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Finalists for the job of running Sonoma County's sprawling library system will be introduced to the public Thursday at a forum likely to touch upon the myriad challenges facing the organization.

Three men and one woman will vie for the library director's job, which pays an annual salary of $128,000 to $153,000. One finalist, Brett Lear, is director of the Martin County library system in Florida. The others are employed at libraries in California.

The public forum is from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Central Library on E Street in downtown Santa Rosa.

The challenges facing the next director include a budget deficit and what is expected to be the implementation of a revision of the system's joint-powers agreement.

One of the questions library commissioners posed to applicants was why they wanted the job, said Tim May, the group's chairman.

"Essentially, the sense I got was that there were some people who like to remodel houses," he said. "They know there are good rooms there, but they want to help bring it back and restore it."

The library's budget of nearly $15 million for this fiscal year includes a deficit of about $610,000. Library commissioners authorized a one-time transfer of money from a special fund to help cover that amount and are exploring whether to seek a sales-tax measure on the November ballot.

The library system receives most of its funding through a share of property taxes that are deposited into a fund specific to the library's needs. The formula was set in 1978 with the implementation of Proposition 13.

Library commissioners will discuss at their monthly meeting Monday night results of a poll they commissioned to gauge public support for a sales-tax measure. The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at Santa Rosa City Council Chambers.

Also Monday, members of a committee exploring changes to the joint-powers agreement that governs library operations are scheduled to meet to discuss what may be their final recommendations for revising the document.

The review was launched in 2012 amid a torrent of criticism over former Library Director Sandy Cooper's management style and the commission's perceived acquiescence to her demands. Cooper retired last September.

Sonoma County Supervisor Mike McGuire, who is leading the review of the operating agreement, said he's looking for a director who is "collaborative, hard-working and focused on the challenges of bringing forward new solutions."

The Library Commission authorized spending $24,000 to conduct a national search for a new director, winnowing a list of 29 down to the final four.

In addition to Lear, the candidate from Florida, the other three finalists are: Chris Freeman, city librarian of the Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library; Laurel Prysiazny, librarian of the Fresno County Public Library; and Jeff Scott, librarian of the Tulare County Library.

Tom Popenuck, lead building mechanic at the Sonoma County Library and chapter president of SEIU Local 1021, praised commissioners for what he said has been an open and collaborative selection process.

He said employees are hoping the next director has experience working in public libraries, including in non-management positions, "so that they understand the staff point of view."

Panels consisting of library managers, employees and members of the public will interview the candidates Thursday morning, prior to that evening's public forum, during which questions will be fielded from the audience.