Weber commissioners sidestep nominations, pick library board member

Tuesday , March 25, 2014 - 6:19 PM

Matthew Bell...

Cathy McKitrick, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — In a 2-1 vote Tuesday, Weber County commissioners ignored the Weber County Library Board’s recommendations and instead chose their own pick to fill a vacancy on the seven-member panel.

The Library Board position came open after chairwoman Marie Irvine died suddenly on Feb. 11.

Commissioners Matthew Bell and Kerry Gibson approved naming Uintah Highlands resident Brent Innes to the board that some have accused Bell of trying to stack.

The Library Board had gone through the lengthy process of taking applications, reviewing and discussing candidates and selecting its top three for commissioners to narrow further.

Commissioner Jan Zogmaister, who serves on the Library Board, said that process has been followed for 15-plus years.

“The process that the board went through is a good one,” Zogmaister said, noting that the library is at a critical time in its five-year project plan, with a new Roy headquarters branch being built, extensive renovation of the Ogden Main Library slated to begin soon, and the North Ogden branch on tap to receive upgrades and double in size.

“It was important that we have people that bring the skill sets to the board that are needed at this time,” Zogmaister said.

The Library Board’s top three picks, in order of preference, were retired Standard-Examiner columnist Charles Trentelman, Kathleen B. Jensen and Joe H. Ritchie.

The commission had also requested all applicant names — 19 had shown interest in the position.

Since Weber County voters approved a $45 million library bond last June to fund improvements and expansions through 2018, the Library Board grew controversial due to differing philosophies about the role that libraries serve.

Bell has led the charge against what he considers “Taj Mahal” libraries, instead preferring smaller sites that primarily serve as book circulation centers.

But the plan approved by 54 percent of Weber County voters last summer embraced the vision of libraries as third spaces where individuals and families could gather for many reasons, including civic engagement and interaction.

The $9 million Pleasant Valley branch in Washington Terrace, which opened in 2009, functions in that sense, with shelves of books and movies, a computer center, art gallery, black-box theater, cafe and more.

While the commission’s vote broke with past procedure, Gibson said they did nothing wrong.

“It is certainly within our purview to select any applicant that we deem appropriate . . . whether they have been forwarded as one of the three names, whether they have put in an application or not,” said Gibson. “The ultimate decision lies with us, so we can nominate anyone we want.”

As he made his motion to appoint Innes — who lives about a mile from his home — Bell lamented that, “We’re going to build some pretty fancy libraries and at the end of the day we’re still going to have five libraries.”

Zogmaister opposed Bell’s motion.

“I can’t support that. (Innes) wasn’t even in the top six,” Zogmaister said. “And I do respect the work of the Library Board and the process that’s in place.”

Zogmaister also asked Bell to elaborate on the skills that Innes brings to the board.

“Number one, that person lives in unincorporated Weber County,” Bell said, noting that most board members are from Ogden. “I think we need to be a little bit more spread out.”

Bell’s and Gibson’s action drew a gasp from library supporters in the audience Tuesday.

That same group applauded South Ogden resident Kathy Gambles as she spoke out against their vote, saying they could have been celebrating the leadership and forward thinking of the Library Board, but instead were not allowing “that quality of thinking to go forward.”

“How fortunate it would be to keep all of that in place and not need to dilute,” Gamble told Bell and Gibson.

Her comments caused Gibson to make up a rule that no member of the public could disparage anybody or say that this was diluting the board or trying to harm the library system “because somebody doesn’t think the same way.”

“But we are allowing different opinions?” Zogmaister interjected.

“Absolutely,” Gibson said.

Spencer Stokes, a Library Board member and spokesman, said he was disappointed with the commissioners’ departure from the process, but understood it was their prerogative to do so.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have volunteer boards if none of their advice is listened to,” Stokes said, noting the many hours of work that board members put in to thoroughly consider the many applicants.

Stokes lauded the stellar bios of the board’s short list that included a former Standard-Examiner writer, former mother of the year and former county commissioner,

But for now, he said he “looks forward to working with Brent Innes,” and hopes that he’ll be a good addition.

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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