MONTEREY PARK — The City Council's move to bring management of the city library under its control has been assailed by members of the library board and others as an illegal act that invites political intrusion into the selection of books.
The council voted 3 to 2 this week to introduce an ordinance that would replace the Bruggemeyer Memorial Library's administrative board with an advisory commission. The council could adopt the ordinance at its next meeting Oct. 12.
Currently, the council allocates funds and appoints the library Board of Trustees, but the board hires the city librarian and oversees library management. The change would give the city manager the power to appoint the librarian, a post that is now vacant, and would create a commission whose recommendations to the council on the operation of the library would be purely advisory.
City Expense Cited
Councilman Barry Hatch, who pushed for the change, said that the city spends more than $1 million a year on the library and that the council should assume responsibility for it.
But members of the library board and of Friends of the Library of Monterey Park, a citizens group that aids the library, said they fear that putting the council in direct charge of the library will lead to its politicalization.
Ruth Willner, past president of Friends of the Library, said the Board of Trustees was given administrative authority over the library "to prevent the library from becoming a political football." And her husband, Irving Willner, said: "The council should not get involved in selecting books. The council should declare itself out of the picture for the kind of pressure that can be brought upon it for the censure of library materials."
Hatch said the council will not select library books.
"I'm not going to look at every book they buy," he said. "It's not going to be political."
City Manager Lloyd de Llamas said consultants hired to study library operations recently concluded that the board was spending so much time on administrative matters that it did not have time to attend to other functions, such as seeking new funds or building community support.
Council members G. Monty Manibog and Chris Houseman voted against the change, arguing that the library is efficiently run and should be left alone.
Manibog, an attorney, also questioned whether the city has legal authority to replace the library board.
The board was created under authority of the state Education Code, which declares that the board shall manage the library.
State Laws Conflict
Stephanie Scher, assistant city attorney, said that in addition to the Education Code, the state Government Code allows cities to create advisory commissions for libraries. Obviously, she said, there is a conflict in state law.
Manibog said he doubts that a city that creates an administrative board under the Education Code can legally replace it with an advisory commission.
Scher said she could find no appellate cases on the issue.
"I can't tell you which way a court is going to rule if there is a legal challenge," she said.
The city surveyed 36 libraries in a three-county area and found that 39% have administrative boards, 44% have advisory commissions and 17% operate without boards. But Scher said she did not know if any of them had replaced administrative boards with advisory ones.
In the middle of the debate on the library issue, tempers flared when Houseman, who had passed up one opportunity to speak, sought later to gain the floor to air his views and was cut off by the mayor and other council members. The uproar led to a brief council recess, after which Houseman said the effort to prevent him from speaking showed that people should worry about political meddling with the library.
"All their worst fears are justified by watching this display of the council," he said.
He called the effort to bring the library under the council's control a "radical, unwise course of action," and said it could cause controversy and division comparable to the council's adoption last year of a resolution that endorsed legislation to make English the nation's official language.
In an interview after the council meeting, Houseman charged that council control of the library could lead to a dismantling of the section of the library devoted to books in Chinese and other languages.
But Hatch said he has no intention of banning foreign-language books from the library and only wants the library to maintain a balance that will serve its patrons.
Houseman said council management will not improve the library.
"By any standard, the Bruggemeyer Library is successful, doing excellent work and prospering," he said.
Hatch agreed that the library operates efficiently and said he does not intend to change that.
"The library will do nothing but increase in its perfection and service to the people," he promised.