Friday, January 30, 2015

Subcommittee Declares Libraries an Essential Part of Public Education

On Thursday members of the Fairfax Library Advocates visited the General Assembly in Richmond to testify in support of HB 2066, Delegate Mark Keam's bill to change the Code of Virginia regarding library policy.  Subcommittee #2 for General Laws passed the bill with an amendment written by Delegate Keam in consultation with the Advocates to tighten and strengthen the language.

42.1-46.  It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Commonwealth, as an essential part of its provision for public education, to promote the establishment and development of public library service throughout its various political subdivisions.

The bill will now be considered by the full committee on General Laws, perhaps as early as next week.  If approved, it will go to the Senate and then the Governor for signature.

Everyone interested in preserving and strengthening our libraries should now contact the Delegates and urge them to approve HB2066 as passed by the subcommittee.  

The Advocates wish to extend their heartfelt thanks to Delegate Mark Keam for his leadership on this issue.

General Assembly Building, Richmond, Virginia

Kathy Kaplan in front of the Library of Virginia

Ambassador Dennis Hays at the Library of Virginia  reading the current text of the
 42.1-46 Code of Virginia regarding library policy 

Hearing room for Committee for General Laws Subcommittee #2

Kathleen Murphy, legislative aide for Delegate Keam, and Julia Chun, Keam's Chief-of-Staff, 
holding the amended HB2066 text in the hearing room

Delegate Mark Keam and Dennis Hays after the committee voted 
to report HB2066 to the full committee

Saturday, January 24, 2015

HB2066 Scheduled for January 29, 2015, House of Delegates

HB2066, a library bill co-sponsored by Delegate Mark Keam and Senator Dave Marsden, will designate public libraries as essential services.  This legislation is needed to strengthen the current Virginia Code in which libraries are deemed part of the provision for public education.   It has been assigned to the Committee for General Laws.   Subcommittee #2 will review the legislation Thursday, January 29, at 1 pm in House Room C.  It's important that we have people testify in support of HB2066 from all over Virginia.

Full text of bill:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

County Audit Forms for FOL Voluntary

Subject: Audit forms voluntary  

Summary:  County officials confirm that completion of the recently distributed audit forms, or CSAs, is strictly voluntary.  Individual groups may complete them in detail, send in an alternate document such as a 990, or ignore them.  It was also noted a version of the CSA meant for County offices was inadvertently included in the letter sent to Friends’ groups and can be ignored.   End Summary

A group of the Fairfax Library Advocates, accompanied by an attorney providing pro bono assistance, met with County officials Wednesday afternoon, following up on the earlier meeting of January 9, 2015.

As is standard practice, the Advocates emphasized they do not speak for or represent anyone other than themselves. 

The purpose of the meeting was to try to rectify discrepancies between statements made by senior County officials and the materials distributed to various groups.   In pursuit of this, the conversation began with an attempt to clarify the origin of the audit request.   It has been repeatedly acknowledged by all parties that the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations did not request an audit of the Friends' accounts.   Further, a previous assertion that a homeowner’s group asked for the audit has no merit.  There have been no allegations of impropriety by any Friends group.  From discussions with members of concerned groups it appears the request did not originate with the Board of Supervisors, the Board of Trustees, Branch Managers or staff, the Board Auditor’s office, the media, or any outside group.  A very limited number of possible originating offices remain, but the officials declined comment.  The officials made it clear that they could not speak to anything other than the details of the CSA itself and that the auditor was simply doing as required by the BOS Resolution.

On the timing of the request, there is no indication that a review of Friends’ assets and operations was contemplated until after the Federation made its request for an audit of the Library Administration’s System Gift Fund. 

Moving to the audit itself, the Auditor’s office representatives stated they developed the Control Self Assessments (CSAs) in response to instructions from the Board of Supervisors in the Board Minutes of December 2, 2014.   The Advocates noted that set of Board Minutes was drafted under the false assumption that the Federation had requested the Friends be audited and the entire premise of the request was thus in question.  The Auditors replied they worked with the instructions they were given.  The Advocates accepted that the Auditor’s office had to follow orders but asked when the Board Minutes would be corrected and if this would then obviate subsequent instructions.  This question was outside the purview of the County participants and it was agreed this would be better addressed to the Board of Supervisors. 

The Auditors noted at this point that two versions of the CSA, one for the Friends and a different one for County offices, had inadvertently been sent out together.   Only the first version, marked for “FOL” need be considered. 

The Advocates wondered under what authority the County was auditing independent 501 (c) 3 organizations.  They noted Chairman Bulova had written Acting Advocates Chairman Hays on October 31, 2014 and stated, “The Friends accounts, to my knowledge, are not subject to county audits  since they are separate (non-county) non-profits.”   The officials then stated that completion of the forms was strictly voluntary and thus no authority was needed.  This surprised the Advocates present, who stated the letter sent gave the strong impression that the County was insisting on these forms being completed.   The County officials repeated that the process was voluntary.  When asked if that meant any given Friends group could choose to fill out the form in exhaustive detail, choose to send in only documents already prepared for other purposes like a 990, choose to answer N/A to everything, or choose to ignore the request entirely the answer was yes. 

This led to a discussion of what was the purpose of the CSAs.  The Auditor explained there were several ways he could have approached satisfying the Supervisors’ request including a full audit but he settled on the CSA approach as he felt it likely to be the easiest and the most useful.   One goal was to better understand and track funds flowing into and out of the Library Administration’s gift fund. 

When it became evident not everyone was familiar with the system used to collect and account for funds that go to the gift fund, one of the Advocates with direct and extensive knowledge of this explained the process.  Briefly, through the new Comprise system the County collects all monies and has complete control of the entire process.  The Friends generally have no knowledge of what has been collected until the County returns that portion which goes to the Friends.   Given the County controls 100% of this process, what could the Friends usefully add?  The Auditor contended that additional information was always helpful and served to verify other accounts. 

A second use of the CSAs is to determine best practices that can then be shared with other groups.   In response to this it was noted many Friends groups already share information and ideas and there were regular Forums that also served this purpose. 

Meanwhile, all the focus on an audit of the Friends has taken attention away from the request the Federation actually did make in this area, a full audit of the Library Administration’s Gift Fund.   During the January 9th meeting with Chairman Bulova, the Library Administrators agreed to provide information beginning with copies of detailed quarterly reports on the uses of the Fund already produced and distributed to Branch Managers.  These (dating back at least five years) have not yet been received. 

The County officials were gracious with their time and professionally presented their reasoning for their actions. 

The Advocates concluded by noting the voluntary aspect of the CSA was unclear to many people as was the continued inaccurate reference to the CSAs being developed in response to a Federation request.  The Advocates suggested the County clarify these two points and perhaps provide additional justification for their remaining requests in a follow-up letter. 

Comment – the County made no claim to any right to insist the Friends provide information on anything other than a voluntary basis.   It is our opinion they correctly understand this as there is no such right.  The proposed new MOU is yet to be seen, and may assert some claim in this area, but the County officials said they have no knowledge of what may or may not be in the MOU as this rests with the Trustees. 

Every Friends Group is, of course, free to take any action it sees fit with respect to the CSAs.   A variety of responses can probably be expected.  The auditor did say that he had received phone calls from several Friends’ groups asking questions. The meeting ended with a reaffirmation of a desire to work collaboratively on issues of common concern and the additional clarifications received here help in that regard. 

HB 2066 Assigned to Committee on General Laws

Fairfax Library Advocates were delighted to learn that House Bill 2066 sponsored by Delegate Mark Keam and Senator Dave Marsden has been assigned to the Committee on General Laws.   You can follow the progress of the bill with the link.  The text of the Code of Virginia regarding libraries is below, with the change to the Code italicized.

Offered January 14, 2015
Prefiled January 14, 2015
A BILL to amend and reenact § 42.1-46 of the Code of Virginia, relating to public libraries.
Patrons-- Keam; Senator: Marsden
Referred to Committee on General Laws
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:
1. That § 42.1-46 of the Code of Virginia is amended and reenacted as follows:
§ 42.1-46. Library policy of the Commonwealth.
It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Commonwealth, as a part of its provision for public education, to promote the establishment and development of public library service throughout its various political subdivisions. Further, it is the policy of the Commonwealth that public libraries are deemed to provide an essential service to the communities of the Commonwealth.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Library Trustees Meet to Advance the Search for a New Library Director

A committee established by the Fairfax Board of Library Trustees met January 14th to continue deliberations on the criteria to use for the selection of a new Director for the Library Administration.  Although the Trustees have sole authority and responsibility for the choice of the new Director, the committee includes representatives from several other organizations including the County, the Branch Managers, the Library Employees Association and the Library Foundation/Friends.   This ensures that concerned stakeholders have a chance to express their views before the full Board of Trustees makes its final decision.  The committee is led by Trustee Kerri Delaney.

The meeting began with a presentation by a County official of a proposal entitled "Public Outreach and Input into the Process - Potential Groups and Organizations."  Briefly, this proposal would be to conduct a survey as to what the public would like to see in a new Director. The plan would be to "drop in" on already scheduled meetings of the County's Department of Neighborhood and Community Services (NCS) to solicit input.  (The NCS oversees programming at Community, Teen and Senior Centers throughout the County.)  As part of this proposal, a set of sample questions was given which could be asked of the NCS groups, who in turn would rank their views from (1) "not important" up to (5) "very important.  Sample questions include:

"How important to you is it that the next Library Director be a good strong, effective, appreciative leader?" 

"How important to you is it that the next Library Director motivate library staff for productivity?" and 

"How important to you is it that the next Library Director be effective at working with Boards and other governing bodies?"

At this point the Chairman of the Trustees, Charles Fegan, noted he had established this committee last summer and expressed a concern that too much time was elapsing.  He expressed a hope that a decision could be made by this July.  In the ensuing discussion several other committee members expressed similar concerns over timing and questioned the need to further delay the development of a position description for the Director to wait for a survey that might take weeks or months.  One member stated that while community input would be helpful in determining what people might want in a library, most people did not have the technical knowledge or experience to determine what skills best served the Director of a major Library system.   The committee members all valued community input but most felt their work shouldn't be delayed.  The survey might still be conducted, but perhaps in parallel with drafting the position description.  The dissenting voices came from the County officials, one who stated it was "ridiculous" to think a Director could be chosen by July and another who made the reasonable point that it was important to build public support and suggested this could be done through public involvement.  

The Chair, Kerri Delaney, reminded the committee that they did have a previously agreed upon timeline:  complete the job description by the spring so that interviews could be conducted in the summer and a choice made in the fall.  

Several committee members noted the committee itself had individuals with vast knowledge of library and County operations.  Chairman Fegan stated he had actually put this committee together with exactly that goal in mind - to have the full range of experience needed to develop the framework for the selection process.    Fegan suggested a workshop to draft a position description and Delaney proposed the committee reconvene for this purpose at the end of the following week.  The committee agreed.  

At the conclusion of the meeting the Chair graciously invited the Acting Chairman of the Fairfax Library Advocates, Dennis Hays, who had been observing the meeting, if he had any thoughts. Hays thanked the committee members for their service and the serious way in which they were carrying out their duties.  He then stated that he shared the concern of the Chairman and the others that this process not be endlessly dragged out.  While community input is always welcome, there was little or nothing the proposed survey could add to the wealth of knowledge already on the committee.  He further agreed with the Chairman that a July decision was achievable.  Executive search can take time, but if pursued vigorously six months is more than adequate to conduct a full review and make a selection.  If a survey was to be conducted nevertheless, Hays suggested that rather that focus on the NCS the various Friends groups would provide a rich source of knowledgeable individuals to be interviewed.  Further, in addition to still using NCS, attention could be paid to other groups like home schoolers, small business owners, parents of small children, etc. - echoing a point made earlier by one of the Trustees. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

15101262D: Public Libraries as Essential Services

We had a message from Senator Dave Marsden last night that he supports Delegate Mark Keam's draft legislation to designate libraries as essential services.  Senator Marsden wrote that he will sign on as co-patron of the legislation. 

And here is the draft bill 15101262D:

A BILL to amend and reenact

§ 42.1-46 of the Code of Virginia, relating to public libraries.

1       Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:
2       1. That § 42.1-46 of the Code of Virginia is amended and reenacted as follows:
3       § 42.1-46. Library policy of the Commonwealth.
It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Commonwealth, as a part of its provision for public education, to promote the establishment and development of public library service throughout its various political subdivisions. Further, it is the policy of the Commonwealth that public libraries are deemed to provide an essential service to the communities of the Commonwealth.

The Fairfax Library Advocates are grateful to Delegate Mark Keam and Senator Dave Marsden for supporting the Fairfax County Public Library and all the libraries of Virginia.

 Senator Dave Marsden, 37th District

 Delegate Mark Keam, 35th District

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Fairfax Library Advocates Meet with Chairman Sharon Bulova

Representatives of the Fairfax Library Advocates were invited to attend a meeting with Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (BOS) Chairman Sharon Bulova on Friday, January 9th.  The meeting was called to discuss a recent directive from the BOS calling for an audit of the accounts of the various Friends of the Library.  Also present at the meeting were representatives of the Fairfax County Federation of Citizen Associations (Federation), the Library Board of Trustees, and numerous County employees, including Library Deputy Directors Melanie Quinn and Katie Strotman,  Director Sam Clay listened in by phone as he was on vacation.  The Advocates participated in their capacity of members of the Advocates group and spoke only as Advocates, emphasizing they did not in any way speak for the Friends individually or collectively (although the participants had direct ties to at least six Friends groups - Tysons-Pimmit, Kingstowne, Centreville, Kings Park, Fairfax/VA Room and Reston).  

Background:  Last September the Federation passed a resolution calling for (1) an independent comprehensive fiscal audit of the Library; (2) a complete collection inventory of the library; and (3) an audit of the system gift fund.  The Federation did not call for an audit of the Friends accounts. Despite this, the message was garbled along the way and on December 2nd the BOS approved a "Board Matter" calling, inter alia, for a "review of the fiscal reporting practices and expenditures of the Friends of the Library groups as well as the Department Gift Fund.  This review should include an examination of the revenue generated by the sale of donated books, the monetary donations the groups receive, and any other financial transactions carried out by the Friends groups."   

Gift Fund: The meeting began with a discussion of the "system gift fund."  Deputy Director Quinn provided a flow chart which noted funds coming into the County are treated in two different ways.  First, if a donation is made with a restriction that calls for the funds to be used for a specific purpose, it is processed in such a way as to meet that request, assuming it is approved as an appropriate expense by the Library Administration. Information is then provided to the Department of Finance via an Annual Accountability Report.  If there are no restrictions on the donation a similar procedure is followed, except the funds are expended at the discretion of the Administration, in keeping with priority guidelines.  Acting Advocates Chairman Dennis Hays noted the final use of these funds has not been transparent and this raises questions. Quinn stated the accounts are audited but one of the Federation reps added that information on expenditures is lumped into five broad categories such that little can be gleaned from the report.  Hays asked if it would be possible to have a more precise and detailed readout of specific expenditures so that it would be clear how the funds were being spent.  Quinn agreed to provide this information, noting that Branch Managers already get this information in a quarterly report.  

Audit of Friends Accounts:  The next issue was the call for an audit of the Friends accounts.  Federation representatives reconfirmed the specific resolutions contained in their September motion.  The Chairman (as Chairman Bulova prefers to be called), nevertheless proceeded with a call for the Friends accounts to be audited by the County's "Auditor of the Board" (not the County Auditor - a distinction but not one that really affects the request)  since it was necessary for the County to accurately account for the money that comes into and out of County accounts.  At this time she was referring to funds received from the daily sale of books at the various libraries that goes to the Gift Fund.   Hays noted it had just been established that the Federation had not requested this action be taken.  He asked if there was some instance of impropriety by one of the Friends group that had prompted this request and was assured by all the County representatives that there was no such concern.  Hays then stated that proceeds from the daily sales are handled electronically with all funds going directly to the County - only later do the Friends receive their portion of the proceeds FROM the County.  Thus, the County already has complete information on the funds coming into and going out of the County's coffers. Further, as all Friend's groups are 501 (c) 3 organizations, all the Friends have specific financial reporting requirements to the State and Federal government.   In addition, the Friends have signed MOUs with the County that place no obligation on the Friends to disclose private financial information to the County.  Given all this, an additional County audit is neither useful nor required.  A spirited discussion followed with the County making the case again that they needed the audits to comply with their regulations.  The Chairman observed that the County audits a number of organizations with which have contracts with the County.  Hays replied that these were companies or organizations with a business relationship with the County involving payment for services - very different from the Friends.  The assertion was also made that not all Friends have the same ability to undertake financial housekeeping and thus different procedures were being followed.  The auditor stated that no major additional work would really be needed as much of the requested information would be in the 990s (federal tax forms for 501(c) 3 organizations) already being prepared. The County could help implement standard and best practices.  Fran Millhouser asked if this level of scrutiny was being applied to other 501 (c) 3 groups, such as those using Park Authority facilities.  The answer to that was, "We haven't gotten there -- yet."  

No consensus on the audit request was achieved.  Toward the end County reps seemed to say this might be more of a semantic issue and that maybe "audit' wasn't the right word.  More of a "Control Self Assessment" (CSA) was what was needed and that each Friends group would just be asked to fill out a form or two - no auditor from the County was going to show up at the front door.  On cue, it then was disclosed that the Auditor's office had prepared two new forms that would be sent to the Friends.  We asked for copies but were told they weren't quite ready but that they would be distributed shortly.  Hays stated he was sure they meant they would be distributed to all the Friends groups for review and comment.  He got back what we will take as a confirmation that would be the case. 

Friends Assets: Hays also noted there is concern the County might act to confiscate the resources of the Friends.  He asked for confirmation that the County had no intention to "seize, redirect, confiscate, assume, or in any fashion take control" of the Friends funds.  The Chairman assured him there was no intention to do anything like that.   

New MOU proposed:  This led into a short discussion of the MOU in use.  It appears the Administration has been coming up with a new version. Again we asked for a copy and again were told they "weren't quite ready."  There is an extra stop on this one, as apparently a new MOU proposal needs to go through the Trustees first.  It's coming, however, perhaps soon after a joint BOS/Trustee meeting on the 20th of this month.  

Inventory of holdings:  The issue of a comprehensive inventory review was given scant consideration.  The County believes they already produce this information on an annual basis.  The Chairman stated there was a full audit in October 2013.  We noted, as demonstrated by the insightful work of Terry Maynard and Kathy Kaplan, that there are serious gaps and omissions in what they think is a comprehensive review.  Another area of no consensus.  

Chairman Bulova also scheduled some time for other issues.  Hays began by stating that in every other circumstance he was aware of, the Advocates worked closely and collaboratively with the Library Administration and elected officials.  He stressed it was our intention and desire to have that be the case here, too.  We stand ready to work together to strengthen our libraries.  However, although accepting that all concerned share a common desire to have the best library possible, the Advocates have serious concerns as to some of the policies and actions of the present Administration.  Specifically:

--    The decision to operate on a two year review of books rather that the standard five year cycle has done great damage to the library and resulted in hundreds of thousands of books being destroyed.  We need to stop this hemorrhaging immediately and the first step is to return to a five year review standard.  

--    Next, the Library has suffered disproportionate cuts in budget over a long period of time.  The cumulative effect of this has been to weaken a once great institution.   Although we recognize that times are tough and budgets tight, the library has done more than its share of belt tightening and should be spared further budget cuts. 

--    Likewise, staff levels have been cut to the extent that it is only through the heroic efforts of the remaining staff that quality service is being maintained.  Hays asked why, given there are over 60 current vacancies, no library jobs are listed on the County's "jobs opportunities" website?  

--    Finally, the search for a new Director must be accelerated.  The new Director must have, and be able to share, a vision to restore the Fairfax system to its proper rank as a world class library that addresses the needs, hopes and desires of the citizens of Fairfax.  

Comment - The meeting was cordial and useful in that it clarified the thinking of the County in several areas, most notably that the County has no designs on the Friends' funds.  There still is disagreement on what the County can ask the Friends to provide in way of financial information beyond what is already provided in fulfillment of each 501 (c) 3's obligation to the State and Federal government.  Discussion centered, for example, solely on the proceeds from the daily sales, not the larger semi-annual book sales many Friends hold.  

The County has agreed to provide the following information or new forms:

1. Information on the specific expenditures of the system gift fund;
2. Copies of the draft audit forms the County asserts the Friends need to complete; and 
3. Copies of the draft MOU the County wishes to propose.

Once these documents have been received and reviewed, particularly the proposed MOU, we will have a better idea of where we all stand.

Federation 2nd VP Bill Barfield, Federation 1st VP Ed Wyse

Chairman Sharon Bulova

Library Board of Trustees Vice-Chair Karrie Delaney

Terry Maynard, Fairfax Library Advocates

Library Board of Trustees Chair Charles Fegan

Ambassador Dennis Hays, Fairfax Library Advocates

Federation President Tim Thompson, Co-Deputy Library Director Melanie Quinn, 
Fran Millhouser, Friends of the Virginia Room.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Fairfax Library Advocates Meet with Delegate Tom Rust

The Fairfax Library Advocates met this morning with Delegate Tom Rust of the 86th District.  The Advocates discussed the perilous state the Fairfax Library system is in and while acknowledging that this is primarily a County rather than a State issue, they noted that there is a positive and supportive role the State can play.  Specifically, the State can designate libraries as essential services, similar to what other states have done.  Kathy Kaplan noted that Delegate Mark Keam has agreed to sponsor legislation to effect this change.   Delegate Rust, a strong supporter of public libraries, agreed to look into the legislative procedures necessary to move such legislation forward.  The Advocates also again noted that State support for public libraries was based on each county's population but that support for Fairfax was unduly limited because of a cap on allocations that considers Fairfax to have only 600,000 people rather than the more than 1.1 million who actually live here.  Dennis Hays stated that libraries are not a partisan issue and that it is our intention to work with representatives of both parties and from all sections of the State.  

Delegate Tom Rust 86th District

 Shelli Brosh of Chantilly, Delegate Tom Rust, Ambassador Dennis Hays and John Ball, 
President, Friends of Tysons-Pimmit Library

Delegate Rust and John Ball