District library talks heating up

The library boards of Rochester Hills and Oakland Township are once again talking about forming a district library. Previous discussions foundered over the issue of governance. Now, with a new consultant and new information, there is new momentum.

The library is currently owned and operated by an elected board of Rochester Hills residents. Oakland Township has its own elected library board and contracts with the Hills library for services. Rochester also contracts with the library for services for its residents. Rochester and the township do not have voting rights on the Hills library board.

Under state law, a district library requires a minimum of two partners who would each have voting rights on a new district library board. The new board could be either elected at-large or appointed.

“We certainly function very much like a district library now, but Rochester and Oakland Township do not have a vote,” library director Christine Hage said.  “Having a district library would give them a vote.”

After earlier talks failed to reach consensus, the Hills library board proposed a 0.25-mill tax increase to make up for shrinking revenues due to the recession. In August, the idea was presented to Rochester City Council, where it met stiff opposition. It was never presented to the Oakland Township Board of Trustees and, in September, the Hills library board dropped the idea in favor of renewed discussion of a district library. In November, the two elected library boards met jointly, along with several representatives from Rochester, and agreed to proceed.

“It just seems more realistic now than it did a year or two ago,” Hage said. Back then, “The Oakland Township Library Board felt quite strongly that they wanted to have an appointed board because they wanted to make sure they had a representative.” The Hills library board wanted to maintain the current elected configuration.

The new consultant explained that an interim appointed board would be seated until an election could be held. The process could take up to two years, Hage said.

“There seemed to be a point where they could both accept that,” she said.

A district library would be formed by agreement of the elected bodies of the participating communities and the existing library boards. Only after the district library is formed and the interim board is seated would voters get a chance to elect a new at-large board. The current funding structure could continue, Hage said.

Rochester Councilman Jeff Cuthbertson still has reservations about a district library. At the Nov. 29 Rochester City Council meeting, he said there is no guarantee anyone from Rochester would be elected to an at-large board.

“I need to be convinced there is a problem with the existing structure that can’t be remedied,” he said.

Councilman Dave Zemens, who has been representing council at library talks, said he felt the two existing library boards were ready to proceed without Rochester.

“My sense is they are presuming we would not be interested in participating in a district library,” Zemens said. “There seemed to be a little potential resistance to bringing us on board as a contract member.”

Hage said she doesn’t believe that is the case. “We can’t force anyone to join,” she said. “If Rochester chooses not to join, that’s their choice. But they won’t have a voice.”

Carolyn Phelps, a member of the Oakland Township Library Board, said her board is “very interested and always have been interested in a district library as a means of having a voice. If we could improve things in any way, have a voice on the board, an actual voting voice, it would be an improvement.”

Such a board would operate much like the school board, which is elected at-large from parts of the same three municipalities. Phelps said she realizes there is no guarantee a township resident would be elected.

“We would have to get out and campaign,” she said. “People from Oakland Township have been elected to the school board.”

Phelps said she’s looking forward to discussions a new committee will have starting in January and is comfortable proceeding, no matter which way Rochester decides to go.

“I would hope people would look at it as it’s in all of our best interest,” she said.


  1. Seems there is a pattern with the City of Rochester! Can’t play nice in the sandbox with OPC, Rochester Hills or the Library. That’s some control issue!

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