city hands, while Mayor Doug Chaffee has openly advocated selling it. His position is evidently shared by Council member Jennifer Fitzgerald, who was quoted in a May 24 OC Register story as speculating that a sale of the property could help fund library services on the east side of the city. Mayor Pro Tem Greg Sebourn remains uncommitted on the matter. Although some of his comments in the recent meeting could be taken as encouraging by anyone advocating for the Hunt to remain a city asset, he has not ruled out a sale.

Formation of the ad-hoc committee was ultimately approved on a 4-0 vote during the May 15 meeting (Jennifer Fitzgerald absent), but only after extensive discussion by the council. The city staff report proposed a committee of seven that would include two members of the city council, but just one library trustee, in addition to one member each from the Fullerton Parks and Recreation Commission, Fullerton Heritage, and the Fullerton Planning Commission, and the Fullerton Public Library Foundation*. Council member Jesus Silva, who had suggested establishing the committee at an earlier meeting of the City Council, objected to populating the ad-hoc with “a lot of ‘inside players,’” and suggested expanding it to “include some members of the surrounding community” because they would ultimately be most affected by whatever plans were eventually made for the property. Mr. Silva also said he wanted to include representatives from “cultural and educational organizations to see if we can really generate some ideas,” referring to the possible use of the Hunt as a center for cultural and education programming.

Council member Bruce Whitaker agreed, saying that it was “time to step back and take a wider view as to what the beneficial use of this city-owned property might be over time. And that would be the effort of the ad-hoc committee—to bring people who are creative and who might help forge partnerships that would allow us to renew that facility in a part of town where we need that, where we don’t have much in the way of city facilities.”

Mr. Silva suggested reducing the number of city councilors on the ad-hoc to one, and adding a member of the elementary school district board, another library trustee, and members of the public. Mayor Chaffee objected to including any library trustees at all, stating “I hear way too much bias when I listen to that group.”

Mayor Pro Tem Greg Sebourn called the ad-hoc an opportunity for “getting the community engaged.” He supported including a mix of public members, and didn’t see the need to include a member of the city council. His motion to get the committee started by having each member of the council simply appoint a person of his or her choice was the plan eventually adopted at the meeting. These five initial appointments are expected to be announced at the June 3 meeting of the city council. Library Director Judy Booth will be included as an ex-officio member.

Once convened, the new ad-hoc will appoint four additional members. A link is present on the city’s website for applications for the committee, but does not yet lead to an actual application. Interested parties are encouraged to call or email the City Clerk’s office to find out how to apply at (714) 738-6350 or CityClerksOffice@cityoffullerton.com.

Though not technically required to do so, the new ad-hoc will proceed in accordance with the Brown Act, announcing meetings in advance, and open them to the public, and keep minutes. Rather than the sixty days recommended by city staff, the committee will continue for at least ninety days. During this time City Manager Ken Domer will contact “educational and cultural arts organizations interested in utilizing the property” in advance of an anticipated City Council Study Session later this year.

Some of the many members of the public who spoke to the issue that night didn’t see the need for the formation of an ad-hoc committee at all. Elizabeth Gibbs recalled that another such committee had already existed five years ago, whose recommendations had been adopted by the Fullerton Library Board of Trustees. Others agreed that the trustees themselves were the appropriate body to explore options for the Hunt, but Mayor Chaffee characterized the Hunt as “a building owned by the city without any purpose or restriction on it,”

Area resident Maria Hernandez recalled visiting the Hunt Branch Library frequently with her children, and told the council that if they “converted Hunt Branch library into a cultural center, (they) would be creating jobs, family activities, and come to the rescue of a historic site…” 

Library Trustee Ryan Cantor, who was himself a member of original 2012 ad-hoc  committee, took issue with the agenda item’s reference to the Hunt as a “former library,” as did current Fullerton Library Board of Trustees President Sean Paden. “It’s not the former library, it is the library. It’s closed, but it’s still our library,” said Mr. Paden.  In response, the  city council agreed not to refer to the Hunt Branch in those terms from that point forward. Trustee Cantor recommended issuing Requests for Proposals from interested community groups who might be able to provide funding and/or programming for the Hunt, something also discussed during Library Board meetings.

Nine days later the Library Board itself considered several items regarding the Hunt during their regular May meeting. Rather than meeting in the small boardroom in the west part of the building, the May 24 meeting was held in the Main Library’s Osbourn Auditorium to accommodate the unusual presence of nearly forty public observers. The trustees adopted a document intended to “Define the Intent of the Gift of the Hunt Library.” 

As requested in their previous Special Meeting of May 5, a representative from the office of the City Attorney was present in the person of Deputy City Attorney Kim Barlow for consultation about legal actions the trustees might choose to take over any proposed sale of the Hunt. Ms. Barlow promised to respond to questions in a confidential email to the trustees.

*The Fullerton Public Library Foundation is a non-profit that raises supplemental funds for specific library projects, and is distinct from the Fullerton Public Library Board of Trustees, and from the Friends of the Fullerton Public Library who organize periodic book sales and operate the library’s book store.

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