Rural Library District denies allegations

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WALLA WALLA — The Rural Library District defended its board of trustees, stating the board made no decisions in private as alleged by the Library Users Coalition.

On Monday, for the second time in two months, the Library Users Coalition submitted documents to Walla Walla County commissioners, asking them to replace the Board of Trustees of the Rural Library District because the trustees allegedly made several key decisions in private, which is against state laws for a governing body.

Previously, in August, the coalition had asked commissioners to begin proceedings to replace the board because of the same allegations.

But a month later, the Walla Walla County Prosecutor’s Office advised against holding any hearings because the coalition’s request was not based on evidence.

On Monday, the coalition responded by submitting to county commissioners a six-page complaint and 25 pages of emails, letters and other supporting documents, in an attempt to prove the Rural Library District’s board acted illegally.

In its complaint, the coalition alleges the board had been violating state open meetings laws dealing with recent lease agreements, a director’s contracts and land deals.

At the heart of the controversy, however, is the Rural Library District board’s refusal to consider annexation of the City of Walla Walla for at least three years.

In August, the coalition asked city officials to move forward with allowing voters to decide if they want to be annexed into the Walla Walla County Rural Library Taxing District. A few days later city officials received a letter from the Rural Library District board stating the board would not consider annexation at this time. (Under Washington state law, a library taxing district has the right to deny a request for annexation.)

The coalition alleges the board’s decision to submit the letter was made in private by board members via emails.

“... Email exchanges show that RLD interim executive director Aletha Bonebrake recommended that the RLD board make a ‘preemptive response’ by conclusively refusing to consent to the annexation before the council could discuss it, hoping to kill the consolidation proposal prior to any council action,” the coalition stated in Monday’s complaint.

In an email to the Union-Bulletin on Friday, Bonebrake said annexation was never part of the district’s strategic plan, and that annexation had been explored and determined unfeasible at a Library Working Group composed of city and Rural Library District officials.

Bonebrake went on to state that the results of the joint working group were reviewed and received at one of the board’s public meetings.

“... The Library Working Group issued a final statement to be delivered to each jurisdiction that no agreements had been reached and recommended that each jurisdiction continue as they were with their own strategic planning for the foreseeable future. It was the Library Working Group report that the Board moved to ‘receive’ at its June 27 Board Meeting, announced and with public present. Annexation was never part of the LWG report and was never discussed by the Board,” Bonebrake stated.

Other accusations by the coalition accuse the board of renewing the director’s contract in private, entering into lease agreements, making a commitment to pursue property for a new suburban Walla Walla branch and refusing a request by county commissioners asking the district to hold off on building a new suburban Walla Walla branch.

As for the director’s contract, Bonebrake said her contract renewed automatically and did not require board approval.

Bonebrake also defended the recent Plaza Library land lease, stating it was publicly approved by the board through its budget approval process.

As for the commitment to buy land for a new suburban Walla Walla branch, Bonebrake said no final decision has been made regarding a property purchase.

Finally, as far as the request by county commissioners asking the district to hold off on building a suburban Walla Walla Branch, Bonebrake wrote the topic was “never put on an agenda, therefore not a matter for decision.”

The Prosecutor’s Office is now in the process of determining if the coalition has provided evidence to support its allegations.

Allen Kopf of the Library Users Coalition said his group requested the various emails of board members and would have submitted them with their initial complaint in August, but the coalition hadn’t yet received the emails.

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