Bill seeks open board

Proposed law would change selection of library trustees

Hearing set for today

Critics see measure as detrimental to `democratic process'

March 13, 2001|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

Republican Del. Nancy R. Stocksdale has introduced a bill that would expand the pool of people who serve on Carroll County Public Library's board of trustees. But the bill is generating controversy because it would change the way the library board is appointed.

Stocksdale's bill, which is scheduled for a hearing today in the House Ways and Means Committee, aims to allow Carroll commissioners to "select a member of the board of library trustees from nominees submitted by the board ... or other sources."

It's the words "or other sources" that concern library management and trustees because it would allow commissioners to pick board members who were not interviewed by the library board.

The process by which library boards are chosen is outlined in state law. The library board interviews candidates and makes recommendations to the county commissioners, who appoint trustees to five-year terms on the voluntary board.

"I'm not opposed to the idea - it's the method," said Calvin Seitz, a Manchester insurance agent who is president of the library board of trustees. "It's a dangerous thing if we were to have total unknown entities presented to the commissioners, and then for some political reason they could appoint someone no one knows anything about. It could operate to the detriment to the library board."

Linda Mielke, the Carroll library's director, called the existing process for appointing a library board "very democratic," adding that the board is open to anyone who expresses an interest. Without Stocksdale's bill, anyone who wants to join the board can apply.

Stocksdale said parents who home-school their children are particularly interested in changing the appointment process.

She said she's looking for "a group [on the board] that's representative of all parts of the county, as well as all walks of life."

"These parents who home-school their kids are thinking, `We'll never get a chance to serve on the board,'" Stocksdale said.

The seven-member library board meets 11 times a year and is responsible for appointing a library director, reviewing the library budget and developing personnel and public service policies.

The two dozen or so other county boards in Carroll are appointed directly by the county commissioners.

The bill, which Stocksdale said has the support of the Carroll delegation, was drafted after the North Carroll branch's consolidation of 31,581 adult and children's nonfiction books into the adult section in June. The interfiling system was meant to make room for children's fiction books in the children's section and to allow patrons to find information in a single place. Similar systems have been in place in Anne Arundel and Baltimore county library systems for more than a decade.

But in Carroll, interfiling drew dozens of complaints from patrons, many of them parents, who were angry and concerned that their children were being exposed to books that some said contained "explicit sex, nudity and graphic violence and crime." Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier and Dels. Carmen Amedori and Joseph M. Getty, all Republicans, were among those who attended a heated library board meeting in September when library patrons spoke out against interfiling.

The board shelved interfiling at its October meeting. But Donna Schott, the North Carroll library patron who mobilized a small group of Manchester--area parents to fight the policy, was stung by the "rude" and "cavalier" way she said she was treated by the library board. She approached the county delegation in November about changing the way the board is appointed.

"We need a more diversified board of trustees," said Schott, a part-time registered nurse who home-schools her 10-year-old daughter. "You don't have any young moms on there. You have, for the most part, professional people. I think it would be nice to have a broader mix of people that would be more representative of the community."

Alesia Miller, another North Carroll branch patron who home-schools, agrees.

"I don't think it could hurt," Miller said of the bill. "If you didn't pass the library board's opinion, you'd still have a second chance" to serve as a library trustee.

Neither Miller nor Schott has applied to be on the library board. Both would like to serve but said they are too busy.

Seitz, the library board president, said their presence would be welcome.

"I think it would be wonderful to have a home-schooling mom on the board," Seitz said. "Since they don't have a school library, they obviously use the public library."

Lanny Harchenhorn, a Carroll state's attorney during the early 1970s and a 12-year veteran of the House of Delegates who recently completed two terms on the library's board of trustees, acknowledged that the library board - made up largely of professionals with a background in education and government - tends to be homogenous.

"I don't know that you get the mix you really should have," Harchenhorn said. Still, "I hate to see it become some sort of political hackery."

Sun staff writer Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

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