The Teton County Library Board is working on both its internal and external communications, following a turbulent year that raised questions about the library’s independence and transparency.
At Thursday’s board meeting, Vice Chair Grace Robertson announced that the board and the Teton County Board of County Commissioners had a new arrangement. Library board representatives will now come before the commissioners on a quarterly basis to offer updates, including a yearly performance review of the library.
“We don’t want to make these complex,” Robertson said. “We want to keep it simple; we want to keep it useful.”
Though the Wyoming State Library board member handbook doesn’t specify exact requirements, it does say trustees may need to give commissioners periodic updates, something that to this point has not happened.
Robertson’s work is a response to the community outcry over the departures of former Library Director Oscar Gittemeier and board member Dail Barbour, who was removed from the board and then reinstated after a legal battle. Former staff members and laypeople spoke in meetings about a lack of transparency and what they perceived as a lack of independence from the county, which state statutes mandate.
Since then, the board has sought an agreement with the Teton County Human Resources Department as well as with county commissioners. Robertson said the board would also continue solidifying its relationship with the Teton County Library Foundation and Friends of the Teton County Library, two supporting nonprofits.
The board couldn’t come to an agreement on how it worked internally. Part of Robertson’s efforts included making a bullet point list of how trustees should interact with each other.
Most points dictated a communications code of conduct, for example, asking trustees to focus on an argument’s content, not a person’s integrity or motivation. Others encouraged them to support board decisions even if they disagree and to keep executive session materials confidential, tenets the state library handbook already includes.
One point of contention centered around a pair of clauses that implored board members, “Do not surprise, undermine, or ambush other Board members or staff during a public meeting,” and to ask questions or air concerns with someone else before the meetings.
Barbour took particular umbrage with the stipulation to raise disagreements before public meetings, asking to strike it.
“I think it gives the wrong impression of what’s going on before the meeting,” she said. “I mean, all of these questions and concerns should be taking place in the public meetings.”
Robertson and Trustee Nina Lenz, who suggested the endeavor in the first place, allowed that the clause could imply a lack of transparency, though they insisted all disagreements would also be aired during meetings.
However, the board didn’t get the chance to make any edits because Barbour also insisted the entire process was flawed. State library materials and statutes already provide enough of a framework, she said, and the new document muddied the waters.
Robertson said the agreement was worthwhile because it drew on the advice of local legislators as well as the state library.
“Part of the flow down for this came from what the county commissioners agree is a good approach to operating,” Robertson said. “And a lot of this document actually came out of the county commissioners, not out of the handbook, not out of the statutes.”
Barbour pointed out that board members already sign agreements when they volunteer.
“I actually think it’s confusing,” she said. “I also think our first frame of reference as a library board should be the state statutes and our state library.”
“I don’t have any confidence in this agreement, quite frankly,” Barbour added later.
Lenz and Roberston shelved the idea, saying they could return to it at a later meeting, but that the spirit of the document would be violated by forcing Barbour to sign if she disagreed.