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MY TURN: CLN’s decisions and finances hidden from the public


Community Library Network trustees hide board actions and certain financial information from the public. Since Chair Rachelle Ottosen, Vice Chair Tom Hanley and Trustee Tim Plass urged staff to simplify board minutes, the uninformative phrase “discussion was held” has appeared repeatedly in official records. Following the departure of library director Alexa Eccles and trustee Katie Blank, the board has held several executive sessions, with decisions announced that “will take the actions discussed.”

When Hanley moved to appoint Karen Campbell to the vacant trustee position, he claimed he didn’t need any questions because he had interviewed her by phone. But neither co-trustees nor the public had access to their telephone discussions. Campbell leads a local group that challenges the separation of church and state by injecting prayers specifically into government spaces. It seems relevant.

Trustees suddenly hired a new library director, a process that typically takes months and includes public involvement. Martin Walters, who will start in mid-September, currently manages a branch library in a New Hampshire town about half the size of Hayden. CLN is one of Idaho’s largest library districts, with seven branches.

Walters applied for the CLN director job in 2023. During his visit here last year, Walters reportedly asked almost no questions of the staff. He expressed no curiosity about the demographics of society and seemed uninterested in how each branch serves unique societal needs. The previous board elected Alexa Eccles. Has the current board compared Walters to any other candidates?

At the same time, the trustees are now neglecting important budget responsibilities. Additionally, the board appears to be hiding the fact that CLN received more than $500,000 in windfall state funds this fiscal year. The usual process is for trustees to open the budget, formally accept the windfall, and decide where to allocate the funds. Normally, next year’s budget decisions would not begin until after this housekeeping task, but discussing FY24 and FY25 budgets together makes sense when there are fewer than 90 days left in FY 24. The problem is that the trustees are acting as if these funds do not exist.

The board should consider using part of the half million dollars to raise staff salaries and reserve some for future salaries. These measures are in line with CLN’s strategic plan and with public support that promotes increased staff pay.

There are more tax facts that trustees are hiding: Alexa Eccles’ contract contained payout provisions if the two-year term was not completed. Trustees have neither disclosed these nor their financial arrangements with Walters. Both parts affect CLN’s finances for 24 years.

It is clear that trustees have been privately instructing staff on FY25 budget matters. Assistant Director Lindsey Miller-Escarfuller did not mention the $500,000 when outlining recommendations to balance the FY25 budget. She talked about filling vacancies with lower-skilled staff, reducing the workforce and reducing the number of days the offices would be open. How necessary would these “recommended” cuts be in FY25 if trustees applied $500,000 in FY24 and FY25?

CLN’s board is required by law to discuss all budget elements publicly. Trustees need to be more transparent with critical financial details. And with so many unaddressed elements, trustees will have to schedule more budget meetings in July.

Library users and community leaders, please object to the trustees’ secret actions. Insist that all fund sources, amounts and allocation options are discussed in open session, as required by Idaho Code. Email manager at https://communitylibrary.net/board/#board-contact

Upcoming dates worth noting:

CLN meeting 2pm July 18th at the Post Falls Library (public comments allowed).

CLN Budget Workshop 2pm July 24 at the Post Falls Library.

CLN’s budget hearing at 6:00 p.m. Thursday, August 8 at the Hayden Library. Please plan to participate.

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Appointed twice by Governor Butch Otter to the Idaho Commission for Libraries board, Pat Raffee learned government budgeting while serving as Kootenai County’s chief deputy clerk. Pat lives in Post Falls.

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