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Library Deals with Public Record Request

02/24/2011 at 7:11pm
Fort Myers Beach Library
Library Deals with
Public Record Request
Photo by: James Royce

Library Board Members met Tuesday night for their regular monthly meeting. Public attendance was less than 20, possibly due to the concurrent Town Council meeting being held at Town Hall. The Town Council meeting, normally held on Monday evenings was moved to Tuesday due to the President's Day holiday.

The building permit process is proceeding. Director Hommerding relayed a report from the architect indicating they have received comments on the building permits from the Town of FMB and Lee County. The architects have responded and will return the plans to the Town. Director Hommerding explained that the Town is responsible for the permit process, but they subcontract some of the work to Lee County.

Board member Karen Swanbeck repeated her call to consider moving Library Board meetings to Town Hall, making a motion to move meetings for 3 months and re-evaluate. The motion failed for lack of a second. Discussion following the motion revealed that the Library Board has never received any invitation directly from Town Council regarding the use of Council Chambers, availability and costs, as per Director Hommerding and President Katie Corning.

Library Attorney Anne Dalton informed the Board on the status of Town Attorney Jim Humphrey's request for public records. There have been several interchanges of letters between Humphrey and Dalton. Dalton reported that she "hates to see these types of interchanges as it adds fuel to a fire that shouldn't be there in the first place. Town Attorney Humphrey has made a very comprehensive request of the library. Anyone is entitled to make a public request. Fowler White has represented the library in the past in some financial matters, the problem is that they want to review some financial issues. It's up to the firm to determine if there is an ethical issue. I've brought it to Humphrey's attention. The firm is still reviewing that public records request.”

Humphrey's request includes all "materials, minutes, documents, maps, plans, CD's and recordings that are associated with the planning, financing, maintenance, upkeep and operations for the present and proposed expansion of the library facility.” He has also asked for copies of all Board meeting minutes, along with meeting notices and all agendas for meetings in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Humphrey indicates in a letter dated February 8, 2011 that neither he nor Marilyn Miller were aware that their firm had represented the library. He also indicated that any prior representation should not create a conflict of interest.

Dr. Hommerding informed the Board that Humphrey's request for extensive public records comes at the height of season. He said that they may need to hire a part time clerical person to handle the requests as they don't have the staff available to handle such extensive requests.

During the Director's report, it was reported that there has been $1884 in donations since the last Board meeting. The Library will hold an Open House on Saturday, March 26 from 9-2. January saw 13,342 titles checked out of the library.

A special Library Board meeting will be scheduled Mar 8 at 6pm to meet with Kraft Construction for discussion of permitting and construction issues.

Public Comment saw 5 people speak, all on the library expansion project, 3 in support and 2 in opposition.

Tom Winter spoke of his confidence that the library will adapt to change, though added, "My concern is that whenever there is a delay, it translates into money.”

Sam Lurie referenced his website, beachlibrary.com while listing several of his points against the expansion.

Pat Smith repeated that if the FMB Library District did not exist, residents would have paid 37% more in library taxes to the Lee County Library system.

Jim Seabury opined, "It's past time to get over this and build it!”

Jim Stevens encouraged the Board to "be active, not passive” in dealing with taxpayers. "We wouldn't have the problems we have here tonight if we had competitive elections.”

Following public comments, Board Member, Judy FitzSimons wondered "how the Board would pay back people who have lived here more than 9 years, what about people who have moved here in the last year?” She was referring to the concept of a tax refund of the $9M expansion funds proposed by some expansion opponents.

Mark LaFave, Board Member said that the Library District can levy up to 1 mil (the 2010-11 Library mil rate is .5989). He also expressed displeasure at some openly hostile emails which he has received from library expansion opponents.

Katie Corning, Board President, asked Attorney Anne Dalton if the Board was open to legal action if they did not follow through and build the building. Dalton's response was that yes, the Board could be sued for violating it's fiduciary duty if they opted to stop at this point. Corning also reported that she had used the refund calculation tool found at beachlibrary.com and compared the result to her actual tax bills since 2003. In her case, the online tool reported her "refund” would be $554, while her actual investment in the expansion as calculated from her tax bills was $295, a difference of $259.

Both Katie Corning, President, and Karen Swanbeck, Vice-President indicated that they are happy to talk to any district residents who have questions about the expansion. Residents should call the Library for contact info.

Corning spoke of possible reasons for there being a lack of competitive elections. "This is a volunteer position.” She also noted that there is filing fee ($25, as per the Lee County elections.) "I've tried to talk people into running for this Board for 9 years.” Other Board members echoed her difficulty recruiting people to run for open seats.

Anne Dalton referred the Board to a memo she sent to them last week clarifying some "ongoing confusion regarding the Town's involvement with the Library Renovation and Construction Project,” referring to the Feb 8 Council meeting/investigation of Library District. The Town Attorney had quoted her as stating that the Board does not have a legal obligation to provide a copy of the Public Facilities Report to the Town. Dalton clarified that she has advised the Library Board that the Town is entitled to a copy of the Public Facilities Report.

The Town Attorney indicated that Dalton had advised him that the Library documents submitted for the 2008 zoning process complied with the Public Facilities Report. Dalton responded, "I have never stated that and of course that is not the case.”

Town reps indicated that the Board had refused to accept a petition at the Board meeting. Dalton: "That is not the case. The petition was accepted by the Board, even though it was directed for action by the Town Council, not the Library.”

In response to the Town Attorney stating that Dalton had advised him that the Town was not entitled to the Library's public records. Dalton's response: "I have never stated that. Rather, I have advised the Town Attorney that Fowler White-Tampa has provided legal representation to the Library. It is Fowler White's obligation to determine whether this creates an impermissible conflict of interest.”

There will be a Special Library Board meeting to discuss construction issues and permitting on Tuesday, March 8 at 6pm at the Beach Library.

The next monthly Board meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 22 at 6:30pm at the Beach Library.

Missy Layfield