Library JPA not received warmly
Ahanotu to be RPís rep on commission
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By Natalie Gray  May 30, 2014 12:00 am

Rohnert Park Vice Mayor Amy Ahanotu will be the city’s representative on the countywide Library Commission under the Joint Powers Agreement, but neither Ahanotu or the remaining members of the council seemed too thrilled with how the entire process played out.

At Tuesday’s meeting, councilmembers expressed concern over losing control of their own library and independence despite the JPA’s intent to allow all cities to have the chance to work with it and have influence over library decisions and operations.

The Sonoma County Library was established in 1975 through a JPA. Most cities in Sonoma County have library branches (Rohnert Park and Cotati share a library), but the local library currently is not a member of the JPA even though the JPA provides library services in Rohnert Park.

Currently, the library is governed by a seven-member library commission, with five of the seven members appointed by the Board of Supervisors and one each appointed by the cities of Santa Rosa and Petaluma.

A proposal to amend the JPA to include Rohnert Park and all other cities in the county and to allow representation on the Library Commission was approved with a 4-1 vote Tuesday night. Councilwoman Gina Belforte was the only no vote.

Don Schwartz, RP’s assistant city manager who presented the proposal to the council, indicated the JPA amendment at the county level was pretty much a done deal with or without RP’s approval. Even if the council had rejected the amendment, the JPA and the Library Commission would still operate the Rohnert Park-Cotati Library.

“I think this is the best we can get,” Ahanotu said of the proposal. “You don’t want to be on the outside looking in; you want to be on the inside.”

Other notable amendments to the JPA include continuing to have a county-wide system, continuing to have Library Advisory Boards in each community so as to provide a local voice, requiring leases for all buildings not owned by the Library, making explicit the Library’s authority to levy taxes with a two-thirds vote of the entire Library Commission, requiring an equal number of core hours for all county libraries. It is with the latter few amendments that council members took issue with.

The council was very much interested in maintaining the ability for local community funding, such as from the Friends of the Library, to allow for additional hours of operation independent of the hours set up by the JPA. This amendment was shot down by the current members of the JPA, stating that social equity rules require all libraries to operate the same number of hours.

“It’s a sad day when your city can’t raise money to keep your own library open,” Mayor Joseph Callinan said. 

Belforte was in complete agreement.

“I think it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, because I’m convinced it’s not a social equity issue,” she said. “I cannot appreciate that it’s been cloaked as a social equity issue.”

She expressed concern that much of the amendments were made to allow the JPA and Library Commission power to raise taxes in order to maintain and renovate libraries.

“I will not be supporting this at all,” she said.

Should the JPA be amended, all cities will need to have commissioners appointed by July 16. The first meeting of the new commission will be Aug. 4. The JPA will be reviewed every 10 years. 

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