During the November session of the Macon County Board of Commissioners, Macon County commissioners approved proposed amendments to the “interlocal agreement” with the Fontana Regional Library Board, which was up for its mandated 10-year review.
While Macon County has approved the proposed amendments, the other two counties in the agreement, Swain and Jackson County, would also have to approve the changes before they would be made final.
Through the amendments, Macon County Commissioners are proposing a shift in authority, recommending changes such as having commissioners assume the responsibility of appointing members to the regional board, a power currently vested in local library boards.
As recently as the Spring of this year, the Macon County Board of Commissioners has held discussions on withdrawing from the Fontana Regional Library System entirely, with multiple commissioners publicly expressing their support of such action.
According to the agreement’s requirements, the regional contract has to be renewed every 10 years. The last time the contract was renewed was in 2013. Because it was time to renew the contract, the County Managers of Macon, Jackson, and Swain counties joined together this summer to sign a letter expressing their support of the library and their desire as county managers to see one structural change to the agreement — which would have the library’s regional board of trustees be directly chosen by each county’s board of commissioners.
The managers agreed in the letter that the Fontana Regional Library System has “positively affected all counties within its membership through providing citizens with convenient access to informational and educational resources for over 75 years.”
Following the signed letter from Macon, Jackson, and Swain Counties, the Macon County Board of Commissioners held a vote to approve the recommended changes and at the time, County Manager Derek Roland informed the board that the other counties would be taking up the change at their respective board meetings. However, when the item came up in Jackson County, commissioners tabled the issue and it has not since been discussed again.
Now, Macon County has gone further and instead of only recommending one structural change, the county proposed a hoard of changes that essentially removes the controlling authority of the library from the board of trustees and puts it in the hands of county commissioners.
On Tuesday night, Commissioner Danny Antoine, who has been vocal in his support of seeing changes made at the local library stated that while the review of the interlock agreement was standard operating procedure, it did align with a controversy from the past summer involving the placement of books labeled as “sexually explicit” within the local library. Commissioner Antoine emphasized that he wholeheartedly supports the library, however, his concerns remain in ensuring inappropriate books are appropriately placed in sections aligned with the readers’ age groups in order to protect children.
The proposed amendments approved by Macon County and now being forwarded for consideration by the Jackson County and Swain County Boards of Commissioners address key aspects of the library system’s operations and governance such as:
Purpose Statement Modification: The commissioners added verbiage to the library system’s purpose statement explicitly stating its commitment to operate in a “socially and politically neutral manner.”
Trustee Requirements and Appointments: The amendments include updates to the requirements for Fontana Regional Library Board trustees. Notably, all trustees would now be required to be full-time residents of the county they represent. Additionally, the process for appointing board members, the structural change originally recommended by county managers, was changed from local library advisory boards to the County Commissioners of each county.
Vacancy Filling: Changes to how vacancies are filled involve appointments by County Commissioners for the remaining term of the member who created the vacancy, eliminating the involvement of local library advisory boards.
County Control over Board Actions: The proposed amendment grants County Commissioners the authority to remove a Library Trustee from their County if a majority determines a failure to abide by the library’s by-laws and policies.
Public Comment Period: Macon County proposes adding a mandatory public comment period to library board meetings, allowing for questions and comments from the public, and would mandate that the public comment period before each library board meeting with no less than 3 minutes allowed per speaker. The comment period will be limited to 45 minutes.
Dispute Resolution: A significant change involves handling disagreements in the operating agreement. As it stands, Disagreements related to this operating Agreement is resolved first by committee from each county and then by their legal counsel however, Macon County is proposing removing the library board of trustees from discussions regarding the library’s operating agreement and instead have disagreements resolved by representatives of two commissioners from each county and their legal counsels, and only involve the library board of trustees as a last resort if the commissioners are unable to resolve it.
Withdrawal Process: In addition to altering who has controlling authority involving the operating agreement, the proposed amendments suggest significant changes to the process in which one of the three county’s can withdraw from the agreement.
As it stands, Should that participating local governmental unit fully withdraw, assets located in the local library facility will remain the assets of the withdrawing library. Notwithstanding the aforementioned, in the event there are assets located in the local library facility that were purchased by Fontana Regional Library regional support services, those assets will remain the assets of Fontana Regional Library.
Macon leaders want to see that changed to state “Should that participating local governmental unit fully withdraw, assets located in the local library facility will remain the assets of the withdrawing library and the withdrawing unit may keep all assets/materials within their respective library(ies). Those items that are not kept in the local libraries of the withdrawing unit, such as vehicles and finances held by Fontana Regional Library shall remain the property of Fontana Regional Library.”
Superseding By-Laws: An amendment specifies that the operating agreement between the three counties supersedes the library’s by-laws, and any conflicts will be governed by the operating agreement.
Transparency Measures: Proposed changes emphasize transparency, including posting the Director’s job description, proposed budgets, and audits on Fontana Regional Library’s website for public access.
Tuesday night’s meeting included close to an hour of public comment, with the majority of speakers expressing support or opposition to the proposed changes. Those in opposition said that the agreement has been in place for decades and there haven’t been any issues, therefore it doesn’t need to be changed. Speakers also expressed concern regarding changes to material ownership in the event a county withdraws from the regional system. Right now, while each county provides funding to the regional system for operating expenses, the libraries operate independently and have additional means of generating revenues, many of which are unique to individual libraries. One someone donates books or money to the library currently, they are doing it under the guise that they are donating it under the Fontana Regional Library system and those funds are used to buy books that then in turn belong to the regional system. County funding is used for operating expenses such as electricity and the building, not to purchase materials for the library.
Those speaking in support of the amendment suggested it was needed to provide better oversight of library operations and although the Fontana Regional Library System is not a member of the American Library Association, speakers suggested the changes were needed to “stop” the American Library Association from pushing their political agendas on the community.
Commissioner Josh Young said that he agreed with one of the speakers that said if the county was considering the proposed amendments in good faith — to improve the library — then they supported it. According to Young, his support of the proposed amendments was to improve services at the library and enhance county oversight as Macon County contributes over a million each year for operations.
Commissioners voted to approve the proposed amendments and directed County Manager Derek Roland to send the changes to Macon and Swain Counties for a vote from their respective boards. The proposed changes will only be implemented if all three counties vote to adopt them.