Colorado Springs City Council has not recently confirmed new trustees to the Pikes Peak Library District Board of Trustees due to numerous concerns, including the politicization of the group that governs the district’s budget and policies.
The appointee controversy also raised many questions last week, such as the district’s hiding policies earlier in the pandemic, its social worker, a potential ballot question to ask for a tax increase, its reluctance to approve urban renewal projects and the management of materials and books.
Some of the questions raised mirrored the difficult questions posed to potential board members to see how they would think in governing the district.
City Councilor Wayne Williams said key issues on topics such as taxes needed to be fed back into the interview process to assess how board members would handle issues. He was part of the committee that selected the potential candidates, along with City Councilor Randy Helms and County Commissioners Holly Williams and Carrie Geitner.
The committee selected Aaron Salt, business owner and Conservative District 20 member of the newly elected school board, and Erin Bents, a stay-at-home mom, from a pool of about 20 applicants. The committee did not recommend the reappointment of board chairman Wayne Vanderschuere, a retired former marine and general manager of water for Colorado Springs Utilities, which concerned some city council members. Rarely does the board fail to reappoint board members, especially those in leadership positions.
“I personally fear that too many people are thinking of their own agendas and not all of the people who need, use and love and have the library as a source of information,” City Councilor Richard Skorman told the meeting.
The city council voted 5-4 to confirm Salt and Bents on the library board. While a majority was in favor, the nomination fell through as two-thirds of the board must approve the nominations. The city attorney’s office was still researching the process to fill the board seats after Tuesday’s failure.
Councilor Wayne Williams said the rejection of library board members was evidence of political interference in the process, as in most cases city council members defer to recommendations from their peers who interviewed the candidates.
“It really is unprecedented politicization,” he said.
While a decision on who will occupy the two seats on the Council of Seven has been delayed, the discussion has revealed some of the tough decisions for the council.
Williams said all candidates have been asked to give their views on controversial documents and how to deal with them with regard to children, an issue Salt was asked to address at the meeting.
âThere is material that I think would be objectionable and that I would probably seek to remove from the juvenile sections and the children’s sections,â he said.
He also offered some sort of online portal that would allow parents to select books they didn’t want their child to view, he said.
Chief Librarian and District Library CEO John Spears said in an interview that the board of trustees is involved in the library’s collection development policy, but qualified librarians make decisions about which materials to use. to buy and where to store them.
The neighborhood also allows customers to challenge the placement of materials. Since the district began keeping records in 1977, it has received 300 challenges and in less than 10% of cases the district has moved an item, Spears said.
âI think the processes we have in place have served this community well,â he said.
Across the country, challenges regarding books in school libraries have increased, especially around controversial issues such as sexuality, gender identity and race, he said.
Spears did not indicate if he thinks the Pikes Peak board is subject to politicization, but he stressed the district’s commitment to serving the entire community.
âWe want to make sure that the integrity of the library that is there for everyone is something that is never violated,â he said.
Potential board members were also asked how they might manage the district’s tax needs as the community grows, and if a tax increase is needed. The candidates selected by the committee have not ruled out asking voters for a tax hike, but would seek other solutions first, Williams said.
Spears said the board explored asking voters to raise property taxes because the last time the district raised taxes was in 1986 and they would like to expand and add locations along Powers Boulevard and Marksheffel Road. Once new buildings are added, the district will need a continued increase in revenue to keep them running, he said. District General Fund revenues were expected to bring in $ 36 million in 2021 to support 13 sites.
“The problems we face are not going to go away,” he said.
The district turned down a property at Monument for a new location, in part because it would have been financially irresponsible to open a new location in that area while leaving the eastern parts of Colorado Springs unserved, he said. .
Williams said he was also undecided as to whether the district needed a tax hike, but noted that the district’s budget was increasing by around $ 1 million per year.
The city councilor also raised concerns that the library board had not fully supported urban renewal projects, although Spears noted that the council had never turned down an urban renewal project. The library board reviews proposed projects as urban renewal areas are allowed to keep tax revenues generated from new homes or commercial buildings to pay for development costs.
Tax revenues would not exist if the project is not built.
Spears said the board is concerned about the urban home improvement projects because they will house many of the library’s potential new clients, but the district will not see an increase in property tax revenue to serve these people.
The district social worker and the rules for anti-coronavirus masks at the start of the pandemic were also closely questioned. When the state lifted its mask mandate, the district followed that policy, Spears said.
At the start of the pandemic, libraries were requiring masks for guests 2 years and older based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those rules have loosened over time and the minimum age for wearing a mask has steadily increased, Spears said.
The library has allowed people uncomfortable with the masks to visit outside of normal library hours, he said.
Concerns have also been raised about the library duplication services offered by the Springs Rescue Mission. Spears said the library social worker has helped train other librarians to work with homeless people and defuse situations, he told the board. The district provides referrals to and works closely with the Springs Rescue Mission, he said.
“A library is about access. We cannot deny access to anyone, whether they are hosted or not,” he said.