By DAVID GREEN
When Morenci mayor Keith Pennington acted on his recently-discovered power to appoint library board members, his actions didn't sit well with the existing board. Pennington announced his choices at the Aug. 26 city council meeting, but after discussion councilors voted to delay approval of his appointments until the Sept. 9 meeting.
The mayor asked council to approve additional three-year terms for Lois Speed and Sandy Emmons, plus a three-year term for council member Brenda Spiess. Current member Kathy Schiermyer would be appointed to fulfill the remaining one year of Mike Gillen’s term. Gillen died last month.
Stair Public Library board president Sally Kruger stated that she thought the board and council were still discussing the interpretation of an 1877 state law that governs public libraries. She noted that it's been past practice for the board to submit the names of prospective members to council for approval.
Another past practice, Kruger said, is for a city council member to attend meetings as a non-voting member rather than the mayor's preference for a voting council member.
Kruger told the mayor he was overstepping his authority and "foisting a political agenda on one of the most successful organizations in the city."
Pennington responded that board recommendations are in direct conflict with state law, and state law preëmpts local law when in conflict. There's really no debate about either the authority of the mayor to make the appointment or about appointing a council member to the board, he said.
"I am adamant in telling you that a council member will be appointed by the mayor to serve with the library board," Pennington said.
He said he understands that a councilor is not required to be on the board, but it is allowed and that's the choice he's making.
"We don't believe we are a political group," Kruger said, "and when an elected official from the city, which is a political group, is foisted upon us, we don't agree."
"Over a year ago," Pennington said, "the library board stated emphatically that they wanted to make sure that the council was not intruding on the responsibilities of the library board. However, you are intruding on the responsibilities and authority of the mayor and council. I would caution you that that is inappropriate for the library board or director to try to influence inappropriately the action of the mayor and council."
When Kruger responded further, Pennington said he was going to cut off her comments now.
"It's not my intent to intrude," said library director Colleen Leddy. "It's just that I thought we were still discussing the discrepancies in committee and this is one of those issues that I still see an area we could discuss."
Pennington said that if her goal is to not have a council member on the board, then she is intruding on the legal rights and authority of the council to oversee the library board.
"It feels like politics to me," Leddy said, "and that's one of the issues I would like to discuss in committee."
It's a change to how things have been done since 1964, she said, so why not give the council member the one-year term to see how it plays out?
Pennington said it would bring stability to the board to have the same council member in place for three years, but Kruger pointed out that council members and committee assignments can change from year to year.