Kennett Square Borough officials remain adamant in appointing a representative to library board
● By Steven Hoffman
Borough of Kennett Square officials affirmed—and emphasized—the need to have adequate representation on the Kennett Public Library Board at Monday night’s council meeting, but stopped short of voting to withhold funding until the library board acquiesces on the issue.
The meeting attracted the largest crowd in recent memory for a Kennett Square Borough Council meeting, and most, if not all, of the people were there because of a recent proposal by Mayor Matt Fetick for borough council to consider withholding its financial support to the library—approximately $37,000 annually—until the borough has what officials consider to be adequate representation on the library’s board of directors.
At the very start of the meeting, borough council president Leon Spencer explained that while borough council planned to publicly discuss the library issue, the action items on the agenda did not include a motion to act on Fetick’s request, which was made two weeks earlier.
“That is not an action item that will transpire at this meeting,” Spencer told the large audience.
He opened the floor to public comment for Kennett Square residents, and if there was a main theme to these comments it was simply that Kennett Square Borough officials and the library board should work together to find solutions to the issues that they are facing. Most of the people who spoke during public comment said that they were not in favor of withholding library funding because it would hurt the programs and services that the library provides for the community.
John Thomas, a Kennett Square resident and former council member, was one of those who said that he is not in favor of having the borough withhold funding from the library. However, he added, he also doesn’t think it’s appropriate for the library to deny the Borough of Kennett Square the opportunity to appoint representatives to the library board.
“I hope the library and the borough can get together to resolve this,” Thomas said.
That sentiment was echoed by Ivy Weir, a borough resident who serves as the program coordinator at the library. “I’m aware that this is not coming to a vote tonight, which I’m sure is a relief to everyone in this room,” Weir said. Referencing the often disharmonious relationship between borough officials and the library board through the years, Weir said, “At this point, this has gone on for so long, I’m sure all of us are tired of arguing. It’s time to come together and collaborate.”
Several other people talked about the value of the library and its programs.
“My son goes there during the summer,” said Kevin Lomas. “I’m in favor of continuing funding to the library. I think it’s a great part of the community, and we should fund it properly.”
Several young library users implored borough council not to withhold funding because it would jeopardize programs that they like.
Barbara Cairns, who previously served as the library board president as a borough representative, echoed one of Weir's comments when she said, “We’re fortunate to have a community so passionate about the library.”
Cairns pointed out that while the library board has faced challenges during the last 15 years, the issues that were present then are not the same ones that are present now, and the mistakes that were being made back then are not the same ones being made now. However, she expressed her concerns about the tone of the current board, which she saw firsthand before she departed earlier this year.
Cairns hinted at some of the behind-the-scenes issues that are bubbling up. The library board has been criticized after a spate of resignations that were made in protest to how the board conducts its business. The library board has made several major decisions in the last few years, ranging from a choice to build a new facility on property that it owns in neighboring Kennett Township to a name change from the Bayard Taylor Memorial Library to the Kennett Public Library, that have generated criticism by some in the community. When Fetick made his request for council to consider withholding funding, he noted that he has received more correspondence from borough residents regarding the library board than any other issue during his six years as mayor.
Fetick said that one major purpose of making th public request to withhold funding was to put the issue on the front burner—to make the conversation a public one, rather than to have it continue behind closed doors and on Social Media.
Fetick, Spencer, and borough manager Joseph Scalise have had conversations with library board officials during the last two weeks, including a meeting that Spencer and Scalise took with library officials last Friday, July 17.
“I think there were some real positives that came out of that meeting,” Spencer said, explaining that the library board was to meet on Tuesday, July 21 and could vote in favor of meeting Fetick’s request to be able to appoint a member to the library board.
Several council members publicly supported Fetick’s view that the borough needs to have representation on the library board, and borough council needs to have the right to appoint that member rather than having the library board choose its own members.
Spencer illustrated his views about representation on the library board by talking about another governing body that works well—the board of the Chester County Intermediate Unit, which is comprised of one representative from each of the twelve school districts that are in the Intermediate Unit's service area. That system of representation on the board makes it possible for the Intermediate Unit to function while ensuring input from the twelve school districts.
Spencer went on to say that he and Scalise also suggested to the library officials that the at-large seats on the library board could be utilized to ensure diversity of various groups that utilize the library.
“All parties have to have a say,” said Spencer. “We believe very strongly that the Borough of Kennett Square should have the right to appoint a representative to the library board.”
Fetick emphasized that his call to withhold funding was based solely on a need for representation on the library board, and there were no underlying motives.
“I’m not interested in micro-managing them,” Fetick said. “I made no comment about the name change. I did not comment on whether the library should move. My concerns and the concerns that were brought to us are the same. We need to be able to appoint a representative to the library board—it comes down to that.”
“This is not about being punitive, this is about accountability,” Spencer added.
“I love the library. I’m in support of it. I’m in support of us supporting it. But we do need representation,” said council member Dan Maffei. He also pointed out that while Kennett Square ranks last among the municipalities that are served by the library in terms of income per-capita, the borough is still the third-largest giver to the library among those municipalities.
Fetick has also made a recommendation that the borough participate in a task force with Kennett Township and other municipalities, as well as concerned residents to “evaluate the library’s ongoing ability to meet the needs of our residents. The task force would be charged with ensuring that the greater community’s needs are being met with the current library services and future planning. Their independent study and possible recommendations will help guide us in planning for the future.”
At Monday night's meeting, Fetick reiterated his support for the concept of a task force. He said that it could be a short-term task force, that would perhaps only serve for 90 days, that could look at the library board's bylaws and address some of the issues, such as how representatives to the library board are appointed, that are causing concerns in the community.
Kennett Township officials have already publicly stated their support for the idea of a task force.