Voting Members of the Association Explained

This is terrific!  The new Southampton Press article about the recent Westhampton Free Library Board of Trustees decision to remain appointed, along with the Residents for a Free Westhampton Free Library Facebook page and website are generating more buzz about our right to vote for library trustees.  Thank you for your interest.

What we’re discovering is there is some confusion about appointed vs. elected boards in an association library and what steps are taken by a board of trustees to make a board “elected.” We hope this post will clarify things.

Association libraries are private corporations established with charters.  The library founders are typically the first “trustees” of the library.  Books were donated, the “library” was sometimes in someone’s home, then maybe in a storefront on a town’s Main Street.  The specific history is different for each library but, more or less, what happened over the course of the last 150 years or so at these libraries is that if a trustee passed away or decided they no longer wished to remain a library trustee, then a new library lover would fill their shoes.

Wealthy benefactors and fundraisers initially helped association libraries expand.  Eventually, as each library needed more money for operating expenses, books, building acquisitions and operations, school district budget votes allowed association libraries to levy taxes.

At various stages these association library trustees established by-laws.  Probably, many of these libraries’ by-laws said something similar to what the Westhampton Free Library’s by-laws still state:

“Any person may be elected a member of the corporation upon receiving a majority vote of the Trustees present at a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the corporation.”

This means that ONLY the sitting, appointed trustees are “members” of the corporation (the “association”) and can “elect” new members (trustees) of the corporation. No other taxpaying patron of the library is a voting member of the club. We pay for services but have no representation in governance. We do not believe that “applications to apply for a trustee position” with no taxpayer voting counts as “representation.”

According to NYS Library Department of Education’s Association Library District Model “available to libraries currently chartered as Association Libraries that do not want to relinquish their “private” status by re-chartering:”

“Association Library bylaws should be amended by the board of trustees to ensure that all eligible voters within the library’s service area can ‘join’ the library association and participate in annual elections to select library trustees.”

The Bryant Library in Roslyn, for example, is an association library with an elected board of trustees and also with a union.  Here is what their bylaws state in order to allow for the public election of trustees:

Sec. 1.   All residents eighteen years of age or older of the Roslyn Union Free School District, Nassau County, New York shall be Association members.

Sec. 2. Membership in the Association is automatically terminated when a person is no longer a resident.

Sec. 3. Members of the Association shall be eligible to vote at the Annual Meeting of the Association or at Special Meetings of the Association provided they shall have been members on or before thirty (30) days prior to the meeting at which they seek to vote.”

The Board of Trustees of the Westhampton Free Library, if they so choose, can easily amend our Library’s by-laws to allow for the election of trustees.  Thirteen of 19 Suffolk County association libraries have already done it! Their concerns about civil service and prevailing wage are unfounded and unwarranted and, we believe, were introduced to cause confusion and to appear authoritative.

In addition, current board members are free to run for election.  We recommend, too, that the trustees fulfill their current terms and when each term expires then there are elections (which can take place at the Annual Meeting on library premises).  Currently, the terms are staggered so, for example, two trustee positions would be up for election in July 2017.

Please call on the Board of Trustees of the Westhampton Free Library to amend the bylaws to allow for public election of trustees.  Until they do so, please VOTE NO for the library’s budget.