SLAYTON - Meetings with a state mediator have failed to resolve conflicts between the members of the Marshall-Lyon County Library Board and the Plum Creek Library System Governing Board. At the Plum Creek board's regular meeting Wednesday night, a large majority of board members voted against a proposed mediation agreement, and instead passed a resolution offering MLCL continued Plum Creek membership, provided the library complies with all current and future Plum Creek policies.
"This resolution is nothing new to any member library," said Rosemary Schultz, Jackson County Commissioner and Plum Creek board chairwoman, in a press release sent to the Independent after Wednesday's meeting. "Each library in PCLS has agreed to abide by regional library policies and procedures. These policies benefit every resident of the nine-county region by providing fair and equal access to regional and statewide resources."
The MLCL Board must now decide whether to accept the offer.
"We will hold a special meeting and give it full consideration," said MLCL Board Chairman Will Thomas.
Tom Runholt, an MLCL Board member and member of the Plum Creek board, said the vote Wednesday was "deeply disappointing."
Prior to Wednesday's meeting, members of the MLCL Board had expressed some hope that mediation would end the stalemate between the regional library system and MLCL. Last summer, Plum Creek withdrew interlibrary loan service from MLCL, saying MLCL was not following the regional system's sharing policies for new library books and materials. However, conflicts between the two groups go back some time. MLCL Board members say they have concerns about protecting the autonomy of individual libraries in the Plum Creek system, while Plum Creek Board members at Wednesday's meeting said the issue was about MLCL trying to exert control over the other libraries.
The terms of the proposed mediation agreement were presented wednesday to Plum Creek Board members representing the nine counties and 20 libraries in the regional system. Among the terms of the agreement were that Plum Creek would review the feasibility of allowing new library materials to be held locally for browsing for up to 30 days, make changes to its computer catalog system to allow libraries to fill requests locally first, and work with the Office of Conflict and Dispute Resolution to develop conflict-resolution policies. The terms also affirmed that Plum Creek member libraries could set their own policies for staffing, acquiring new materials, and setting fines and lending periods.
The MLCL board unanimously approved the mediation agreement last week. But Wednesday night, other Plum Creek board members had few positive things to say about the agreement.
Pipestone County Commissioner and Plum Creek Board member Harold Miller said the mediation agreement only reflected MLCL's concerns, and not other libraries'.
Miller was one of the Plum Creek members who took part in the mediation, but he said, "I didn't agree with any of this."
"The items here didn't just come from the mediator," Thomas replied. The mediation process included gathering feedback and holding small group sessions with Plum Creek Board members, administrators and library staff.
Other board members questioned whether the mediation terms actually solved any problems.
"How is this different from what we're already doing?" asked Clara Friese, a Plum Creek board member from Redwood County.
"Some of the joint powers agreement language is very broad," Thomas said. The concern was that there was nothing in the agreement to keep the Plum Creek Board from having broad authority to set individual libraries' policies. Some of the terms of the mediation agreement, he said, "are attempts to preserve existing autonomy."
Plum Creek Board members also questioned whether following both the mediation agreement and the existing joint powers agreement would create conflicting policies. Plum Creek Director Mark Ranum said he had heard concerns from some library staff that following both agreements would have "negative downstream consequences." Ranum didn't elaborate on what those consequences might be, and board members didn't enquire further at the meeting.
Thomas said if Plum Creek chose not to accept the mediation agreement or let MLCL stay in the regional system, it likely would have a big impact on library patrons. In particular, MLCL would be without a computer catalog system at the end of June.
"We're going all in on this," Thomas said of the mediation process. "We felt like making a good-faith effort meant we commit to it."
Ranum said there might be another option. He suggested that, if the board did not accept the mediation agreement, Plum Creek could offer MLCL continued membership, with certain provisions. The provisions are that the library abide by all current and future policies passed by the Plum Creek board, and pay its bills from Plum Creek for automation and book delivery services "in a timely manner."
Ranum said he took full responsibility for putting the proposal before the board.
"Nobody saw this until 2 o'clock this afternoon," he said. However, he said, he brought the option forward because he didn't believe the Plum Creek Board wanted to restrict area residents' access to MLCL services.
MLCL Board members Thomas and Runholt objected to the proposal.
"This says that mediation was a waste of time," Thomas said. Thomas said he called the Minnesota state librarian about the proposal Wednesday afternoon, and also got a disappointed response. "I think the word the state librarian used was 'dismay,'" Thomas said.
Lyon County Commissioner Charlie Sanow moved to accept the mediation agreement. The motion failed 5-15.
A vote to accept the alternative resolution Ranum put forward passed 16-2, with Thomas and Runholt abstaining. Thomas said MLCL Board members will take the proposal back to their full board on Monday.
On Thursday, Thomas said MLCL was looking into options for its own computer catalog system.
Disagreements at Wednesday's board meeting weren't limited to the mediation and MLCL's membership in Plum Creek. Earlier in the meeting, board members clashed over the terms for renewing Ranum's contract as Plum Creek director through 2015. A contract with a base salary of $90,000 and a signing incentive of more than $24,000 was recommended to the Plum Creek board.
MLCL Board member Runholt said he didn't support the additional signing incentive. Ranum is the director of the Pioneerland library system in addition to Plum Creek, and Runholt said he was concerned about Ranum being able to balance work time and duties from both positions.
Cottonwood County Commissioner and Plum Creek board member Jim Schmidt said Runholt's criticism was "pretty weak." People shouldn't be penalized for have more than one job, he said. "I think we need to give credit for what Mark is doing."
Reba Lipinski, a Plum Creek Board member from Lincoln County, said the incentive was fair. Ranum took a pay cut from $120,000 down to $90,000 several years ago, she said.
The contract and signing incentive passed, with Runholt and Will Thomas casting the only votes against.