JAMESTOWN – The James Prendergast Library Board of Trustees will wait until at least the fall before it determines whether or not it will change its bylaws to determine how future trustees are selected and whether or not to establish a residency requirement.
The Prendergast falls under the category of an Association Library in New York State. Earlier this month residents approved a proposition to create an Association Library District for the library, which allows it to raise $350,000 each year through a library property tax that will be added to the Jamestown School District tax bill. The library district – which follows the same boundaries as the school district – was established to help offset a recent reduction in funding from city government. The new $350,000 levy also can not be adjusted or eliminated unless another public vote takes place.
As a library board, the trustees have the fiduciary responsibility of overseeing the annual budget, which now will include the annual library tax paid by all property owners in the district.
If the Prendergast were a Public Library instead of an Association Library, it would be required by state law to hold elections for its board members or have them appointed by other elected officials, such as the mayor and city council. There is no state law mandating a process for selecting trustees for association libraries, but the New York State Education Department (NYSED) states at its website that an association library can emulate the basic characteristics of a public library by providing a process for, among other things, the public election of its trustees. NYSED also states, “Association Library bylaws should be amended by the board of trustees to ensure that all eligible voters within the library’s service area can ‘join’ the library association as members and participate in annual elections to select library trustees.” NYSED also states that while not mandatory, residential requirements for the board of trustees may be established in an association library’s bylaws.
As it currently stands for the Prendergast Library, only those individuals who serve on the board of trustees are considered “members” and have the ability to select any new trustees to join the board. And anyone is invited to apply to be a member of the board of trustees, regardless of residency. The bylaws also state that the number of trustees shall not be less than seven nor more than fifteen. As of this month, there are seven trustees who reside within the district and five who do not.
Prior to the vote approving the $350,000 library tax levy, one of the questions that was raised in the community was whether or not there would be a residency requirement for the board of trustees if the district was approved – or even if city residents would be able to directly vote for who they want to serve on the board, similar to what currently happens with the school board.
“This board could vote to institute that. If that’s important to people, let us know,” explained recently-retired Prendergast executive director Tina Scott during a “community conversation” meeting last October. But Scott also added that there hadn’t been a lot of interest in board participation from within the community, or for there to be stricter requirements on who would serve on the board. “It’s tough to get people to sign up to be on the board and [if there was a required public vote] we would need to pay to hold a vote. But if that’s what the community would want, then absolutely. We’d love the participation,” Scott said.
The library’s new executive director Anne Greene also told WRFA earlier this month that changing the bylaws is something the board is willing to consider.
“The board is open to this idea. However, this year it is impossible due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve been focusing on providing service and adhering to public safety guidelines that we have to maintain. But they are definitely open to that and they’ve been discussing it. There would have to be candidates, a campaign, and elections and what not, but they definitely are investigating it,” Greene said.
Because the board doesn’t typically meet during the summer months, the next time it meets wont be until September 17. Whether or not there will be discussion on changing the bylaws for selecting future trustees and also a implementing a residency requirement at that time remains to be seen.