Public discussion of library services in Valley needed

The Rurual Library District Board of Trustees is moving ahead with plans to build a central library while keeping the public out of the process.

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A town hall meeting to discuss the future of libraries in the Walla Walla Valley is past due. It’s too bad a fine can’t be imposed for failing to fully involve the public in this important issue.

Unfortunately, the Walla Walla County Rural Library District is going full speed in its quest to build a 15,000-square-foot central library near or inside the city limits.

And if the RLD succeeds in building its own central library, it could leave people with two libraries that don’t have the financial resources to do a great job for taxpayers. One library, which provides all the necessary services, is all local residents need.

The local Library Users Coalition was formed to seek merging library services in the entire county.

The RLD Board of Trustees opposes that concept, which has resulted in the Library Users Coalition taking action to derail the RLD central library plan.

Last week, the Coalition’s concerns about a couple of RLD actions were shared by the state Auditor’s Office.


After an investigation, the state Auditor’s Office agreed with the Coalition’s assertions that the RLD Board took illegal actions by making decisions in private.

State investigators found the RLD Board’s decision to send letters to Walla Walla city and county officials opposing annexation was made in private. In another matter, the RLD Board was found to not have taken official action in a public meeting before refuting — as a board — claims against it in advertisements appearing in the Union-Bulletin.

These violations of state laws are far from the crime (or misdemeanor) of the century. Still, it is troubling the taxpayer-funded RLD isn’t taking care to follow state law regarding open meetings and is keeping its constituents out of the process.

The concerns about RLD Board actions don’t end with the investigation by the Auditor’s Office.

RLD is blocking the Coalition (and the public) from learning the proposed location of the new rural library. When the RLD turned over public documents requested by the Coalition, the location was redacted as if this information was critical for national security.

It is not. Nor is that information likely to cause the price of the property to go up, as the RLD claims. State law does allow public boards to withhold such information if its release is likely to boost the sale price.

We don’t believe it is likely to increase the price in this case. The landowner already knows the RLD is interested in buying the property and the chances of having the information spur a bidding war is slim, particularly in the current real estate market.

If the RLD Board truly believes having a library in or near the city limits is best for taxpayers, it must fully involve its constituents in the process.

The entire community should at some point discuss how library services can best be provided to everyone living in rural and urban Walla Walla County

Comments

0324633 1 year, 9 months ago

I hate to give this ongoing perspective of the Union Bulletin any more notice than it deserves. The writer is all over the map with recycled points and assumptions.

The State Auditor's recent rulings are not news. The volunteer District Board learned last summer that it had, inadvertently, not followed state regulations by making decisions informally through emails i.e. the sending a letter to the WW City Council and 2.) approval of an ad posted in the Union Bulletin. The content of neither communication is in dispute by the Auditor - rather it is the process followed.

The 'entire community' has been invited and involved at several junctures over the last several years in looking at library services in the greater Walla Walla area. A cooperative library system has not been ruled out by the District or the City of Walla Walla but both entities agreed to pursue separate strategic plans and wait a year or two before pursuing the idea further. As a precedent to that decision, the City pulled out of WALNET, emphasizing as far back as 2010, the lack of interest in cooperative resource sharing, training and collection development.

The District is responsible for serving the unincorporated areas of the Valley and, at this point, its services have grown to the point where attention needs to be paid to an expanded, administrative facility that serves the demographics of the Valley - regardless of whether or not the City pursues joining the District down the road.

The only reason I can think of that the LUC (and the UB) want a potential building site to be made public is so that they can then target the owner with negative publicity - much as has been done with lenders and other property owners who, it is rumored, earlier approached the District Board with land offers.

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