If its members wanted to, the Blue Earth County Library Board could create a budget, spend taxpayer money and hire its own library director.
It has that legal authority but doesn’t exercise it; the Library Board acts as an advisory group, weighing in on library topics but leaving the final say to the County Board of Commissioners.
As it stands, the law “could potentially pit the Library Board and the County Board against one another,” County Administrator Bob Meyer said.
Bills to limit the authority of the Library Board and give sole fiscal authority to the Blue Earth County Board passed committees in the state House and Senate on Wednesday. The bill delegates a few non-budgetary duties to the Library Board, such as reviewing the budget, developing a long-term plan and creating library policies.
This law would have been dicey just a few years ago, when the city of Mankato made a big contribution to the library. But, starting last year, the city ended its payment.
But Meyer said this bill has little to do with that change.
“It’s more about the fact that they’ve really operated as an advisory board for so many years, so we’re trying to get state law to match up,” he said.
Sue Morrow, a Library Board member from Mapleton, said she’s comfortable with a law clarifying the body as an advisory group.
“I feel it’s much more informative and we can bring concerns from our local libraries,” she said. “I don’t feel that our role has anything to do with the actual decisions that are made.”
Library Director Tim Hayes said the Library Board has been talking about the change since 2009 and doesn’t have problems with it.
Legislators had a few questions Wednesday, but both committees approved the plans, which head to the House and Senate floor. A date has not been set.
Sen. Bruce Anderson, R-Buffalo, asked if there was some problem, some conflict with the Library Board that led to the bill.
Hayes responded that there hasn’t been any conflict, and that the bill merely codifies the current practice of the Library Board.