Sunday, May 17, 2015

Letter to Trustee Michael Donovan Regarding MOUs Between Library Board and Library Friends

The following letter was sent to Mr. Michael Donovan, the Chairman of the Trustee Committee looking at MOUs between the Trustees and the Friends, on May 9th.   We will post Mr. Donovan's reply when it is received.

Dear Mr. Donovan:

Thank you for your continuing service on the Fairfax County Library Board of Trustees (Trustees).  I appreciate the work you and your fellow Trustees do to protect and strengthen our libraries.    

I am writing, however, to express deep concern over the direction of the proposal you appear to be making in your note of April 26th to the various Friends of the Libraries groups (Friends).  As presented, this proposal will significantly restrict the ability of volunteers to assist our hard working professional staff in making the Fairfax Library system an institution in which we can all take pride.  

My first concern is one of procedure.  You state, "After first coordinating this spreadsheet with the Library Staff, it is time to coordinate the spreadsheet with each of the Friends Groups."  This is, of course, backwards.  The relationship in question is between the Trustees and the Friends.  In fulfillment of section 42.1-33 of the Virginia Code, the Fairfax County website states, "In Fairfax County, the Board of Supervisors created the   Library Board of Trustees which is responsible for library functions, policy and direction.  As with the State Board, the local   Board appoints a Director of Libraries to administer the Board's policies and objectives."   You and your fellow Trustees set policy.  As the issue at hand is between the Trustees and Friends, the Trustees need to first discuss any concerns they have with the Friends.   Coordination with Library staff may appropriate, of course, but at the proper time -  after discussions with the Friends.  
Next, in your e-mail you state "the current MOU is inadequate."   You do not, however, say why the current MOU is inadequate.  How exactly is the present MOU deficient?   Has the current MOU caused significant legal or operational problems?   If so, may I ask how have you (the Trustees) have tried to address such problems short of tearing up existing guidelines?  The phrase "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" comes to mind.   

Third, I understand your note is a preliminary document but it has official status under State law (Sunshine Laws).   Since you include a "from the Friends" section it might be helpful to include mention of some of the things the Friends do.  For example:
--    The Friends contribute thousands of hours of volunteer services; 
--    The Friends contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Libraries; 
--    The Friends contribute administrative and material support, including everything from keeping the grass mowed to providing the chairs staff sit on;
--    The Friends sponsor many programs, such as the Children's Reading Program; and
--    The Friends undertake advocacy in support of the Library.  
Finally, from our discussions with Chairman Bulova and others I am aware the attempt to capture every conceivable action that can be billed to the Friends can be traced back to the Library Administration rather than the Trustees.  (They missed assessing a charge for any water a Friend might consume from a library water fountain - a potential source of revenue, especially during the hot summer months.)   Nevertheless, out of curiosity, how would all of this be assessed?  Who will be doing the accounting?  Who will decide if a Friends group uses a hour and 15 minutes of staff time or just an hour?   As one Friend has asked, "Will we be charged a usage fee on equipment we have donated?"  If a volunteer provides a service on behalf of the staff will they have to charge themselves?  

Mr. Donovan, my years in diplomacy taught me the necessity of speaking clearly and directly so I will respectfully be blunt.  The current framework for a new MOU will place an undue and unwarranted burden on the Friends groups.  It appears the purpose of this exercise, beyond an unfortunate expression of ingratitude, is to weaken the Friends, perhaps to drive a few out of existence.  

I speak only for myself, but have spoken to many others who share my concerns.  I know your interest in a dialogue is sincere.  If you believe it necessary to review the MOUs then tear up the spreadsheets, let us know why you believe the current MOUs are outdated and let's engage in a productive discussion.  As long as we share the mutual goal of strengthening a great institution and allowing citizens to contribute to that institution in productive and meaningful ways, I am certain we will be able to find common ground quickly.  

Many thanks and best regards, Dennis

Ambassador Dennis K. Hays (ret.)
Chairman, Fairfax Library Advocates
Board Member, Friends of the Reston Regional Library
Friend of Independent Cuban Libraries 


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