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Wadena approves library agreement

The Wadena City Council approved the new Kitchigami Regional Library System Joint Powers Agreement with a 4-1 vote after sections allowing citizen representatives for counties and cities were added.

Councilman Don Niles voted against the agreement saying a stipulation not allowing alternates for the citizen representatives on the board creates "second class citizens." Elected officials on the board, such as county commissioners, can send an alternate to vote on library issues.

KRLS Director Marian Ridge said that section of the JPA is actually considerably better than the old agreement, which did not allow voting alternates for any members of the board, which made it difficult to create a quorum at times. Citizen representatives may send alternates to the meetings, but they are not allowed to vote.

Not allowing voting alternates for citizen representatives is not intended to penalize entities served by citizens, it is based on their attorney's interpretation of statutory language regarding joint powers agreements, Ridge said.

A citizen doesn't have a counterpart as in the case of a city council member who could send another member of the council, she said.

Niles asked Ridge if the library board had any bad experiences in the past with citizen representatives on its board.

In her opinion, no, Ridge answered.

"In my opinion I've worked for an incredibly responsible board whose decisions are both conservative and responsible," she said.

It appears that some elected officials believe only elected members are held accountable and make responsible decisions, Ridge said. That appears to be their individual opinions rather than anything historically based.

Kitchigam Regional Library Board President Paul Carlson said one of the benefits of having citizen representatives is there is typically less turnover than with elected officials.

Right now, a majority of library board members are citizen representatives, he said.

There is a misconception that because citizen representatives are not directly answerable to the public they will go out and spend money "willy nilly," Carlson said. The library board doesn't get any money until receiving approval from the boards and councils of participating counties and cities.

One of the big issues that came up recently was when the board voted to provide health insurance to full-time library employees, because it considered them to be quasi-municipal employees who are not county or city employees but are paid by those local government bodies, he said. One elected official in particular was adamantly opposed to that decision and said it was irresponsible, according to Carlson. That official asked his government body to vote against the JPA because he doesn't want any citizen representatives to serve on the board.

"It's being used for political purposes in that county," Carlson said about the employee health benefits issue.

Four out of five county commissioners on the library board actually voted for health benefits, he said.

Three counties and five cities have approved the JPA and one county has rejected the agreement, according to Ridge. Wadena County will vote on the JPA at its Sept. 17 meeting.

The JPA must be approved unanimously among the parties involved, she said. The board hopes by having all the other entities approve the agreement the county that rejected it will reconsider. A lot of time and money has been spent forming the agreement.

An earlier draft was sent out to cities and counties, but the city of Wadena along with other cities were not happy about its exclusion of citizen representatives, Ridge said. The sections allowing the option of citizens representatives were then added.