Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (March 19, 2012): Monday’s relatively brief library board meeting was punctuated by a celebration of AADL director Josie Parker’s 10 years in that role.
During her director’s report, Parker spoke at length in praise of the library’s staff and their service ethic, saying ”that ethic is what makes this library a great library” and one she is proud to lead. The board passed a resolution recognizing her decade of leadership, citing a list of accomplishments that included the opening of three new branches and the library’s role in taking on the Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled and the digitization of the Ann Arbor News archives. Cake was served.
Earlier in the meeting as part of the board’s committee reports, Ed Surovell noted that for the first time in more than 15 years, the library staff doesn’t have sufficient information at this point to draft a budget for the coming fiscal year. Typically in March the board’s budget and finance committee, on which Surovell serves, will review the draft budget before it goes to the full board in April. That committee review process has been delayed because of uncertainties regarding future revenues, including funds the library receives from personal property taxes and penal fines.
Parker, who chairs the Michigan Library Association’s legislative committee, later told the board that she’s been spending a lot of time in Lansing, talking with state legislators and testifying in committee hearings about the importance of funding public libraries. She told The Chronicle that the budget process is expected to be back on track in April, after Washtenaw County’s equalization report is completed. That annual report is the basis for determining taxable value of property in the county, which in turn indicates how much tax revenue is collected by local taxing entities. The library board typically adopts a budget in May, for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
As part of another committee report, Prue Rosenthal noted that a new facilities committee had met to discuss the condition of the downtown building and what kinds of issues the board should be thinking about going forward. Board president Margaret Leary later clarified that the group met informally and that the committee hasn’t been officially created – that’s expected to occur with a board vote at the April 16 meeting.
Ken Nieman, AADL associate director of finance, HR and operations, gave a brief financial report for the month of February. At the end of the month, the library had an unrestricted cash balance of $11.179 million, and had received nearly 97% of its budgeted tax receipts for the fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2012.
Two items that are currently over budget – software licenses and Lcard/circulation supplies – are expected to come back in line by the end of the fiscal year, Nieman said. [The report indicates that to date, software licenses are $15,027 over budget, while circulation supplies are over budget by $2,723.][.pdf of financial report]
The board had no questions or comments on the financial report.
Committee Reports: Budget, Facilities
Two brief committee reports were given at the March 19 meeting. Ed Surovell reported from the budget and finance committee, in the absence of committee chair Barbara Murphy. He noted that at this time of year, typically the committee has received a draft of the budget for the coming fiscal year. [The AADL's fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30.] The committee normally would review the draft, he said, then “pretend to fiddle around with it and send it back to have the crumbs brushed off” before bringing it to the full board for review and approval.
This year, however, there are some “imponderables,” Surovell said – certain unknowns related to future tax revenues. Until the revenue position becomes clearer, the budget is “playing possum,” he quipped. This is the first time in 15 years or more that the library doesn’t have a clear indication of its revenue outlook, he said.
In a phone interview later in the week with The Chronicle, AADL director Josie Parker elaborated on Surovell’s remarks. Every revenue source that the library has is uncertain, she said, including local property taxes, personal property taxes, and penal fines. So the staff is looking at how to handle a budget projection with a lack of real information, she said.
They’ll have a better idea in April, she said, after the county’s equalization report is completed. That annual report is the basis for determining taxable value of property in the county, which in turn indicates how much tax revenue is collected by local taxing entities. With that information in hand, the AADL staff will be able to prepare a draft budget for the board’s budget and finance committee to review and present to the full board at its April 16 meeting. The expectation is to adopt the budget formally at the May 21 meeting. Adjustments can be made as more information becomes available.
When asked about last year’s Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board decision regarding “excess” taxes captured in the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) district, Parker said “we would have preferred a different outcome.” At issue was the interpretation of a city ordinance about TIF capture in the DDA’s downtown district, and DDA board’s view that the city ordinance did not require the DDA to return money to taxing authorities in its TIF district.
Although the library board discussed the issue with its legal counsel, “we’re not pressing,” Parker said. She said the library had requested to have a conversation among all taxing entities about resolving future TIF distribution, but said it’s up to the DDA as to whether they want to have such a conversation. The legal position of the library on the question has not changed, she said. [For background, see Chronicle coverage: "Library Weighs DDA Excess Tax Decision" and "Column: Tax Capture is a Varsity Sport"]
Committee Reports: Facilities
At the AADL board’s March 19 meeting, Prue Rosenthal reported on a meeting of a new facilities committee that includes her, Surovell and Nancy Kaplan. She said the group discussed the condition of the downtown building and what kinds of issues they should be thinking about going forward. In a way, she added, “we are playing possum, too.” Rosenthal said she didn’t intend to be flip, but the work is just getting started. There’s a lot to do, and the committee will work with AADL staff to make sure the process moves forward in a thoughtful, careful way, she said.
Board president Margaret Leary later clarified for The Chronicle that the facilities committee hasn’t been formally created – that’s expected to occur with a board vote at the April 16 meeting. Leary said the three board members who will be on the committee had met informally at her request.
This month, Josie Parker’s report began with an update on her efforts as the Michigan Library Association’s legislative liaison, and ended with some personal reflections after 10 years as AADL director.
Director’s Report: Action in Lansing, Funding for Public Libraries
As chair of the Michigan Library Association’s legislative committee, Parker said she’s been spending considerable time in Lansing meeting with state legislators and testifying at various committee hearings regarding the funding of public libraries. Of particular concern is the potential elimination of the personal property tax (PPT) and of changes in Renaissance Zone reimbursements that should be coming to libraries.
Another concern is that there have been ordinances passed in Monroe and Eaton counties that take revenues from state level penal fines – which are required by the state constitution to fund libraries – and divert those revenues to fund law enforcement. The penal fines in question include: firearms violations, hunting and fishing violations, dog law violations and traffic violations. The ordinances are redefining a fine as a fee, Parker said. The issue matters because penal fines can account for a significant portion of overall revenues, especially for smaller libraries. For one library in Eaton County, it’s as much as 25% of the budget. [The percentage is much less for AADL. For the previous fiscal year, AADL received $228,735 in penal fine revenues. The library has budgeted to receive $250,000 this fiscal year, out of a total $12 million budget.]
The sad thing, Parker said, is that these actions pit local governmental units, or departments within local governments, against each other as they vie for resources. The units have typically had relationships that were supportive and team-oriented, she said. But the economic situation has led to fussing over money, Parker said, and that’s hard to accept.
Parker said she’ll do her part to secure library funding to which libraries are legally entitled, but she won’t try to get funds that are meant for other organizations. She admires the library profession for not being aggressive, and for simply asking that governments respect the funding that libraries are supposed to receive. Unfortunately, she added, it’s time-consuming and takes energy to educate legislators on how libraries are funded. The funding process is complicated, she said. But the good news is that every legislator she’s spoken with has been willing to listen and ask questions.
Director’s Report: Valentine’s Day Project & VA Recognition
Parker noted that the library had been invited to participate in a program to make Valentine’s Day cards to send to patients at the Ann Arbor Veterans Affairs hospital and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Children made more than 400 cards that were sent to hospital patients through the library, in partnership with Logan Elementary, Carpenter Elementary and Clague Middle schools. It’s a small thing, she said, but a meaningful one.
As a result of that program and other outreach efforts, the library has received two certificates of appreciation from the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs. The library is a venue for meetings held for discharged VA patients with disabilities, Parker noted, and library staff help veterans access the Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled, which is managed by AADL. The Ann Arbor VA hospital has an outreach coordinator who’s very good and approachable, Parker said – nationwide, the VA has started to recognize that local outreach is important, as many patients who are discharged from VA hospitals remain in the community and unfortunately are younger, she said.
Parker praised AADL staff for their work, noting that a lot of effort goes into these programs, which are not typical for a public library.
Director’s Report: Reflections on Tenure
Parker concluded her director’s report by saying that she wanted to get a little more personal. She was proud to say that she was marking her 10th year as director on that day – it made her smile to say that, she said. The person in the director’s job has a lot to do with setting the direction of the library, Parker said. But no matter how much vision or passion that person brings to the job, if the rest of the staff isn’t aligned with that, nothing happens. ”I inherited good alignment, thank goodness,” she said.
Parker said she knew she’d embarrass some people, but she wanted to recognize the AADL staff. When she was offered the job as director, the first thing she did was walk into the office of Ken Nieman – AADL’s associate director of finance, HR and operations, who at the time was the library’s controller. He had tremendous responsibility for getting the library’s finances in order and putting internal controls in place, she said. [Financial issues under the library’s previous leadership included a deficit of nearly $1 million in 2000. Later that year, the library’s former financial director, Don Dely, was found guilty of embezzling $119,387 from the library from 1997 to 2000, according to a report in the Ann Arbor News.] Parker said she asked Nieman one question: “Will you stay with me at least a year?” He said he would, and has been there ever since.
Parker described Eli Neiburger, AADL’s associate director of IT and product development, as watching her grow into her job over the years. She said she appreciated his patience, and was thankful that “he’s waited me out.”
Parker also thanked human resources manager DeAnn Doll, noting that they’ve worked through three contract negotiation cycles together. Doll and another HR staffer – Jennifer Meunier – are a lot of the reason why the library hasn’t seen any union grievances, Parker said.
Also acknowledged was Karen Wilson, Parker’s administrative assistant, who “makes all this happen seamlessly every day,” Parker said, adding that Wilson doesn’t get as much praise as she deserves.
But the point isn’t simply to praise people at this moment, Parker told the board. It’s to acknowledge and explain how special the Ann Arbor library is – residents often don’t realize it until they move away, and discover that not every library offers the services and programs that AADL does.
Many of the AADL staff are pillars of the library’s service ethic, and in turn teach the younger staff to take the same approach so that over time, the service is consistent. ”That ethic is what makes this library a great library,” Parker said. She admires that ethic and is proud to be the leader identified with the AADL, she said. She thanked everyone who had anything to do with making the library this way.
Resolution Honoring Josie Parker
At the end of the meeting, board president Margaret Leary introduced a resolution honoring Josie Parker for her 10 years as AADL director. The two-page resolution highlighted accomplishments of Parker’s tenure, including construction of three new library branches – Malletts Creek, Pittsfield and Traverwood – as well as increases in circulation, cardholders, program attendance and library visits. [.pdf of board resolution]
The resolution was approved unanimously, and followed by a round of applause. The board then presented Parker with a large bouquet of flowers and cake to commemorate the occasion.
Present: Rebecca Head, Nancy Kaplan, Margaret Leary, Prue Rosenthal, Ed Surovell. Also AADL director Josie Parker.
Absent: Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman.
Next meeting: Monday, April 16, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the library’s fourth floor meeting room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]
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