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Athens-Limestone library board could change amid APLS controversy

A disconnect between the board’s posted policy and its actual governing procedures has led to some consternation.

The Athens City Council during a meeting.
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While the major news out of last week’s Alabama Public Library Service board meeting was new policy requirements for state funding, much fuss was also made about the Athens-Limestone Public Library.

The apparent concern is a mismatch between the library’s publicly available policy and what Athens city officials and library board members say is the actual governing process of the library.

The policy on the Athens-Limestone Public Library website states that the city appoints three board members while the Limestone County Commission appoints two board members; that is also the documentation on file with APLS.

However, all five board members currently serving were appointed by the Athens City Council.

Documentation provided by Athens City Attorney Shane Black shows that the board has been entirely city-appointed since at least 2001, established by a joint resolution unanimously approved by both governing bodies.

Black said there were discussions in 2001 of establishing a joint city-county library with both government bodies appointing members, but the leaders instead chose a. different route to create the library board as its own public corporation. Resolutions passed by both bodies in September 2001 state that all board members (there were nine seats at the time) would be appointed by the Athens City Council. 

It further provides that the council is not “strictly bound” to recommendations by the county commission, but said the council’s intent was to rely on four recommendations to be made by the Limestone County Commission.

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Documents from 2009 show the library board itself unanimously voted to dissolve the corporation, officially known as “The Public Library Authority of the City of Athens, Limestone County, Alabama,” and a resolution from the City of Athens reestablishing a municipal library including appointment of all five members.

The disconnect between the board’s posted policy and its actual governing procedures has led to some consternation with two individuals calling on the APLS board to do something.

Local resident Elizabeth Stewart went as far as to call the library board “illegitimate” and asked the state agency to hold state funding to the library until it allows county appointments.

Director Nancy Pack said she did find documentation from 2018 in which APLS was notified of changes to the library bylaws, although the incorrect bylaws are still on file with the agency. While the correct policy should be filed in order for the library to continue receiving state funding, the documentation provided by Black appears to show the library board is operating legitimately under Alabama law.

APLS board member John Wahl, also chair of the Alabama Republican Party, chimed in but misrepresented the actions of his hometown commission.

“There is a discrepancy between the city and county governments, and that’s become pretty heated,” Wahl said. “I know the county commission in January passed a resolution asking for their proportional representation which are the original by-laws that are on file with the APLS, as well as their website. Two from the county and three from the city, right now all five are from the city and the county commission is upset about it.”

The commission did approve a resolution regarding the library in January, but it had nothing to do with the library’s board makeup. It only stated the commission’s desire to see the library draft policies in line with Gov. Kay Ivey’s original proposed code changes at the state level.

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All of this may soon be a moot point, as the Athens City Council passed a resolution Monday seeking to work with the county to provide appointing power to the commission if the county desires.

“As far as I’m concerned, the city and county have always and continue to work well together in respect to the operation of the library,” Black said. 

The APLS board voted unanimously to suggest the Athens City Council or Limestone County Commission request an opinion from the Attorney General on the matter. Neither governing body did so in meetings held Monday.

While the push last week focused on the board’s incongruent public policy and actual procedure, Stewart came before the Limestone County Commission in January with a different concern about the library, telling commissioners that it is the only library in the state “where the policy under book selection actively encourages an adequate amount of sexually deviant books.”

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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