Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Friday, July 14, 2017

Fairfax Library Advocates letter to Library Board, Administrator re Memorandum of Understanding, July 10, 2017


From: Dennis Hays
 

To: Miriam Smolen ; Michael Donovan ; Charles Fegan ; "darren.ewing@fairfaxcounty.gov" ; Fran Millhouser ; Gary G. Russell ; Karrie Delaney ; Priscille Dando ; Sheila Janega ; Suzanne Levy ; "willard.jasper@fairfaxcounty.gov" ; "yearn.choi@fairfaxcounty.gov"
 

Cc: Linda Smyth ; Cathy Hudgins ; Jessica Hudson
 

Sent: Monday, July 10, 2017 11:05 AM
 
Subject: MOU between the Trustees and the Friends

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       July 10, 2017

Dear Ms. Smolen:  Thank you again for organizing the May 30th public meeting of your ad hoc committee on the MOU.  This resulted in a useful discussion.  I've read the two different versions of your minutes and as such minutes serve as the official record of the meeting I'm taking the liberty to add some additional detail to present a bit more perspective.  

In addition to yourself and Director Hudson, around fifteen representatives of various Friends groups spoke.  It is worth noting that none of them spoke in support of your presentation.  None of them.  Far from it.  Emotions were heated, although proper decorum was maintained.  A large number of issues were raised by the Friends, but none of them were answered to the satisfaction of the 50 or so individuals present.  

Speaking generally, there appears to be continuing confusion of the part of the County and maybe even one or two of the Trustees about what the Friends are and do.  This is not just unfortunate, it is dangerous - and inevitably will lead to serious miscalculates.  Presumably you are familiar with the fable of the Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs.   If so, you may remember the story did not end well for either the goose or the farmer.   

Fortunately, there is a quick and easy path forward to deal with this confusion - you could START by talking to the Friends before huddling with County attorneys and embarking on a rewrite of a set of agreements that have served the County, the Libraries and the general public well for over a decade.  After all, the MOUs are between the Trustees and the various individual Friends groups.  Shouldn't the other equal party in an MOU be consulted?  

It appears from your remarks you envision a single MOU will apply to all Friends Groups.  Is this so?  Please remember that each Friends group is an independent organization with its own Board, history, mission, volunteer base, goals, financial resources and relationship with its respective Branch.  Some Friends groups are large and well funded, others are much smaller and more constrained as to what they can do.  An attempt to have a "one size fits all" approach seems inappropriate.  In any event, any new MOU will need to be negotiated with each Friends group individually.  

It also appears there is confusion about what an independent 501 (c) 3 organization is.  For starters, such organizations are not part of the County government.  The Friends work WITH the County, not FOR the County.  The whole point of an MOU is to define the relationship between two entities.  It does not, however, give either entity the right to interfere in the internal operations of the other.  As noted in my earlier message, each Friends group is in full compliance with all State and Federal laws and regulations and produces regular financial reports which are public documents.  Please let me know if you believe the Trustees or the County have a legal right to dictate the internal operations of an independent 501 (c) 3 organization.   

There was universal and vehement rejection of the proposal to place a cap on the Friends funds.  Speaker after speaker noted the County has no right or justification to take such a "Big Brother" approach.  One Friend stated the County was proposing to "punish success".  Several speakers noted one of the main reasons funds accumulate is the inability of the Library to use the funds offered.  For example, the County won't accept donations that have a "tail", that is, ongoing maintenance or service contracts or a need for updated software, etc.  Several different Friends jumped up at this and said they repeatedly have offered to cover all such costs.   There are restrictions on buying books, restrictions of buying machinery, restrictions on programs.   

The Friends exist to support the libraries.  Many of us have long urged the Library Administration to work with the County Administration to broaden the ways the Friends can help.  And finally, there may be a glimmer of hope here - the message Director Hudson sent out to the Friends Presidents last week, calling on the Friends to consider contributing in areas previously not allowed, is a solid step in the right direction.  The fact that the tone of that message is professional, problem solving and respectful is a bonus.  

The issues of liability and insurance are complicated and deserve further study.  

There was a brief discussion of a need to update the Friends Handbook which presumably prompted the following Q&A in the Attachment to the first set of minutes: 
  1.  The Library Handbook needs updatingShould the update of the Handbook come before the update of the MOU?

    Yes, the Handbook needs updating to reflect procedural changes as well as Library Board of Trustee policy changes. The current Handbook can be found at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/library/friends/friendshandbook/ and it is anticipated that it will be updated in the coming fiscal year. 
  
I assume that by "the coming fiscal year" you mean 2018?  This is encouraging news.   By dropping further discussion of the MOU until the Handbook is updated we all have an opportunity to avoid the mistakes and false starts noted above and begin anew - perhaps this time engaging with the Friends first and advising where you believe revisions are needed.  And, of course, the Friends will likely have areas where they believe revisions would advance our common objectives.   Please confirm you are suspending further action on the MOU until the Handbook is reconsidered.  Or is the statement in the Attachment incorrect?  

The Friends have a long and proud history of supporting the Fairfax County Library system.  As the previous Director noted:

The "Friends have played a pivotal role in the support, expansion and enhancement of this library system. Friends have raised community awareness of the library; campaigned for new buildings; paid for children's programs; lobbied for increased funding and purchased important branch supplies and equipment.

Friends are critical to the library's mission. As you know, the economy is ever-changing, and unpredictable events impact the public funding allocated to county agencies. Through boom times and lean years, we count on our Friends to help us provide consistently excellent service to one of the most literate communities in the world."

Why would anyone want to risk all of this?   

Very best regards, Dennis 
Ambassador Dennis K. Hays (ret.)
Chairman, Fairfax Library Advocates