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County supervisors oppose change to library hours


Under pressure from several cities, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Tuesday backed away from a proposal that would have allowed the county's 11 largest library branches to have different operating hours.

Advocates pushed for the change as part of revisions to the county library system's joint powers agreement, seeking to give communities flexibility to keep branches open longer if money could be raised for that purpose.

But supervisors Tuesday unanimously opposed the idea amid concerns that allowing different branch hours risked an unequal level of access and service.

"This is a regional library system. Let's get rid of any sense that 'this is my library and that's all I'm going to support,'" Supervisor Susan Gorin said.

Shirlee Zane, who was the only supervisor opposed to giving branches flexibility on hours when the board reviewed an earlier proposal in September, reiterated her stance Tuesday that "social equity" is a "fundamental philosophy of libraries."

County supervisors launched a review of the 1975 joint powers agreement 14 months ago amid a torrent of criticism over former Library Director Sandy Cooper's management style and the Library Commission's perceived acquiescence to her demands.

The review committee, led by north county Supervisor Mike McGuire, circulated proposed changes that would give nine cities a voice in library governance. That includes Cotati, which does not have a library branch.

Currently, the Library Commission's seven members are appointed by county supervisors and officials in the cities of Santa Rosa and Petaluma.

All 11 of the largest library branches operate with the same hours, with the exception of the central branch in Santa Rosa, which unlike the others is open Sundays from 2 to 6 p.m. All branches are closed Mondays.

In a Dec. 4 letter to supervisors, Healdsburg Mayor Susan Jones said city leaders there would not support the revised joint powers agreement if it allowed for additional hours at individual library branches, which Jones called a "logistical nightmare" that "destroys the sense of a library system."

In his letter to supervisors, Petaluma City Manager John Brown said such a change could also complicate labor relations and create an "equity" issue.

The review committee's representatives from Cloverdale and Santa Rosa also voted against the change at the last advisory meeting, while committee representatives from Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, Sonoma, Windsor and Cotati supported the concept.

The final committee vote, however, was to unanimously support the county's proposal to give branches flexibility on hours, with certain restrictions, including that communities raise enough money to cover two years' worth of expanded hours.

Supervisors Tuesday clearly felt they did not have the support of enough cities to implement such changes.

Amendments to the library's operating agreement require unanimous consent of the county and the cities of Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, Petaluma and Sonoma, which were the original signatories to the 1975 document. County officials say they are seeking unanimous support from all of the parties to a new agreement prior to it being enacted.

Advocates of expanded library hours will have another opportunity to make their voices heard now that the draft revisions to the library's operating agreement are headed back to city councils for review and possible voting. Up first is the Petaluma City Council on Jan. 6.

Another hot-button issue is governance on the Library Commission. Supervisors Tuesday reiterated their desire that the county be given two seats on the revamped commission, as opposed to one each for all 10 signatories.

Supervisor David Rabbitt said 45 percent of the library system's funding is generated by a property tax increment that comes from the unincorporated areas of the county, which also represents roughly a third of the county's population.

"I think we deserve that second seat," he said.

Supervisors also were not opposed to Santa Rosa seeking a second seat.

Other major proposals include giving the library full budget and employment authority, making explicit the library's authority to levy taxes with two-thirds support of the Library Commission and an appeals process for the library director's decisions on key issues such as collections and facilities.