Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Marathon County again

Oops, I'm making trouble. Without even trying.

The Wausau Herald reports that the husband of one of the librarians whose position was demoted attended a library board meeting and:

stood to read a post from the Wausau Daily Herald’s Web site on the matter, in spite of the fact that the agenda does not allow for public comment.

The post was by Appleton Public Library director Terry Dawson. In it he said the public deserves better information ahead of board decisions. He also criticizes a Daily Herald editorial for stating that fewer people rely on high-level librarians for research because of the Internet.

Board chairwoman Gina Cornell adjourned the meeting when Furrer refused to stop.

Deputy County Administrator Brad Karger said it’s up to the board chairperson whether to allow time for public comment on a meeting agenda, and that traditionally the library board has not.

Cornell said that in the case of the library board, the appropriate way for the public to contribute is through a board member.
OK ... for the record, I don't know that much about what's happening in Wausau. I wasn't there, but I would surely understand the Board not wanting to enter into a debate with family members of employees.

Nonetheless, I think it's a good idea to allow public comments -- this is the general practice for City of Appleton Council committees, and our Library Board includes "public participation" on the agenda of every full Board meeting. Public bodies need to provide reasonable assurance for opportunity for public input. Obviously this wouldn't work in Congress, but even our state legislature regularly holds public hearings on issues. On the scale of a local library board, it's a good idea -- public statements can be reasonably limited in time and relevance to the agenda. Not providing a venue for public comments to public bodies can increase frustration and confrontation.

And I'll stand by my original points:
  • library boards should be advocates not only for taxpayers but for libraries and the profession
  • library boards should make their decisions in an open way so that the public understands the alternatives and why any given choice -- especially the tough ones -- are the best for library service and the community
What is happening in Marathon County is not clear from media accounts and emails, but I hope the public and library staff can have confidence that their board and administration are doing the best they can do.

1 comments:

Jeff Scott said...

Oh you know you are a troublemaker! You know, all that talk of openness and transparency, who needs that.

To be serious, every meeting (library advisory board, Friends of the library, City Council, and the Library Federation) has a public comments section. I didn't think it was legal to have a meeting without it. The purpose is just that, transparency and openness. Even if you don't change your decision, you will need to explain them.

Thank you for taking a stand, even if you didn't intend to.