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Library board rejects changes to rules pushed by board chair

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Washoe County Libraries board of trustees on Wednesday voted down several proposed changes to how the board operates. Those changes, pushed by board Chair Gianna Jacks, included where the board meets, who has control over the board’s agenda and moving meetings to every other month from the board’s current monthly meetings.

Board members also expressed displeasure after Jacks moved Wednesday’s meeting to 10 am. The meetings historically have been held in the evening. Three of the four trustees said they were unhappy.

“I …was concerned about the rescheduling of the meeting to [the] morning hour when people were not able to take time off for work and come participate,” Ruff said. “I did send an email out and let the chair know that.”

Trustee Al Rogers made a similar comment.

“I would just like to echo my sentiments similar to trustee Ruff in terms of my displeasure of having this meeting rescheduled to the morning,” he said. “That was not within the current bounds of the bylaws and our policies.”

Trustee Ann Silver said she had to take time off work to attend the meeting.

“I’d like to reiterate my displeasure, perhaps that’s too strong a word, but I worked full time, [and] I had to take personal time off to attend this meeting today,” she said. “And I think we should maintain a consistent schedule and round robin among the libraries we are. We are that way exposed to each and every library.

“Our dysfunction as a board is on full display to the public right now.”

“I did not sign on for a 10 am meeting, which is quite prohibitive for many for many reasons,” she added.

In her defense, Jacks said she changed to morning for “safety.”

“You know why we’re in the daytime? Because it’s safer, okay,” she said. “Nighttime meetings that this board has endured are in the evenings and at trivial times and locations. This board cannot do business. This board cannot walk out of the parking lot safely without being verbally assaulted.”

Discussion gets heated

The board mulled several changes to its bylaws, many pushed by Jacks. Proposed changes would make the board chair responsible for preparing and posting the board’s agenda online, a process Jacks accused Libraries Director Scott of abusing. Jacks wanted the chair position to be the sole authority of what would appear on the agenda.

“Unfortunately, that’s just not the way it worked out.  Okay,” she said after other board members questioned the change. “The reason why it’s like this is so that the chair has knowledge of what is on their own agenda.”

Rogers said keeping the library director responsible for the agenda was sufficient.

“This particular item speaks to the director, and his duty is to prepare the agenda with all the resources he has,” he said.

Disagreements over bylaw changes drew comment that the board was dysfunctional.

“Our dysfunction as a board is on full display to the public right now,” Silver said. “We cannot function effectively unless there is collaboration, communication and cooperation between the chair and the director, period—no matter who the parties are, now or in the future.”

By the end of the more than four-hour meeting, the board had voted against most significant changes.

Library Director Jeff Scott, left, and Assistant District Attorney Herb Kaplan. Bob Conrad / THIS IS RENO

DA: Board has no say in library programs

Drag Queen Story Hour, a hot topic for the board during past few years, was also mentioned. Silver prompted discussion about whether the board should consider the issue in the future since it has no jurisdiction over library programs.

“If this is not under our purview, then I think we need to know that one way or the other because we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time discussing programming,” she said. “And if we really have no authority as a board over programming, then let’s just not go there.”

Deputy District Attorney Herb Kaplan agreed the board does not have purview over programming.

“My opinion is that the board doesn’t have that oversight ability based on the statutory provisions which give the authority to the board as to what they are entitled to do,” he said. “There is one provision that is very general, which states that the library board can take whatever action is necessary to ensure the efficient conduct or operation of the library system. I don’t think that that was intended to allow the library board itself to determine programming.”

He said the board could look at those rules for possible changes if the board members wanted to. No action was taken on the issue, though. Libraries Director Jeff Scott said board policies are usually reviewed in June, when library staff typically draft new policies.

Group accuses Jacks of open meeting law violations. 

Library supporters said Jacks abuses her authority as board chair. A lengthy email sent before the meeting said her actions violated Nevada’s open meeting law.

“Our concerns center primarily on five things: the consistent undermining of library staff, particularly Director Scott; the spreading of misinformation that harms the library system as a whole; allowing hate speech in public comment and demonstrating a clear bias for one group of commenters; [and] the deliberate obfuscation around meeting dates, times, and agenda items, including being unavailable at previously decided meeting dates and last-minute changes to the agenda.”

The email was sent to board members, DA Kaplan and the Washoe County Board of Commissioners, which chooses library board members.

Bob Conrad
Bob Conradhttp://thisisreno.com
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR and sits on the boards of the Nevada Press Association and Nevada Open Government Coalition.

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