Saturday, March 30, 2013

Douglas County Commissioner reclaim nominating process

Here is the article that tells the tale.

I find myself wondering about this issue of "accountability."

Suppose (just hypothetically) that Commissioner Repella were to cast the deciding vote on the appointment of a really bad board member. How does the "elected official component" make the situation more accountable? Commissioner Repella is term limited. To show public displeasure against that decision, no one can vote against her for Commissioner next time, because she can't run. And with the many other issues that Commissioners are tasked with, won't library issues tend to get lost in the cloud? If being an elected official just means that people can speak up at public meetings to the decision-makers, the public can do that at library board meetings, too.

But also, see this news article from 2011, in which then local Republican Party Chairman Mark Baisley said that "he was approached by a person running for a local utilities board. He says they had never gotten involved in local races like this, but then he realized, the party should get involved to start taking the country back from the Democrats, one small office at a time."

"They do make a difference. Town council members do make a difference," Baisley said. "Board members on library boards do make a difference."

My conclusion: the library board issue wasn't about accountability. It was about partisan control.

There's nothing illegal about that, incidentally. It wasn't illegal for the party to take over the local school board, either. But is it in the best interests of all Douglas County residents?

As far as the library is concerned, that depends on the actual process that's put in place. Will it be as open and inclusive as the library board's process? Will the Commissioners try to match the skills of candidates with the existing library vision, priorities, and projects? It's hard to know; so far, the Commissioners haven't asked about any of that.

My PW piece

Give ’em What They Want?

This is my response to Brian Kenney's piece.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Douglas County Libraries and the Board of Commissioners

Here's the first article, covering the attempt to take back the nominating process from the Trustees.

Here's the second article, covering the meeting between the two bodies.

And finally, I have appended the text of the Trustees' guest column to the Douglas County News Press(appearing on page 9 of the March 14, 2013 edition).

The Douglas County Libraries, a library district (and like the county, a subdivision of the state), was established by a vote of the citizens in 1990. At that time, the County Commissioners granted to the new Library Board of Trustees (first by InterGovernmental Agreement, and in 2001 by resolution) the right to nominate its own members. The commissioners have always been the final appointing authority.

That arrangement isn't uncommon, although there are several variations around the state. There are no elected library boards in Colorado, and appointing authorities often hand over the nominating process. But library law is explicit about accountability: it is the Trustees, and only the Trustees, who are responsible for adopting a budget, for setting policy, for evaluation of the director, for the acquisition and disposition of property, and more.

We have adopted three processes we believe are exemplary. One of them concerns nominations. When there are vacancies, we advertise widely, request letters of interest and resumes, interview candidates in real-life panel environments, and carefully consider qualifications focused only on communication skills, not political views. Then we forward our recommendation to the County Commissioners, who have always accepted them. It is not unusual for us to receive over a dozen applications for each open position. We routinely invite the Commissioners to participate in the process.

Our second process is an annual board evaluation. Once a year, Trustees must fill out a formal document that not only holds their own performance to rigorous standards, but assesses the functioning of the board as a group.

This process has been tweaked through the years, but is widely considered a "best practice" in the field. Our Trustees have presented on this model at regional and national conferences, and have even been approached by a library publisher to write a book about it.

Our third process concerns reappointment. If serving Trustees seek reappointment, they are again formally evaluated by all other board members according to various criteria: do they attend meetings? Do they thoroughly review board packet materials before meetings? Do they not only participate, but contribute to board discussions and decisions?

Do they seek opportunities to connect both to our community and the larger library environment?

In short, the Board of Trustees of the Douglas County Libraries has been a thoughtful, conscientious, and high-performing public body. It has demonstrated the ability to manage its performance, and held itself to the highest standards of public accountability. Since 2009, our library has been ranked number one in the nation for our population (by Hennen's American Public Library Rankings). In its 22 years of operation, the library has incurred no debt, survived a recession with no layoffs or cutbacks in public service, and has even saved for future construction. It has been recently mentioned in Forbes and Wall Street Journal as a leader in the field of digital content management, and as a pioneer in the nurturing and ebook publication of local authors.

Moreover, we have enjoyed strong, mutually supportive partnerships with the schools (for whom we provide over $250,000 in services annually), the towns and cities in the county, the Highlands Ranch Metro District, various Chambers of Commerce, Arapahoe Douglas Works! and many others.

Board discussion is often passionate and robust. Because the Library Board acts promptly to recommend members, it has never suffered from long vacancies.

Of course, any process can be improved, and we welcome the county commissioners to participate and suggest thoughtful changes to any of our current mechanisms for ensuring effective governance. We do not, however, believe that simply substituting a partisan appointment process, without the significant input of our highly engaged volunteer trustees, would lead to improvement. As noted in the Feb. 21 and Feb. 22 editions of the Colorado Community Media's Douglas County newspapers, if it isn't broken, what are we trying to fix? And why now?

We invite all citizens with an interest in the preservation of a system that has clearly worked well both for our libraries and our community to attend the public meeting on March 26, 1:30, at the Commissioner Hearing Room, 100 Third Street, Castle Rock, CO 80104.

Signed, the Board of Trustees of the Douglas County Libraries

Robert Morris, President; David Starck, Vice-President; Demetria Heath, Secretary; Bob McLaughlin, Treasurer; Barbara Dash; Amy Hunt; Mark Weston - Welcome

In November of 2018, I left my position at ALA in Chicago to return to my Colorado-based writing, speaking, and consulting career. So I'...