As a former auxiliary board member of the Elizabeth Library Special District, I offer my opinion that the current and future financial position of that district has never looked brighter in my 20 years living in the county. I served on a special fund raising board at the time the district was purchasing a larger building to accommodate a growing community.
Based on my conversations with Libraries Director Tim Miller, library board members, and review of documentation, I would like to address misinformation proffered by a citizen, Frank Reeves and by Commissioners Willcox and Richardson in the August and September issues of this publication and in a recent special commissioner meeting:
1) Reeves states, “At issue is the way library board members are selected.” He correctly points out that they are recommended by current board members. Per state statute CRS 24-90-108 (2)(c) and the original agreement between the county and the newly formed library district, the Elbert County BOCC gave to the library board of trustees the authority to recommend board members for BOCC approval. Per state statute CRS 24-90-109 (1)(a), terms of library board members are set in the bylaws of the specific library district. Commissioner Willcox stated that the board needs folks “who have stronger business and financial backgrounds.” Currently the board consists of an attorney, three citizens who own or have owned their own businesses, and a Human Resources manager....all with valuable and applicable skills to serving on the library board.
2) The Elizabeth library building - there was a tenant at one time, but due to the costs of renovation and fees required by the Town of Elizabeth, it hasn’t been feasible for tenants to rent this space. Even without rental income from this space, the library is on pace to pay the indebtedness for the building either early or on time, in 2020 or 2021. The library district will not need to refinance the balloon payment (unlike the county which has refinanced the original loan on the Justice Center several times); additionally, the library district has been saving approximately 15% of their annual budget towards that balloon payment. Can the county make the same claim? Paying off the building will also free up approximately $65,000-$70,000/year which can be used for future expansion of the library as growth projections for county population are realized. The library district will owe a final balloon payment of about $700,000 in 2021 and has to date saved almost $500,000 towards that payment. The district is on schedule to collect the remaining balance due by its due date.
3) The library finances have improved markedly under Director Tim Miller. Library budgets are available online, and Miller is available to answer any questions about the budget. He has long range budgetary plans, from 1 year up to 20 years, with income and expense projections. Not only is the district on track for a timely pay-off of the Elizabeth building, but Miller has also increased programs, hours, staffing, and technology, all within budgetary guidelines. All financial documents have been given to the commissioners, the county treasurer, and the state on a timely basis, and all documents are available for any citizen (free of charge).
4) The lack of long term planning/goals could not be further from the truth. The library board holds strategic planning sessions, led by outside facilitators. Each year as a part of Miller’s evaluation/annual review, strategic planning goals are revisited, and he is held accountable for achieving the agreed upon goals. Additionally, Miller holds monthly meetings with his head librarians at each location, as they also are held accountable for achieving specific goals from the strategic planning sessions. The county has been admonished several times by the auditors for not even performing employee evaluations; they should use the library as a model. It was reported at the county commissioner meeting on Sep 13,2018 that only 70 percent of annual employee performance evaluations have been completed. When I recently requested the performance evaluation of the county IT Director, I was informed that her last performance rating was dated 2014.
5) Per Mr. Reeves, “Another controversial financial issue is the current library board sued the county which resulted in taxpayer costs of $13,000 from the library district and $12,000 for EC in legal costs for a total of $25,000. The lawsuit settled with no significant adjustments....”. The commissioners, in their “appointments policy,” attempted to undermine library trustee powers as referenced above. The library board addressed their concerns with the commissioners about their “appointments policy” for over 6 months; the commissioners chose to ignore these concerns, leaving the library board with no choice but to sue to retain their rights under state statute. Unlike the spin from the commissioners, the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) does not mirror their “appointments policy,” but in fact retains all the rights that state statute provides to the trustees. It was obstinance (and blatant politicization) by the commissioners which caused the lawsuit and led to the litigation. The district would not simply concede its independence and establish a dangerous precedence that countered the will of the voters.
6) The CORA request which Mr. Reeves stated that he never received - Miller spent hours with Reeves, as did the library administrative assistant, answering his questions and providing documentation. Interestingly, Reeves placed his questionnaire on an employee’s desk (employee was on vacation).
Reeves prepared a set of questions (request for information) rather than following statutory CORA rules that allow requests for documents only. Reeves did not speak directly to anyone about his request, but rather just left it to accumulate under the paperwork that piles up when an employee is on vacation. Then he complained about the response not being timely.
7) As far as the secrecy issue that Reeves and the commissioners continue to raise, the Executive Sessions they refer to are waived from the minutes due to the trustees consulting with legal counsel to discuss the lawsuit and to revise the IGA. The commissioners are quite aware that attorney/client privilege is a legitimate reason to enter into Executive Session. It would not be advisable for the District to waive that privilege and summarily hand the defendant the District’s legal strategy.
When the citizens voted to make the library district a sovereign entity, they chose to separate the library from the county. This is no different than independent school and fire districts. The library district is still accountable through a balanced budget and detailed audit submission to the state for approval each year; the commissioners also receive an annual report from the library district. Trustee board meetings are always open to the public....no secrets here. The dates/times/places of all meetings are posted on the library website and in each of the branch libraries; however, despite many invitations, neither the commissioners nor Mr. Reeves have ever attended a trustee meeting.
The Pines and Plains Library District is a model of transparency, of strong fiscal management, and of ever expanding program offerings. I encourage anyone who has questions or concerns to contact Mr. Miller; he will be happy to share any details about the library district as well as correct the untruths being disseminated.
I trust the library district with my tax dollars because I see the return in services to the county through greatly expanded public programs. I cannot say the same for the county. I cannot trust a board of county commissioners that thought it was okay to authorize a $900,000 (interest free) loan to a subdivision for road paving. In what I can only interpret as a vote buying effort, the commissioners decided to use our tax dollars to lessen a Sun Country Meadows voter approved bond debt to pave their roads. See County Resolution #2018-20, http://www.elbertcounty-co.gov/RES%202018-20.pdf
If every registered voter in the county would walk in to their local branch library and donate $15, the balloon payment could be paid in full. Let’s make that happen.
Elbert County Resident