Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (June 17, 2013): In a meeting held at the Traverwood branch, library trustees approved a contract to upgrade the Internet infrastructure for another branch – the Pittsfield location.
The $112,150 contract with Merit Network, a nonprofit based in Ann Arbor, would put the Pittsfield branch on par with high-speed connections throughout the rest of the AADL system. The branch had been described to the board as a “bandwidth backwater,” with about 2% of the Internet connectivity speed compared to other AADL locations. The project will be paid for with money from the library’s fund balance.
In other action, the board approved final budget adjustments for the fiscal year ending June 30 – a routine procedure.
In her director’s report, Josie Parker highlighted the launch of the library’s popular summer reading game, and announced that Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads is soliciting suggestions for its 2014 selection – a work of fiction. The theme is “A Very Good Read.”
During public commentary, Doug Jewett focused his remarks on the Michigan Open Meetings Act, especially as it relates to committee meetings. Bob Rorke discussed the results of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Protect Our Libraries political action committee, related to the AADL’s hiring of Allerton-Hill Consulting. Reading through the 634 pages of material the library had produced in response to the FOIA request had raised some concerns for Rorke, including questions about whether the library was using public monies for political purposes.
Pittsfield Fiber-Optic Project
In its main action item, the board was asked to approve a $112,150 contract with Merit Network to build and maintain a connection from AADL’s Pittsfield branch to Merit’s existing high-speed network. Merit, a nonprofit based in Ann Arbor, has focused on serving the state’s educational market since the 1960s.
The board had been briefed at its May 6, 2013 meeting by Eli Neiburger, AADL’s associate director of IT and production. He had described that location at 2359 Oak Valley Drive as a “bandwidth backwater,” with about 2% of the Internet connectivity speed compared to other AADL locations.
Merit currently provides AADL’s main connection to the Internet. The Pittsfield branch is outside of the city of Ann Arbor’s I-Net (Institutional Fiber Network) and currently uses much slower T1 and cable TV connections. Merit had proposed building a new fiber run from the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) on Wagner Road over to Pittsfield.
The resolution proposed on June 17 included a transfer of $120,000 from the library’s fund balance to its communications line item in the FY 2013-14 budget. The board had passed its FY 2013-14 budget on May 6, for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2013. The arrangement with Merit is expected to include ongoing annual costs of $2,625.
Pittsfield Fiber-Optic Project: Board Discussion
Margaret Leary began the discussion by saying she’d read a comment online from someone who said he uses the Pittsfield branch and had never experienced any problem with the Internet service there.
Leary recalled that Neiburger had been “quite convincing” in explaining the need for this upgrade. [He did not attend the June 17 meeting.] She speculated that not all users would likely have a problem all the time. “We’re just trying to make it so good so that nobody – no matter how heavy their use or how big the file that they’re downloading – will ever have a problem,” Leary said.
AADL director Josie Parker confirmed that not everyone would experience problems, but many people do. That branch simply doesn’t have the capacity, she said. It depends on the time of day and other factors, she added, saying it’s “much, much slower than the rest of the system.” Barbara Murphy made an analogy to a pipe – “there’s only so much you can run through it.”
Ed Surovell wondered whether the library could fund this project from the surplus remaining at the end of the current fiscal year, rather than from the fund balance. Parker clarified that the contract will be paid in the next fiscal year, not the current one. The current fiscal year ends on June 30, 2013.
Parker also explained that the difference between the $120,000 fund transfer and the $112,150 contract will be used to pay for “make ready” costs, such as digging up the existing line and getting it ready for the new connection.
Outcome: The board unanimously approved the contract with Merit Network.
FY 2012-13 Budget Adjustment
The board was asked to approve minor year-end adjustments to the budget for fiscal year 2012-13, which ends June 30. This is a standard action at the end of the fiscal year.
The adjustments entailed making the following transfers:
- $18,000 from capital outlays to the supplies line item.
- $15,000 from capital outlays to the utilities line item.
- $12,000 from repairs & maintenance to the communications line item.
- $4,000 from repairs & maintenance to the line item for other operating expenditures.
- $10,000 from the fund balance/restricted funds to the programming line item.
There was minimal discussion. Nancy Kaplan, chair of the board’s budget and finance committee, pointed out that this is a typical practice at the end of each year. She said she had checked with Ken Nieman, AADL’s associate director of finance, who had explained to her that because the library has a line-item budget, these transfers need to be made in order to comply with state law. It’s for the fiscal year that’s concluding on June 30, not the coming year, she said.
Outcome: The board unanimously approved the FY 2012-13 year-end budget adjustments.
AADL director Josie Parker presented the financial reports for April and May, in the absence of Ken Nieman, AADL’s associate director of finance, HR and operations. [.pdf of April 2013 financial statement] [.pdf of May 2013 financial statement]
Parker focused her brief presentation on the most current financial statements, for the period ending May 31. As of May 31, 2013 the library’s unrestricted cash balance was $8.775 million, down from $9.91 million at the end of April. The fund balance stood at $8.363 million as of May 31. The library had received 98.5% of its budgeted tax revenues for the year, or $11.038 million. At the end of May, there was an operating surplus of $417,846.
The board has six committees: communications, budget and finance, facilities, policy, director’s evaluation and executive. Two of those – communications and facilities – were created as special committees at the board’s Jan. 21, 2013 meeting.
Most of the committees had not met since the last board meeting, and there was nothing to report.
The one exception was the policy committee. Barbara Murphy noted that the policy committee had met earlier this month and talked about the role of the committee in relation to the library and policy management. The library staff is reviewing AADL’s policy manual, she said, looking for anything that needs updating. The staff will bring that to the policy committee later this year, Murphy said.
AADL director Josie Parker began by noting that the library’s summer reading program kicked off. This year, the theme is dogs. The program is cast in the form of a game, with points awarded for reading/listening to books, watching movies, posting reviews on the library’s website, and other activities. She encouraged board members to play, and asked others at the meeting if any of them were on the leader board – about half the people in the room raised their hands.
From the audience, Donald Harrison asked if a game code would be given for people who attended the board meeting. [Points are awarded for attending an AADL event – including board meetings. At the event, a code is announced that allows you to redeem the points.] Parker laughed, and said the staff could create a code for the meeting. It was announced before adjournment.
For additional background on AADL’s summer game, see Chronicle coverage: “AADL Gets Its Game On.”
Parker also reported on AADL’s new short story contest for grades 3-5, which recently concluded. There were 99 entries from a wide range of schools, including the Michigan Islamic Academy, several Ann Arbor Public Schools elementary schools, Ann Arbor Learning Community, Honey Creek Community School, Heritage School in Saline, Ann Arbor Christian, and home-schooled students. An awards ceremony in early June featured Shutta Crum, a local author and former AADL librarian.
Trustee Barbara Murphy asked if the board could see some of the stories that were submitted. “They’re so young. I’d love to know what kind of stories they write,” she said. Parker quipped: “Short ones – very short ones.”
Parker also recognized Terry Soave, AADL’s manager of outreach and neighborhood services, for her work setting up an online repository for documents that can be used by all libraries for the blind and physically handicapped nationally. Parker read aloud a resolution from the Northern Conference of Libraries for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, specifically commending the Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled, which is managed by the AADL. Parker noted that the AADL has been responsible for the WLBPD for less than five years. Soave has led the effort and should be congratulated publicly, Parker said. The board gave Soave a round of applause.
Finally, Parker noted that Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads has changed its focus a bit and is going to select a work of fiction for 2014. The previous selections have been non-fiction. The theme for 2014 is “A Very Good Read.” Parker encouraged anyone who has a suggestion to submit it to the AAYR selection committee.
Communications & Commentary
The board meetings have two opportunities for public commentary – at the beginning and end of each meeting – as well as time for various communications from the board. Here are some highlights.
Communications & Commentary: Public Commentary
Doug Jewett addressed the board about the Michigan Open Meetings Act. He read from material that had been prepared by Ellen Richardson, a former law library specialist for the Library of Michigan. The materials were directed specifically for the trustees of local library boards, he said. Jewett read excerpts from a document dated July 1999:
Most library boards are well versed in meeting these basic requirements. Trustees know what constitutes a quorum, how to allow for public comment, and how and when to post notice of regular and special meetings. Questions usually arise about some of the finer points of the act. What about closed sessions? What about committee meetings?
Closed sessions are allowed only for the limited purposes stated in Section 8 of the act. Library trustees who have served on boards in the private sector are often surprised at how limiting the exceptions are, especially in regard to personnel issues. Unless the person subject to an evaluation, a disciplinary action, or complaints, asks for a closed session, such matters must be handled in a public meeting. It often takes a great deal of discipline and tact to address these issues in a respectful yet effective way under the glare of public scrutiny. The act also outlines the procedures that must be followed before the board may go into closed session. This is not an easy area of the law. Trustees should make it a practice to consult legal counsel before a closed session is held.
Do committee meetings need to follow the requirements of the Open Meetings Act? It has long been established that library board committees and subcommittees which include a quorum of library board members must comply with the act. What if there is less than a quorum of board members on the committee? Board committees, such as a budget committee, are usually charged with a specific duty and delegated the authority to carry out that duty. Deliberations and decisions are made in the committee meetings which will lead toward the final decision-making by the full board. Recent Michigan Supreme Court decisions indicate that it is probably wise to make sure that all such committee meetings are open to the public.
Trustee Jan Barney Newman asked Jewett if Richardson’s advice applied to all committee meetings, or just the budget committee. He replied that he didn’t think it was Richardson’s intent to single out only budget committee meetings, but he couldn’t speak for her beyond what she had written. [By way of background, the AADL board's committees consist of less than a quorum of board members, and are not open to the public. In the past board members have defended that approach, saying that no decisions are made during those meetings, just recommendations that are brought to the full board.]
Bob Rorke talked about the AADL’s decision to hire Allerton-Hill Consulting, which had been announced at the board’s March 18, 2013 meeting. The firm had been hired to conduct a communications audit for $28,000. A few weeks ago, Rorke said, the Protect Our Libraries political action committee had filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents related to the contract. After reading through the 634 pages – which he said he did twice – Rorke was somewhat concerned and had several questions. [Documents related to the FOIA response are posted online at the Ann Arbor Area Government Document Repository.]
Rorke referred to the first two objectives listed in the Allerton-Hill proposal. The first objective is to provide high-quality research on voter attitudes on the library. Rorke noted that the reference is to voter attitudes, not patron attitudes. The second objective is to offer high-quality long-term messaging so that the AADL is successful in its public initiatives. He assumed that public initiatives referred to ballot proposals and possibly bond proposals. “Clearly, Allerton-Hill is a political consultant doing political work for a political campaign,” Rorke said – that’s their business. It raises a concern about using public monies for these purposes, he said, and whether it’s legal under Michigan law.
Rorke referred to his experience as a former Ann Arbor Public Schools board member, saying that they had well-defined constraints on spending for political purposes. They were limited to talking about facts, and not doing anything in terms of advocacy. “So my question tonight is where do we stand on this particular contract,” he said. Rorke also wondered if the contract was awarded through a competitive bid, and in particular whether any Michigan firms had been considered. [Allerton-Hill is based Columbus, Ohio.]
The board did not respond to Rorke’s questions during the meeting.
Lyn Davidge told board members that it’s an excellent idea to hold the meetings in various AADL branches, at least for the summer months. However, she hoped that in the future there were be microphones for the board members to use – it had been very difficult to hear what they were saying, “and I have passable hearing,” she said. She had never been to the Traverwood branch, Davidge said, but she’d attended other types of meetings at other branches and microphones were used. It would be helpful to use them, she said.
Don Salberg welcomed the board to his neighborhood, saying that he lived about three blocks from the Traverwood branch and thought it was nice that they were using the facility for their board meeting. Now that the bond referendum for a new downtown library had been defeated, he felt it was time to pay attention to maintenance and upgrades that had been considered for the existing downtown library prior to the November 2012 referendum. Specifically, he suggested increasing power outlets, citing the trend of patrons who are bringing laptop computers and smartphones that need to be charged. The library should also consider upgrades to the heating and cooling systems, as well as the lighting. All of these upgrades would likely cost less than 1% of the library’s reserve fund, he said, and should therefore be affordable.
Communications & Commentary: Board Communications
Board president Prue Rosenthal responded to public commentary that Don Salberg had given at the board’s May 6, 2013 meeting. She cited Salberg’s statement that when Luckenbach|Ziegelman Architects was hired by the library several years ago to develop schematics for a new downtown building, the architects had stated that very few people were coming to the library to do research because they were primarily using the Internet to do that work.
Rosenthal said she went back and reviewed the information that Luckenbach|Ziegelman Architects had provided to AADL, “and I found nothing that said anything like that.” She read from the architects’ proposal: “The incredible wealth of information available on the Internet and its World Wide Web, the speed and accuracy of search like Google, have made the Internet the platform of preference for reference materials.” It goes on to discuss the patrons who can or can not access that information, she said. Rosenthal stated that she wanted to set the record straight.
Near the end of the meeting, Nancy Kaplan, who chairs the board’s communications committee, wondered what members of the public felt about the board’s decision to hold its meeting at Traverwood. She noted that the board intends to hold meetings at other branches, and it would be nice to have some feedback. The July 15 meeting will be at the Pittsfield branch. Margaret Leary suggested that people could give their feedback via the AADL’s website.
Jan Barney Newman encouraged others to check out the digital library services at University of Michigan. [She was referring to the Digital Media Commons at the Duderstadt Center on north campus.] The experience is exhilarating, she said, “and it’s an extension of what libraries can offer.” She said Rob Pettigrew had led a tour, which included a 3-D computer lab, sound lab and video lab.
Present: Nancy Kaplan, Margaret Leary, Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman, Prue Rosenthal, Ed Surovell. Also AADL director Josie Parker.
Absent: Rebecca Head.
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