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Library Likely to Delay Shift to Autonomy Through Agreement with City

The Evanston Public Library will likely not transition to an autonomous library fund model until 2013, but an agreement with the city will still provide the library board with increased control.

More than a year after the Evanston Public Library Board of Trustees voted to to become an autonomous governing body rather than an advisory group, the board endorsed a tentative agreement with the City of Evanston that would keep the library as part of the city until 2013.

, the library board planned to switch to the new governance model at the end of 2011. But at the board’s Wednesday night meeting, Evanston City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz proposed an agreement between the two sides that would instead gradually transfer some governing authority to the library board over the course of the next six months.

Bobkiewicz said the move was preferable to the board’s original plan because an unhurried change would better allow the board and the city to resolve some remaining disagreements and complications associated with the transfer.

“I think that what this timing does is it allows the library board, it allows the city council, it allows members of the community to understand and see what is going on,” Bobkiewicz said. “What I’m trying to do with this plan is to change the conversation a little bit. … So I think this model puts aside some of the other issues that have been discussed and really tries to focus on the main issues that will allow us to get there.”

Last August, the library board voted to adopt a library fund model, which would have given the board the authority to hire and fire the library director, to fund itself by levying a tax as a percentage of city property tax income and to pass its own budget without City Council approval.

However, the decision to transition to autonomy spawned complications, as the

For one, the board would not receive funding until property taxes were collected and then distributed. This would have meant that the library would not have any money for several months, during which time it would be forced to borrow from the city. Additionally, the library would no longer be able to rely on the city for capital improvements or operational reserves, and would have to raise its own funds for these purposes.

Most recently, — an unanticipated cost the board had not budgeted for .

On top of transitional problems, during the past year the board lost its library director — the library employee chiefly in charge of hiring personnel, developing the collection and administering the library budget — developed a long-term strategic plan, , and created a new community engagement librarian position.

The board’s tentative agreement with the city attempts to address many of these issues by tackling them one by one.

For starters, the library will no longer have to pay rent for the North Branch in 2012 or pay the $20,000 it budgeted to pay for certain city services.

According to the terms of the agreement, the City Council would create a new library fund before the beginning of 2012, in which all library revenue and expenses would be budgeted. By Feb. 27, the City Council would have to consider an ordinance that would both transfer power to appoint the library director from the city manager to the library board, and recognize the ability of the library board to set its annual budget and levy a tax to gain funding for 2013.

Finally, the agreement mandated the creation of a subcommittee comprising the city manager, the library director and members of the library board to resolve issues, including possibly amending the Evanston City Code where necessary for library governance, the consideration of the city’s future loan to the library, the price the library will pay for rent and city services and the creation of a library debt service fund.

Though the library board did not officially vote to adopt the agreement, almost all seemed content with the new plan, and no board member objected to the proposal being brought to the City Council for approval.

Board member Michael Tannen said he was happy with the terms of the agreement, but also that he hoped the City Council would respect the board’s right to eventually be self-governing.

“I think that it’s critical that the library director be able to implement the plan and answer to the board,” Tannen said, “and I’m glad to hear that is something you are going to advocate. I also hope that we can work collaboratively to get where we have to go, because the alternative is not pleasant. We have spent many, many, many hours getting to where we have been. … We hope the council recognizes the hard work that the board has done.”

The next library board meeting is scheduled for Dec. 1.

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