The Fullerton City Council unanimously voted to abandon taking over the city’s Library Board of Trustees after council members received a flood of emails from residents who voiced their opposition to the move.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Mayor Doug Chaffee moved to remove language in the proposed ordinance that would put council members on the library’s board. Councilman Greg Sebourn seconded his motion.

Before public comment started, Chaffee took a vote from the public in the nearly full City Council Chambers. He asked people who supported the council takeover to stand up. Nobody did. He then asked who wants to keep the board as it is. Everybody in the room, roughly 100, stood.

“I think it’s all pretty clear where we stand,” Chafee said.

Chaffee said city code governing the Fullerton Public Library system, which was passed in 1906, needs to be updated to conform to state law. His motion directed “staff bring back a new resolution deleting that part of it that makes the council serve as trustees. You bring back the rest of it and it does conform to state law.”

The takeover was originally proposed by Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald at the May 1 Council meeting during a committee and commission restructuring item.

“I do want to bring the library board code sections up to date and I want to add to that that we institute a new organizational structure … that calls for the appointment of  the city council members to serve as the trustees to the library board and to form a library advisory commission,” Fitzgerald said May 1.

Councilman Bruce Whitaker said he was troubled by the way the item and other committee/commission reorganization items came back to the Council this week.

“To have them come back and come back again is very troubling to me … unless two council members or the mayor take ownership and agendize something like this,” Whitaker said. “We’ve spent a lot of time tonight creating ill will.”

A similar sentiment was shared by at least three residents during public comment.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” they said.

Resident Fern Richardson, who was with her small son, became choked up during public comment.

“We’re (she and her family) trying to do the right thing, but we’re seeing so many unethical things going on in our city. From police officers who beat mentally ill people (Kelly Thomas) to death, to police cover-ups over city manager behaviorto replacing the library board,” Richardson said while fighting back tears. “Independent public libraries are one of the most important institutions in a democracy.”

Councilman Jesus Silva wanted clarity on what ordinance changes are being proposed. He suggested the current ordinance also be included in the agenda packet when the item comes back Oct. 16.

“What are we changing?” Silva asked. “Even before the resolution — I want to see the code, the chapter that we’re changing.”

“I agree that is an issue as well,” Chaffee said.  

Sebourn proposed including the Library Board of Trustees in discussions and hosting a joint meeting between the City Council and the Board before the Council’s October vote.

“I would like to see this item, first of all, go back to the Library Board of Trustees … and I’d love to have a joint meeting with the Library Board of Trustees to see how we can work better together,” Sebourn said.

Chaffee also proposed making the board independent from the council members. Currently, the City Council appoints the Board of Trustees. He suggested having nonprofit library organizations Friends of the Library and The Fullerton Library Foundation appoint some members.

“It is not independent. This council appoints each member, this council can remove them as well … I’d like to see if we can change the member of appointment … maybe two by the library foundation, maybe two by the friends and one at-large by the council … it’s just an idea … so it is independent,” Chaffee said. “If we are one in the same, then there is no check and balance to that.”

The 1906 city code gives the library board powers to manage the Fullerton library system.

“The Board of Trustees shall have the general control of the Library, its property and funds; hire the necessary employees for the Library and fix their compensation; pass the necessary rules and regulations for the government of the library affairs; and perform such other acts,” reads city code.

Trustee Sean Paden said if the council took over the board, it could create a conflict for council members.

“You are going to be in a position deciding what to do with property when you have other considerations. As a Trustee, I only have to think about what’s best for the library … [the conflict] probably disqualifies you from having the job in the first place,” Paden said.

Board President Ryan Cantor said it was “offensive” that no board members were consulted before the proposed board replacement item came to the Council.

“Our library is the most cost effective service provider within 35 miles … we serve 500,000 people a year. I’m really excited to hear you talking about how to improve library services. Next time, please include us.”

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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