AADL Hears from “Library Green” Advocates

Also, library still weighing response to DDA tax capture decision

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Aug. 15, 2011): A brief library board meeting on Monday night included a relatively rare occurrence – multiple people spoke during the time allotted for public commentary.

Mary Hathaway

Mary Hathaway spoke to the Ann Arbor District Library board about efforts to create a public gathering place atop the underground parking structure adjacent to the downtown library. (Photo by the writer.)

The commentary focused on what’s now being called the “Library Green” – an effort to create a public park atop the underground parking structure that’s being built on South Fifth Avenue, adjacent to the downtown library building. Advocates for the park conveyed that they’ve taken to heart the concerns of the library, and hope to partner with AADL to develop an area that benefits the public and helps the library to thrive.

The board began its meeting with a closed session, in part for the purpose of getting advice from AADL’s legal counsel. In her written report to the board, AADL director Josie Parker noted that the library is considering the legal and financial implications of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s decision regarding “excess” taxes captured in the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) district.

Board members did not discuss this issue, but voted to schedule another closed session at their Sept. 19 meeting again to hear advice from legal counsel.

Public Commentary

It’s rare that people address the AADL board during public commentary time, but on Monday night four people attended in support of a public park – now dubbed “Library Green” – atop the city-owned Library Lot, adjacent to the downtown library. Three of them addressed the board. Alan Haber, who has frequently been the point person for this effort, attended the meeting but did not speak during public commentary.

Will Hathaway said he was representing a group of people who’ve been talking for several months about how to create a park on the land next to the downtown library, where an underground parking structure is currently being built – the parking structure is set to be completed in early 2012. He thanked AADL director Josie Parker for meeting with him and his mother, Mary Hathaway, about the project, and noted that AADL board member Ed Surovell had also met with them and had been very generous with his time. Hathaway said they’d come away from those meetings with a better understanding of the issues and challenges that the library faces, and he wanted to convey to the board how those conversations had a big impact on his group.

The group has been giving a lot of thought on how to address the library’s concerns, and how development of the Library Lot could have a synergy with the downtown library branch, Hathaway said. The group has also met with other people who have experience with downtown developments, he said. They’ve worked up sketches for possible development of a public park, taking to heart the aspirations and hopes of the library. Everyone in the group cares about the library and wants it to thrive at the center of Ann Arbor, he said, and that’s what he wanted to convey to the board.

Mary Hathaway said she agreed with her son’s statement, and that the group hoped to be partners with the library. Among other things, the group viewed part of their mission as addressing some of the problems that were found at another nearby public park, she said. [Hathaway did not identify the park by name, but was likely referring to Liberty Plaza at the southwest corner of Liberty and Division. It is often a hangout for panhandlers, and aside from certain events – like the Sonic Lunch concert series – the park is not widely used by the general public.]

Odile Hugenot Haber told the board that the group is now referring to the project as “Library Green” in hopes of attracting more support. [Previously, it has been called the "community commons."] Their vision is of a park with a playground, fountains, a theater and a “beautiful room” to hold events like weddings and community functions, Haber said. The more activities that take place there, the more diverse mix of people it will draw, she noted. Haber also addressed what she called a great fear that many people had of the homeless. Before coming to Ann Arbor she lived in Berkeley, California, she said, and helped start a movement called “Homeless, Not Helpless.” Many homeless people have skills, she noted, and we need to look at them not as bums, but as people who are down and out, yet who can still contribute to society. Haber urged the library to participate in developing the vision for a public commons.

Board members did not respond to public commentary during the meeting.

Director’s Report

Josie Parker had provided a written report to the board prior to Monday’s meeting. Included in it – but not discussed at the board meeting – was a note that the library is considering the legal and financial implications of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s decision regarding “excess” taxes captured in the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) district. The AADL board began its meeting with a closed session to discuss the opinion of its legal counsel, as well as for labor negotiations.

Although the board did not discuss the issue during the public portion of its meeting, board members scheduled another closed session at its Sept. 19 meeting that includes getting the opinion of legal counsel.

At issue is the interpretation of a city ordinance about TIF capture in the DDA’s downtown district, and a decision by the DDA board made at a special meeting held on July 27, 2011. At that meeting, the DDA board passed a resolution stating its view that the city’s ordinance did not require the DDA to return money to taxing authorities in its TIF district – which the DDA had already returned earlier this year. The language of the resolution was somewhat vague, stating that “no redistribution to relevant taxing authorities is required.” The AADL is a taxing authority in the DDA’s TIF district.

Parker had attended the July 27 special meeting, and afterwards told The Chronicle that the library would be working with its legal counsel, Hooper Hathaway, in preparing a response to the DDA’s decision. AADL board member Nancy Kaplan also attended the DDA’s July 27 meeting. Then-president of Washtenaw Community College, Larry Whitworth, told The Chronicle after the DDA’s July 27 meeting that WCC was disturbed by the DDA’s decision and that the college – as one of the taxing authorities in the TIF district – would also be responding to the DDA. And in a phone interview with The Chronicle on Tuesday morning, Aug. 16, county administrator Verna McDaniel said the county’s legal counsel is also reviewing the DDA’s decision.

By way of additional background, earlier this year – at a May 20, 2011 DDA board meeting– board members had voted to accept a method of excess TIF calculation that amounted to roughly $473,000 of excess TIF capture since 2004, to be divided among taxing authorities that have a portion of their tax revenues captured in the DDA TIF district: Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Community College, and the Ann Arbor District Library. The library’s share was about $75,000. The calculation also called for $711,767 to be returned to the city of Ann Arbor, but the Ann Arbor city council waived that repayment.

The Chronicle has published two op-ed pieces on the subject, arguing that the method the DDA used to calculate the excess TIF was not accurate: “Taxing Math Needs Another Look” and “TIF Capture is a Varsity Sport.”

Director’s Report: Other Items

Parker’s written report also noted that Eli Neiburger, AADL’s associate director of IT and product development, has accepted an invitation to serve as a member of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) Beta Sprint review panel. The DPLA’s steering committee is working to form a national digital public library – Parker participated in a working group for the effort earlier this year. The Beta Sprint project is looking for ideas and prototypes to show how the DPLA could index and provide access to a range of content. Based on the review panel’s recommendations, the DPLA steering committee – which includes Paul Courant, dean of libraries for the University of Michigan – will ask the creators of those ideas and prototypes to make presentations at a public meeting on Oct. 21, 2011 in Washington, D.C.

The director’s report also mentioned that Parker was asked write a blog post for the TechSoup for Libraries website. The post – titled “Utopian Benchmarks Are Not the Goal” – reflected on her experience as the representative for public library directors in the Public Access Technology Benchmarks Initiative, a consortium of 13 organizations working on a project funded by the U.S. Libraries Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In addition to her written report, Parker mentioned three other items at Monday’s meeting. A project that Parker had first described at the board’s Dec. 20, 2010 meeting – a six-part public series of lectures, documentary film screenings and other events titled “From Bluegrass to Broadway: A Film History of America’s Popular Music” – has received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Neiburger and Tim Grimes, AADL’s community relations and marketing manager, are advisors on the project, which is spearheaded by the Tribeca Film Institute.

Parker noted that this is the second NEH project to which library staff are connected – Grimes is also helping develop an NEH-funded project titled “Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Worlds.” That effort will identify books and other resources that will ultimately be distributed to at least 1,000 public libraries nationwide, designed to spur discussion and programming about the Muslim culture. As a result of Grimes’ participation, AADL is one of six libraries chosen to serve as focus groups for the project. The focus groups will help gauge reaction to the books and themes proposed for the project. To be part of two NEH projects ”for a library our size, it’s pretty remarkable,” Parker said.

Parker also reported that she had attended a reception last week for the new Ann Arbor Public Schools superintendent, Patricia Green. She described Green as enthusiastic about being here – Parker said she looks forward to getting to know Green.

Finally, Parker gave the board an update on a decision the library staff made in 2004. Prior to that time, AADL contracted with a local collection agency to collect on accounts of unreturned materials and overdue fines. Once an account is turned over to a traditional collection agency, it’s all about the money, Parker said, and that wasn’t satisfactory to the library, which was interested in recovering its materials. So in 2004 AADL began contracting with the library division of Unique Management Services. [According to its website, the firm has trademarked a "Gentle Nudge" process to recover materials and fines.]

Parker said she just received a report from the firm for the period of February 2004 through July 2011. During that time, the return on investment for the library has been $7.12 for every dollar the library has paid the company. She said AADL will continue that service.

Responding to a question from board member Jan Barney Newman, Parker said that between 2004 and July 2011, the library submitted 10,233 accounts for collection. During that time, about $600,000 in cash was recovered, and about $122,000 in materials. She noted that collection is more difficult in a college town, with a more transient population. Parker also said it was important to put these numbers in the context of the library’s entire circulation – about 9 million items each year. Most people who use the library return their materials and pay their fines, she said.

Financial Report

Ken Nieman, AADL’s associate director of finance, HR and operations, gave a brief financial update to the board, referring to a written report provided in the board packet. [.pdf of finance report] He described the month of July as fairly typical, ending with a fund balance of $7.9 million and an unrestricted cash balance of $6.7 million. He noted that three items are currently over budget – employment costs, purchased services and communications – but are expected to fall back in line by the end of the fiscal year. The library’s fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30.

Board members had no questions about the financial report.

December Meeting Date

The board voted on two items during its Aug. 15 meeting: (1) setting a closed session for its Sept. 19 meeting to discuss the opinion of legal counsel and for labor negotiations; and (2) changing its December meeting date from Monday, Dec. 19 to Thursday, Dec. 15. Both votes were unanimous, without discussion.

Present: Rebecca Head, Nancy Kaplan, Jan Barney Newman, Prue Rosenthal, Ed Surovell. Also AADL director Josie Parker.

Absent: Margaret Leary, Barbara Murphy

Next meeting: Monday, Sept. 19, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the library’s fourth floor meeting room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

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  1. August 16, 2011 at 3:31 pm | permalink

    Those of us who spoke at the District Library board meeting were grateful to have coverage by the Ann Arbor Chronicle. Please visit our website [link] in order to learn more about our group and the evolving ideas for a park on the “Library Lot.” We hope to gather more input and ideas so that the resulting public space is a reflection of what the community wants and it is a place that draws people to downtown Ann Arbor.

  2. By fridgeman
    August 16, 2011 at 6:00 pm | permalink

    I think that creating a park-like community space on top of the Library Lot could end up being an extension of Liberty Plaza (both positive and negative implications are intended with that statement).

    My fear is that if the space takes on the negative aspects of Liberty Plaza, it would adversely impact the downtown library. It is already too easy for people to make the choice of driving up to one of the “suburban” branch libraries and avoiding downtown.

  3. August 17, 2011 at 6:26 pm | permalink

    Any attempt to link the alleged virtues of the homeless with “Library Green” will sink the project.