City looks to restructure library governance

The city library may become a department of the city and the operation of it may change if an ordinance on this month's City Council agenda is approved.

The library has been under the supervision of a Board of Trustees since 1980 but may become a department of the city if the City Council approves an ordinance on this month's agenda.

"We hope to make it more accessible to all people," Mayor Nathan See said, adding that he has advertised for a new director in the wake of the resignation of former librarian Alex Wright.

"A first-class city can have a library board if they have tax dollars committed to funding the library," See said, explaining that Pea Ridge does not have any tax dollars specifically allocated to the library.

The library budget for 2023 shows $75,440 in receipts and expenses. The 2022 budget was $67,910.

The library portion of city general budget is $141,990 for 2023, which includes group insurance, payroll taxes, retirement, salary and unemployment taxes. That amount was $107,990 for 2022.

"Our library is very important to our community, obviously," See said, adding that it should be a hub for people to come for relationships, events, use of internet. "What I want to do is to have the library be a core factor in building relationships and community."

He said the community room at the library would once again be used as a community room and accessible for the community to use.

"The tax payers paid for that to be done," See said. "We spent about $70,000 on that addition.... that was the intent. It was to replace the community room at the fire station."

"We have to be intentional about the audience we want to attract at the library. I think the library can be a place for everyone," he said. "I think the platform will be different with the use we will try to put in place at the library."

The library has been under the supervision of a Board of Trustees since 1980 but may become a department of the city if the City Council approves an ordinance on this month's agenda.

Ordinance 789 would establish the Pea ridge City Library as a department of the city, abolish the city's statutory library election and abolish the library board of trustees.

In 1980, the City Council passed Ord. 93 electing to operate the library pursuant to Arkansas Code 13-2-501 and in 2018, passed Ord. 621, making adjustments to Ord. 93.

Over the years, the library staff and budget have increased and city leaders have said that in order to "manage the limited municipal resources more efficiently and effectively, the City Council wants the city to establish and directly manage and oversee the library and its operations as a city department pursuant to the city's general an inherent powers rather than using the elective statutory provision" of the state statute.

If the ordinance is approved, the librarian would be a department head and all management and oversight of the library would be directed by the mayor, city clerk-treasurer and City Council. Employees would be at-will employees of the city.

After the Council agenda and ordinances were sent to all city officials, former librarian Alex Wright wrote an email to city officials stating:

"Just a recommendation before considering your new ordinance that applies to the library's board of trustees. I have asked MANY times in the past for the mayor to have both themselves, the city clerk, and the council members attend training from the State Library by State Librarians where this is literally their job to travel to libraries and their governments across the state to educate and provide resources on what a library board is, what public libraries do for their communities, etc.

"This training is completely free and very informative about what is expected of public libraries across the state. I think it imperative that before a decision is made, all parties be apprised of and educated on what it is they are affecting. Obviously, I have only two days left with this department, so I will not be able to see this through but I would help my replacement if necessary to set this training up.

"I do hope you consider my request," Wright wrote.

City officials said they do not remember such a request in the seven years Wright has been the librarian.