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Library district sues board of county commissioners

Complaint alleges BOCC is overstepping its authority

Posted

A policy recently adopted by Elbert County's board of commissioners is the target of a lawsuit filed by Pines and Plains Libraries, which believes the policy violates a state law protecting public libraries from political interference.

Adopted by the three-member board of county commissioners Dec. 20, the policy "seeks to control the qualifications, appointment, tenure and termination of the library district's board of trustees," states a news release from the library district issued Jan. 17. The district — which contends that the Colorado Library Law places those subjects beyond the authority of the board of county commissioners — is seeking an injunction to block implementation of the policy.

"The Trustee selection process required in the Policy is contrary to the Library Law," states the complaint, which was filed in district court in Kiowa. "The BOCC's sole authority under the Library Law is to ratify or reject a candidate recommended to the Board."

The library district news release also states that county commissioners acted on the policy without posting it on the county's website and refused a request by a Pines and Plains trustee to postpone its consideration until the public had a chance to review it.

In a news release of its own Jan. 17, the county said the purpose of the new policy is to "ensure transparency in the process of advertising vacancies and selection of appointees, provide for a mix of new ideas and experience on these bodies, and support greater geographical diversity and representation in these important roles."

The initial draft of the policy was first discussed in a public meeting in February 2017 and was an agenda item "multiple times throughout the year prior to adoption," the county's release states.

"I am disappointed that the Library Trustees would choose to pursue a costly legal action rather than simply request a meeting to work through their apparent concerns," County Commissioner Chris Richardson said in the news release.

Pines and Plains Director Tim Miller said the district would "have preferred to resolve this problem without a lawsuit."

"But the BOCC's refusal to put off action and the fact that court rules required the suit to be filed by Jan. 17 made this impossible," he said. "We hope the commissioners will act responsibly and preserve public resources by agreeing to revise the policy in a way which complies with Colorado law.”

Library Board of Trustees President Susan Saint Vincent said the state's library law allows for the district to be independent of the county.

“Colorado's Legislature intended that libraries be free from political interference so that they can serve their missions of furthering lifelong learning and intellectual freedom," she said. "Library trustees need to be selected based on their competence and commitment to the goals of our district, not politics.”

The county contends the new policy doesn't place restrictions on whom the library trustees can nominate.

"It simply ensures careful scrutiny and unanimity from the BOCC if a nominee doesn't meet the broad requirements set for appointment to any of the county's boards, commissions or committees," the county stated in its news release.

A county document outlining the new policy states that the purpose of the policy is to standardize procedures for the appointment of citizens to the various boards and commissions for which the BOCC appoints members. Also included are the planning commission, the fair board and the water advisory committee.

The document lists certain qualifications for the boards, including that appointees must not currently be a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the county, must not have "violated the public trust" and must be current on their property tax payments. It also calls for a "conformity" review, in which current members of boards and commissions who do not meet the new requirements may be asked to resign or face "corrective action" from the BOCC.

Pines and Plains Libraries serve Elbert County, with branches in Elizabeth, Kiowa, Elbert and Simla.

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