Monday, February 26, 2024

Library trustees, commissioners aren’t upholding their fiduciary duty

by Daily Inter Lake
| July 10, 2022 12:00 AM

Over the last six months, the ImagineIF Libraries board has left a pile of money on the table — about $76,000 by our calculations. Not exactly what one would expect from a board trusted with ensuring the success of a critical public entity.

First, the county library coffers were dinged when the Montana State Library Commission decided to withhold $35,000 in funding after the ImagineIF board approved a contract with a new library director who does not meet state standards. While new ImagineIf director Ashley Cummins is working to finish her bachelor’s degree, the state requires the director of a library serving a community with a population of more than 25,000 people to have a master’s of library science.

Strike one.

Then last week the ImagineIF Foundation — the nonprofit dedicated to supporting the county library — found out it was not invited to participate in the Whitefish Community Foundation’s annual Great Fish Challenge. The foundation pocketed $41,000 for the library system during last year’s fundraiser.

Officials with the Whitefish Community Foundation told the ImagineIF Foundation — quite matter-of-factly — that “it is difficult for us to fund your programs and remain accountable to our donors” in light of the library board’s recent decisions.

Strike two.

Given these transgressions, it’s prudent to question whether the library board and county commission are meeting their legal fiduciary responsibilities to Flathead County taxpayers.

The national organization Board Source simply defines fiduciary duty: Board members, as stewards of public trust, must always act for the good of the organization, rather than for the benefit of themselves. They need to exercise reasonable care in all decision making, without placing the organization under unnecessary risk.

It’s evident that some ImagineIF trustees and the county commissioners are falling short of this standard, and instead are acting in their own self interest. Public support for the library system is crumbling, staff morale is suffering, and now critical funding is going by the wayside at an alarming pace.

There’s real and warranted concern among library supporters that one more selfish or politically motivated move by ImagineIf trustees or the commissioners could be the straw that finally breaks ImagineIF — a library system once heralded as among the best in the state.

All this begs the question: Do the trustees and commissioners truly care to see the library system succeed, or are they intent on fostering the library’s own demise from within?

Only their future actions — not hollow words — can answer that question.

Strike three?

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