Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Frequently Objectionable Additions: Letter from Dennis Hays to Friends

Dear Friends:

Yesterday the Library Administration sent out an "FAQ document" purportedly to answer questions about the County's draft MOU .  The information sheet does address some issues, but raises other new ones.  Overall, the FAQs are a step backward and represent further unwarranted - and counterproductive - overreach by the County.

1.  CONTROL OVER FRIENDS RESOURCES:  In section 3, paragraph 3 the County states: "The Library has a responsibility to oversee those public resources and to support transparency and accountability.    That includes having some oversight of what use is made of those resources and how a group's financial records support that use."  

This asserts a "right" not found in the MOU or permitted under state or federal laws.  The County cannot dictate how independent 501 (c) 3 organizations organize themselves or choose to allocate their resources.  This is the same assertion the County has been trying to make for years but has never succeeded in obtaining because they have no legal leg to stand on.  If the MOU and this "FAQ" are accepted they will have gotten the Friends to do to themselves what the County lawyers haven't been able to.    

2.  WHAT RESOURCES ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?  The authors of the FAQ (and MOU) have a very skewed understanding of how the Friends operate and how the value we produce is created.  Simply put - the Friends produce value - hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for the Library and the County - because all the work we do is done by unpaid volunteers.  Thousands of Friends put in tens of thousands of hours every year AT NO COST TO THE COUNTY.   The County does provide workspace, which is appreciated and useful, but the County gets back between six and ten times the value of this space as DIRECT SUPPORT FOR COUNTY PROGRAMS.   No one with even a passing familiarity with the Friends thinks that "discarded library books" have any real value and extremely few are ever accepted by the Friends.  Donations from the community are the raw material we often use to create wealth and it is important to remember the County's role in this is limited to having convenient deposit spots in the Library buildings.  The public gives the books to the Friends - not the County - and ALL the value above a few pennies per volume comes from the sweat and managerial expertise of the Friends.   

3.  SAUCE FOR THE GOOSE, SAUCE FOR THE GANDER:  Section 5, paragraph 2 states, "Any amendment to the MOU would apply to every Friends (sic) that has signed an MOU, and therefore each Friends would have to agree to the amendment --- ".  By this logic, this should apply to every Trustee also.  Thus, if they believe this, the Trustees should set an example by getting unanimous agreement on any changes to the current MOU.  This didn't happen and thus the January 10th draft should be recalled until all Trustees approve the draft language.  It would then be forwarded to the Friends, who also would need to have 100% agreement before a new MOU takes effect.  

4.  THE REAL REASON FOR SECTION 5, PARAGRAPH 2:  The discussion in point 3 above is pertinent only if the Trustees and County considered  the Friends to be equal partners in the MOU that establishes our relationship.   Sadly, there is no evidence to support this (with the exception of a couple of individual Trustees).  The Trustees consider the Friends to be employees - at best.  Thus, the purpose of this section is to make it very difficult to impossible for the Friends to ever propose amendments to the draft MOU.  That is, experience has shown there will always be a "teachers pet" or two among the Friends Groups who will do the County's bidding, no questions asked, and deny the Friends the unanimity this calls for.  Further, given that the County has been unwilling to meaningfully discuss the Friends' concerns during the drafting of the MOU, how likely is it that they would listen to us after one signs on the dotted line?    

5. CONFUSION OVER THEIR RESPECTIVE ROLES:   In the opening paragraph the FAQ states, "This document will hereafter use the term "Library" to include both the Board of Trustees and the Library Administration."  The Board of Trustees and the Library Administration are two separate entities with very different roles and responsibilities as laid out in statute and regulation.  This "blending" that has been evident throughout the MOU discussion is inappropriate and probably in violation of both the spirit and letter of Trustees' Policy Manual.

6.  MORE INAPPROPRIATE OVERREACH:  In section 3, paragraph 3 the County states "Periodic access to underlying records provides the Library the required oversight of financial record keeping"     This directly contradicts language in section 3 paragraph 2 which states " it is the Friends' determination what records and in what format, are sufficient to support the Group's tax exempt status."    Nothing about "underlying records" in paragraph 2.  But then, the real issue here is that the County has no right to demand any of this in the first place.  

7. ENGLISH GRAMMAR: A minor point, but indicative of a bigger problem.  Try saying out loud, "The Friends understands that it needs to maintain copies --" (section 3, first sentence) Shouldn't organizations involved with Libraries be able to figure out subject/verb agreement?   Actually, the purpose of this fractured English is the County wants all Friends - regardless of size, focus,, volunteer base, resources, etc. - to be treated exactly the same and thus considers "Friends" to be singular.   

Others may have additional objections to specific sections of the FAQ, but these are the ones that jumped out for me.  Again, all of this could be avoided if the Trustees would just agree to meet with the Friends as equals.    

Best regards, Dennis 

Dennis Hays
Fairfax Library Advocates

Letter from Dennis Hays to Sharon Bulova: Economics of the Friends

Dear Sharon: 

Sorry to keep bothering you but the issue of accountability keeps coming up and I think it important you have an accurate picture of what the various parties involved contribute.      

  • The Friends receive no cash or funding from the County.           
  • The County does provide space to the Friends, which certainly has value.  
  • In return, the Friends give the County hundreds of  thousands of dollars in direct and indirect support..    
  • The County gets back at least six or seven times the value of all support provided to the Friends.           

Over the years the County has received millions of dollars of "free money" from the Friends.  The margins we produce are not possible under any other arrangement.  

BACKGROUND:  You may remember all of this started four years ago when the Friends asked for an audit of the Library Director's Gift Fund due to reported irregularities.   We have never received a response to this request.  Instead, the County turned around and initiated an attempt to audit the Friends!  This was dropped only when an attorney for the Friends hammered home that the County had no right to demand an audit of independent, 501 (c) 3 organizations.  

A year later came the initial attempt to unilaterally modify the MOU.  This fizzled when the Trustees were unable to say why the existing MOU wasn't serving all parties well and what the purpose of the new MOU would be.  

Now comes yet another attempt to intrude negatively on the Friends operations.   

The Economics of the Friends:  

The following pertains specifically to the operations of the Friends of the Reston Library.  Each Friends Group is different, of course, and there may be unique situations here and there, but in general all Friends Groups operate under similar circumstances.      

What the County Gives to the Friends:   In general, books discarded by the County are of zero value.  They tend to be soiled, torn, dog eared, outdated, missing pages, etc.   As a rule, we don't accept books from the County.  There are, however, a few excepts - occasionally we will accept a book, generally non-fiction in the categories of hard science (physics, math, biology) or history as these books (sadly) are rarely checked out and thus are in much better shape.  I wish to correct my statement in an earlier message that Reston sells no books from the County.  My apologies.   A more accurate statement would be we sell extremely few books originally purchased by the County.  The books received from the County contribute an amount of less than one third of one percent of our sales.
What the Friends Give to the County: It is important to note the public donates their books to the Friends, not the County.  Many of our books are collected directly from patrons' homes.  I know some dispute this, but this is at best a difference without a distinction as the books all go to supporting our common goal of helping the Library.  This is only an issue if someone wants it to be.  There is more to story, however - the County provides us with a list of desired titles (mostly popular current fiction) and we hunt down these titles, tidy them up, and give them to the County.   In fact, library staff are welcome to take desired volumes at any time, including in the middle of a sale.   Whatever the source, a donated book has an initial value of three to five cents (wholesalers pay two dollars for a large box of random books)   ALL of the subsequent increase in value is due to the work of the Friends.  

Space allocation:  Here the County does provide a vital service:  The Reston Friends occupy roughly 450 square feet of space in the Reston Library on a continuing basis.  Comparable space in Reston goes for between $2.00 and $2.50 a sq ft per month.  Taking a mid-point value of $2.25, the value of the space we occupy would be about $12,000 a year.

Return on Investment:  Last month we authorized over $70,000 in contributions to the Reston and Herndon libraries.   We sponsor speakers, put on children's programs, buy books, support English language training, purchase makerspace equipment, buy garden supplies, purchase furniture, pay for periodicals, put on SAT workshops, support the page program, provide budget supplements,  fund volunteer recognition, pay for library outreach materials, replace easels and carts, fund pre-school programs for children with sensory needs, provide educational opportunities to school aged children during holidays, supply bottled water service for the staff, etc. etc.  

Putting on a Sale:   Each year we hold two large general sales, two childrens' and young adults sales, a holiday sale, a puzzles and games sale and a mystery books sale.  Plus, of course, the ongoing sales.  We have a year round operation with hundreds of volunteers.  A very conservative estimate of the volunteer hours needed to accomplish all of this is between 5,000 and 6,000 hours.  The State of Virginia values volunteer service at $26.71 an hour. 

BOTTOM LINE:  ALL the flow of money goes FROM the Friends TO the County.  And we ask nothing in return other than some space to do our job.  

For over a year all we have asked to be treated as an equal partner - is that too much?  

Sincerely, Dennis Hays 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Fairfax Library System Treats Friends Groups Unfairly


Editor: Thank you for your June 28 article [“Revised Library Requirements Irritating Some ‘Friends’ Groups”].
The story is not accurate in that neither the Tysons Library Friends or Reston Library Friends are “refusing” to sign the library’s memorandum of understanding (MOU). The deadline for signing the MOU has not passed and no final decisions have been made by either group.
Nor are the Tysons and Reston library Friends the only groups who take issue with the MOU. Several other library Friends groups also have serious concerns, and are weighing whether to sign.

Library Friends continue to seek compromise and cooperation rather than the heavy-handed, unilateral approach the county government has consistently pursued toward us.

Charles Keener, Oakton

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Statement from Dennis Hays Regarding Library MOU

It is our belief that the County is looking to control the finances of the Friends, dictating where the money we raise goes.  A couple of points:  As 501(c)3 organizations will are required to annually file a variety of state and federal financial forms that list income, donations, assets, expenditures, etc.  
These are public documents available to anyone with an internet connection (or they could ask us for a copy).  Further, Library Branch Managers are ex-officio members of each Friends board and sit in on all our meetings, including our budget and program meetings.  
What the County is asking for is much more intrusive and would be extremely time consuming to provide.  The Library Director was asked if the County wanted to see every Costco receipt - she said yes.  At present the Branch Manager gives Friends a "wish list" that the Board reviews and usually approves in total.  In Reston we give the Library around $70,000 a year plus we help support the Herndon Library, too.  
We buy furniture and rolling carts, replace carpeting, pay for pest control, pay for speakers, buy books, support children's literacy programs, etc.  What the County wants is for us to pay for big ticket items on the County level - items they identify that may or may not fit with our by-laws.  
The debate over the MOU has been painful and frustrating.  
All we have ever asked is that they treat us as equal partners in the MOU (which we are) and sit down and discuss areas of concern.  For over a year they have refused, instead holding "meetings" where we are told what they have already decided.  

Additional comment:

There are many specific issues of concern here as each Friends groups has its own by-laws, mission statement, volunteer base, financial resources and elected Board of Directors.  One of our major objections is the County is trying to bind all of the Friends groups into a single contract, ignoring specific concerns and treating large and very active groups the same as very small groups.  

What would be humorous if it weren't so serious is that for years we have been trying to get the County to better account for the funds we provide them.  Please remember that the flow of funds goes only in one direction - from the Friends to the County.  In Reston we don't accept any books from the Library itself - all the books we sell are donated by the community to the Friends.  We collect them, sort them, mend them, discard old or damaged volumes, categorize them, store them, price them, sell them, etc.  
ALL the value of the books (tens of thousands of books a year in Reston alone) is derived from the work of hundreds of volunteer Friends.
With the funds we raise we (the Fairfax Friends groups) give our Branches and the central library system hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.  As mentioned earlier, we fund everything from SAT prep courses, English as a second language, new furniture, speakers programs, children's programs, bottled water for the staff, pest control, shelving, books and e-books, book carts (surprisingly expensive), periodicals, support for libraries in rural Virginia and overseas in developing countries, and the list goes on and on.  The Library as we know it wouldn't exist without the Friends.
The Friends and the Library are equal partners in our existing MOU.  This has worked well and without problems for decades.   The County now wants to rip up the old MOU and impose a restrictive and intrusive set of requirements on us.  You might ask why the County refuses to provide to us the same level of detailed financial accountability as they are asking from us - particularly as all the money is from us to them!   All we have ever asked is to be treated as equals in developing a document that we are an equal partner to.  A little appreciation for all we do might be nice too, but we'll settle for equal treatment.
Dennis Hays
Chairman, Fairfax Library Advocates

Falls Church Patch: Fairfax County to Evict Friends of Libraries


Fairfax County is in the process of evicting the Library Friends from several library branches.

The County demands that all library Friends sign a new contract which many feel violates our consciences, goes against the advice of our legal counsel, and tramples our rights as independent non profit organizations.

Library Friends work with the County.
Library Friends do not work for the County.

But the County has been determined to ram through a new "Memorandum of Understanding" contract which would put the library Friends in an inferior position.

Several library Friends groups have asked to meet with the County to discuss reasonable changes/modifications to the MOU that would make it more fair to library Friends.
But the County - through library Director Jessica Hudson and library board Chair Miriam Smolen - has been completely unwilling to consider Friends concerns or make ANY changes to the MOU approved by a divided library board earlier this year.

Instead, library Friends are being bullied and threatened with eviction if they do not sign a contract they are not comfortable with.

Library Friends have been given a deadline of July 31 to sign away their rights or be thrown out.
Such a "my way or the highway" approach is unbelievable being directed at volunteers who have served their various library branches for decades and donated millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours to support library collections, facilities, programs, staff, grounds and other needs.

It is not too late for the County to reconsider this wholly destructive and counterproductive approach and to start treating the library Friends as valued partners instead of problems needing to be crushed and brought to heel.

If this attack on library Friends troubles you please let those who can make a difference know : County Board Chair Sharon Bulova sharon.bulova@fairfaxcounty.gov , County Executive Bryan Hill Bryan.Hill@fairfaxcounty.gov , Library Board Chair Miriam Smolen miriam.smolen@fairfaxcounty.gov , Library Director Jessica Hudson jessica.hudson@fairfaxcounty.gov

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Library and Library Friends Clash over Finances

Article from the Fairfax Times.

Library Friends to be evicted from their branches at the end of July.

"Libraries as you know them would collapse if the Friends went away."  Quote from library advocate, Dennis Hays.

Read full article here.


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Library Friends to be Evicted from their Branches in July

Article from the Annandale blog.

Library Friends groups are engaged in a bitter dispute with the administrators of the Fairfax County Public Libraries (FCPL), who they say are trying to control their finances and are threatening to kick them out of the library if they don’t sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU).

 The biggest point of contention in the MOU, adopted by the Library Board of Trustees in January, is a provision requiring Friends groups to turn over all their financial records to the FCPL.   

Friends groups believe the MOU is one-sided and say they would sign if they have a chance to make some modifications – but they’ve told they either have to sign it as is or be evicted. “We’re being told it’s our way or the highway,” says Charles Keener of the Friends of the Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library.

The Tysons Friends group, which has not signed the MOU, passed out flyers at its book sale earlier this month stating, “this may be our final book sale.”

The Friends of the George Mason, Reston, Centreville, Thomas Jefferson, and Kingstowne libraries also have not signed the MOU.

According to FCPL Director Jessica Hudson, the Kings Park, Dolly Madison, Martha Washington, Lorton, and City of Fairfax libraries have signed.

The Friends of Woodrow Wilson Library have also signed the MOU, reports Pat Jack of the Friends group. “We’re very small potatoes; this MOU really is aimed at the larger libraries that make a lot of money. We felt we could live with it. We thought about disbanding but felt we couldn’t do it to the staff.”

“It was not handled well by the trustees,” Jack says. “They tend to dictate and not collaborate.”

Keener believes some Friends are waiting to see if they are actually going to be evicted before signing.

Hudson says she hopes all of the Friends will eventually sign the MOU by July 31 but “we haven’t set a firm deadline.” If any Friends groups refuse to sign “we would work toward dissolution of our partnership,” she says, which means the Friends group would be “removed from the library space” and could no longer use the library name.

Lack of compromise

“If they treated us as equals, all of the issues could be resolved,” says Dennis Hays, chair of Fairfax Library Advocates. “We could probably hash it out in an hour or two. It is baffling why the county is antagonizing a group that has been so helpful to the library system.”

“If the friends were to go away, the ability of the library to serve the public would be severely impacted,” Hayes says.

Library Friends are volunteers, and many of them seniors. They put in countless hours supporting their local library branch and collectively raise hundreds of thousands of dollars a year – mostly from book sales – for library programs, landscaping, furniture, and much more. George Mason Friends pays for the countywide summer reading program.

Keener accuses Hudson of “dictating, threatening, and bullying, instead of being willing to compromise.” There has been a “great deal of mistrust, anger and sense of disrespect throughout the process,” he wrote in an email to County Executive Bryan Hill. “How is it going to look when they send marshals to throw out little old ladies who sell books?”

Hudson brushes aside the criticism, insisting “many Friends groups had an opportunity to have their feedback taken into account.”

There have been many meetings on the MOU, representatives of Friends groups acknowledge, but they say they aren’t being listened to.

“Every effort by Friends to offer an alternative MOU was completely rebuffed,” Keener says, and Friends’ request to have FCPL adopt a model MOU from the American Library Association was ignored.

Friends have also pointed to the county’s plan to use separate MOUs for friends groups that support Fairfax County parks and suggested FCPL do the same for library Friends.

According to Hudson, the library Friends groups generally have the same missions and do the same activities, so “having the same overarching document makes a lot of sense,” while the park friends groups are more varied.

Money grab?

The single biggest point of contention is the provision in the MOU calling for Friends to turn over detailed financial records to Fairfax County, despite the lack of evidence of any wrongdoing.

“We are fine with providing the same basic financial summaries we file with the Feds and which are presented in our treasurer reports at our board meetings and given to the branch manager,” Keener says. “But the director has told groups that they must provide copies of every receipt and copies of their actual bank records.”

Keener finds it especially insulting that “they are asking us to turn in every Costco receipt.”

“The concern is that some of the friends have reserves, and it appears the county would like to make use of them,” Hays says. “We literally give millions of dollars to the county.”

A lawyer specializing in nonprofit law hired by several Friends groups told them “the county has no legal right to demand such detailed internal records from a legally recognized independent nonprofit entity,” Keener notes.

“Throughout this process, we have not been treated as an equal party to a mutual agreement,” he says. “And now we are being outright bullied and threatened if we dare to uphold our legal rights and follow our conscience.”

“As a county taxpayer I am beyond angry to see this disrespect and abuse directed toward citizens who have given selflessly of their time for decades,” Keener says. “This is truly Big Brother run amok.”

Hudson defends the need for more financial information. “The library board feels strongly that it’s part of their fiduciary responsibility to provide transparency around monetary issues,” she says. “Friends want more transparency, too. We will provide them more information on how libraries use their money.”   

Hays and Keener would like to see the Board of Supervisors step in and resolve the issue. “The optics of having the friends goose-stepped out of the library is something the supervisors don’t want to visualize,” Hayes says.

 Community center

Kathy Kaplan, a longtime advocate of the libraries, believes the current conflict with the Friends is an extension of previous attacks on the library system. That includes attempts to slash the FCPL budget,  the “beta plan” in 2013 to restructure how the branches operate, and the systematic effort to throw out thousands of books to make more space. 

The number of library books has been cut to 2.15 million, down from 3 million in 2004, Kaplan says, and FCPL is purchasing very few nonfiction books for adults, and almost no science, history, or philosophy books. Kaplan suspects the FCPL’s ultimate goal is to turn libraries into human services centers or community centers.

Hays notes the libraries already do a lot of community projects, such as bringing in guest speakers, hosting community groups in meeting rooms, and organizing children’ programs. But “turning the buildings into community centers with books along one wall is not what a library is.”

When asked about her vision for the library system, Hudson said libraries are not going to become community centers. “We are more of a community hub, with computer access and programming for children and adults,” she says. “We are continuing to meet baseline services – checking out books and reading programs for children, for example – and will build on that.”

Library advocates aren’t buying it. “This is part of a radical rightwing effort to destroy educational institutions in our state,” Kaplan says. “We need to have a functioning library that provides information for the public.”