The Teton County Library board is seeking a formal agreement with the county government.
At its monthly meeting Thursday, the board directed staff to work with the Teton County Human Resources Department to draft a memorandum of understanding outlining the role the department plays in supporting the county library system.
“It makes sense for us to really be clear about, you know, what the responsibilities are, what the actual support is, just so that we’re transparent,” interim Library Director Deb Adams said during the meeting.
The library has had a tumultuous few months, with its director, Oscar Gittemeier, leaving his post in October. The board and county HR have refused to say whether Gittemeier was fired or quit.
Shortly after Gittemeier’s departure, the Teton County Board of County Commissioners removed Trustee Dail Barbour from the library board.
In legal documents, Barbour alleges that fellow board members Peter Stalker and Chairman Mark Hendrickson went to commissioners to ask for her removal, and that her dismissal was unwarranted and violated her rights as a board member.
Amid the upheaval, community members, some speaking on behalf of anonymous library staff, have made comments at both library board and County Commissioners meetings decrying what they see as overreach by the county HR department, which is headed by Julianne Fries.
At Thursday’s meeting, Vice Chair Grace Robertson said the county board has heard those sentiments.
The board asked for the agreement with county HR, “both because of those concerns and because it’s overall good practice,” Robertson said Thursday.
Such agreements are common in the library world, former Director Dawn Jenkin has told the Jackson Hole News&Guide. Calling them “contracts for services,” she said they provide guardrails for the relationship between counties and libraries so the public has a chance to understand and comment on the arrangement.
Without a transparent public agreement, she said, the independence of a library can be threatened by the influence of political, elected officials.
At Thursday’s meeting, Adams said the agreement was a good idea, calling the process a “growing pain” for the organization she has been with for 30 years.
Robertson said county HR has supported the library in some fashion since 2003, operating for nearly two decades without such a compact.
Presiding as chair at Thursday’s meeting, Robertson gave Fries, in attendance, the chance to comment, but Fries declined. In her own comments, Robertson said the county was “on board” with the idea.
Based on her conversations with staff, Robertson set a goal of March for a draft agreement, though she said April would also be acceptable. She and Hendrickson have previously been quoted saying that any approval process of the agreement will be transparent and public.
This article has been updated to show that Hendrickson and Roberston said the MOU process will transparent and public, though it will not include a chance for public comment. — Ed.