Library board no closer to answers on legal obligations

MARSHALL – The aftereffects of the Marshall-Lyon County Library’s decision to withdraw from the Plum Creek Regional Library System were the major topic of discussion again at the MLCL Board’s meeting Monday afternoon.

The question of what Lyon County’s legal obligations for library funding are still looms large. But Lyon County Commissioner Charlie Sanow hinted Monday there’s disagreement on what the answer may be.

Marshall City Administrator Ben Martig and Marshall City Attorney Dennis Simpson told MLCL board members they met with Lyon County Attorney Rick Maes, to talk about the legal and financial ramifications of MLCL withdrawing from the Plum Creek system.

Martig presented library board members with a question-and-answer style memo on the results of that conversation.

Martig said the question of whether Lyon County is legally obligated to support Plum Creek was “probably the biggest legal issue” involved with leaving the system.

At previous library board meetings, Sanow had said Lyon County must contribute more than $200,000 a year to Plum Creek libraries to meet minimum maintenance of effort standards. Sanow and other county commissioners said they weren’t eager to spend double that amount to support both Plum Creek and an independent MLCL.

Lyon County withdrawing funding from MLCL would have a big impact on the library. The county currently funds a little more than one-third of MLCL’s operating budget, at about $268,000 a year.

Martig and Simpson said there was a “supportable” legal position that Lyon County isn’t required to meet minimum maintenance of effort by supporting Plum Creek. They said state law can be interpreted to mean the county’s support of MLCL meets requirements to support public libraries.

An earlier legal opinion the county had obtained from attorney Ann Goering also supported that position, they said.

Martig noted that the Minnesota Department of Education, which governs public libraries, didn’t agree with that interpretation. Simpson said the Department of Education interprets the statutes to mean that requirements to support public libraries are linked together with requirements to participate in a regional library system.

“The question has never been posed to the Administrative Law Judge, whether that interpretation is correct,” Simpson said.

Maes wasn’t present at Monday’s meeting, and questions arose as to what his legal opinions on maintenance of effort would be. Sanow said he spoke with Maes earlier in the day, and Maes didn’t agree with all the points in Martig’s memo. However, Martig and Simpson said they hadn’t yet heard that. Martig said he’d like to talk to Maes further.

“I’m sure he’ll address it at the (county board) meeting tomorrow,” Sanow said. Discussion of MLCL is an item on the county board’s July 15 agenda.

In other business at Monday’s meeting, members of the board voted to accept Will Thomas’ resignation as president of the MLCL Board.

Thomas had submitted his resignation as president at a June 23 special meeting of the board.

On Monday, board members voted in favor of naming Gwen Sturrock president of the MLCL Board. In a second vote, they named Thomas vice-president of the board.