At its last meeting the Truth or Consequences City Commission received and approved the recommendation of the city’s public library advisory board that Brendan Tolley be appointed to the library board.
The packet for the May 12 commission meeting included library board minutes reporting that its members had reviewed two applications for the vacant position. In addition to former city commissioner Tolley, the Sun has obtained documentary evidence that the second applicant was likely Katherine (Kate) Skinner, a T or C retiree with 40 years of experience in library work and administration in other states.
But Skinner’s application never reached the city commission for consideration, even though the City Clerk’s Office duly acknowledged, in writing, the application’s receipt in December 2020 and again in March 2021.
Municipal code 3-2-247 grants the city commission the sole authority to appoint members to the five-member library advisory board for three-year terms. In submitting only its recommended choice for the vacant seat and not putting forth the name of the second candidate, the library advisory board reduced the role of the commissioners in making the appointment to that of a rubber stamp.
Before the appointment of Tolley was put to a vote, Mayor Pro Tem Amanda Forrister asked whether anyone else had applied to fill the vacancy on the library board.
“I don’t know,” City Clerk Angela A. Torres replied. This was an equivocation, as her correspondence with Skinner (reproduced below) shows.
Forrister or a fellow commissioner could have asked that the appointment be tabled until the requested information about other applicants was provided. But the commissioners let the matter drop. Their passivity gave tacit approval to the library board’s endeavor to self-determine its own membership.
Clerk Torres was highly aware of Skinner’s months-long endeavor to be appointed to serve as a “strong advocate for a vibrant and energetic public library in our community.”
On Monday, March 8, 2021, at 11 a.m., Torres sent the following email to Skinner:
Good morning Ms. Skinner,
Thank you for your interest in serving as a member on the Library Advisory Board. The Commission approved a revised board member application at the end of 2020 and we are requiring that all interested parties submit the revised application to the Clerk’s Office. Please complete the attached application at [sic] return it to us at your earliest convenience. You can email it back to me, or drop it off at the City Clerk’s Office, 505 Sims Street, Truth or Consequences, NM. Once we received [sic] the completed application it will then be forwarded to the Library Board for consideration.
I hope to hear from you soon. Thank you, and have a wonderful day!
At 1:59 p.m. that day, Skinner sent Clerk Torres the following email:
Thank you, Ms Torres, for your attention to this matter.
Please could you let me know what happened to my application on this exact same (apparently revised) form which was submitted to, and receipt of which was acknowledged (in writing) by, City of TorC clerk’s office, on 2 December 2020.
The following day, at 9:04 a.m., Clerk Torres responded via email:
The attached letter [which Skinner had originally submitted before being advised of the need to use an official form, which she subsequently submitted to the clerk’s office on Dec. 2] is what I have on file in regards to your interest in serving on the Library Advisory Board. Please re-send me the completed board member application and I will be sure to forward it to the Library Board for consideration.
Skinner followed up this communication with a phone call to Clerk Torres. In the end, Skinner did not have to resubmit her application form. “When I told her I had an acknowledgment from [clerk’s office staffer Lisa] Gabaldon of my application on the correct form,” Skinner explained to the Sun, “Torres thanked me for telling her where to find it . . . acknowledged finding the application which I had submitted to Gabaldon, and told me she was forwarding it to [Library Director] Pat O’Hanlon.
O’Hanlon, who has been head of the library for more than a decade, has no standing in municipal code to be the gatekeeper of appointments to the library advisory board. Neither she nor the advisory board’s members have the authority to winnow out applications for board membership that they deem unacceptable for submission to the city commission.
Nor does the library advisory board have the authority to reappoint members. Nonetheless, Clerk Torres duly presented the board’s request that Michael Bankson be reappointed as an item for “discussion/action” on the city commission’s May 12 meeting agenda.
The library board’s April 26 minutes provide the context for this request:
In light of the fact that this is the first meeting of the board that Vice Chair Michael Bankson has been able to attend since his approved term expired [June 30, 2020—the board has only met once since that date, and Mr. Bankson was not able to attend] he has asked that the board request approval from the City Commission to extend his appointment to June 30, 2023, which would have been the length of his term if COVID had not disrupted the workings of the board. It was not, at any time, his intention to resign as Vice Chairman or as a member of the board.
This entry in the minutes reveals that there were actually two longstanding vacancies on the library board as of this spring. Applications for appointment to the Bankson seat were not solicited from the public. The legal notice placed by the clerk’s office in the Sierra County Sentinel on March 12 mentioned only a single vacancy, now filled by Tolley. Submitted on March 23, Tolley’s application notes that he is a “former library employee.”
Afforded no other choices of applicants, the commissioners approved Bankson’s reappointment without discussion.
As a point of information: The library advisory board is required by municipal code to hold meetings, which are open to the public, no fewer than 10 times a year. If the commissioners were aware from having read the library board minutes in their packet that the board had failed to meet for nine straight months between June 30, 2020, and April 2021, they chose not to raise the issue of the board’s lack of accountability for nearly a year. Other city advisory boards continued to meet via teleconference during the pandemic.
The public library is a linchpin community institution, with a budget of more than $210,000 in 2020-21. Ninety percent of the current budget is allocated to salaries. Local and state taxpayer dollars are its main sources of revenue.
Municipal code 3-2-248 mandates that the publicly funded library is to be publicly managed. It charges the library advisory board with oversight of library operations. In addition, board members—presently, chair Angela D. Torres (not to be confused with City Clerk Torres), Terie Hafner, Bonnye Warwick, Bankson and Tolley—are empowered by city code to play an active role in determining policy and programming, budgeting and long-term planning.
The public’s interests are not well served when the city commission tacitly allows the library advisory board to be a “self-perpetuating” body. The dictionary definition of “self-perpetuating” means “perpetuating itself or oneself without external agency or intervention.”