Constituents speak, council listens: public library measure is back on the ballot

Current Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg was discussing the importance of local government during his 2019 campaign for president, when he was quoted as saying: “In local government, it’s very clear to your customers – your citizens – whether or not you’re delivering. Either that pothole gets filled in, or it doesn’t. The results are very much on display.”

Keizer demonstrated the truth of this observation July 18 when more than a dozen different residents registered time to speak to the City Council in response to their July 5 decision not to put a library funding measure on the November ballot. It resulted in the council reversing course and voting unanimously to put it back on – and at $2.50 per month, a higher amount than originally proposed.

In a genuine example of democracy in action, the council began the evening largely convinced they had made the right call on July 5. Mayor Cathy Clark prefaced the public hearing by saying there wasn’t enough time to get the ballot measure done. Nevertheless, they hunkered down for what turned out to be more than 45 minutes of criticism, rational arguments, historical references and emotional appeals.

“You signed up, we will listen, it’s your turn,” said Clark to the assembled guests.

Guests read quotes from famous people about the value of libraries to communities, others shared personal anecdotes about the importance of public libraries to the strength of a community, and still others expressed a general frustration with the council’s most recent move.

“Please don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” said former KCL volunteer coordinator and library manager Vicki Brammeier. “Please do not wait until all the ducks are lined up and then go for a library, it will never happen.”

Former Chemeketa Community Regional Library Service (CCRLS) executive director John Goodyear agreed with that sentiment, and used his time to describe his first encounter with the longstanding controversy surrounding a Keizer public library in 2009 when he took over at CCRLS.

“The major complaint I heard about those events was that the city never gave the voters the chance to vote on a library even though their study had indicated strong support,” he said. “Last month I thought that was going to be rectified. It’s been so disappointing to find ourselves right back where we were 14 years ago.”

Everyone who registered and spoke expressed agreement on two key issues: they want to be able to vote for a library funding measure in November, and they want the proposed service fee to be generous enough to fund a full-fledged public library.

“Put a resolution for $2.50 on the ballot now,” said Goodyear. “There is never going to be a better time. Two years from now, we’re going to lose the momentum we have now.”

Keizer Community Library director B.J. Toewe anchored the group of speakers, saying that they had already begun preparations for a library funding campaign.

“This November is not too hard for us to do,” said Toewe. “Our campaign committee is ready – just write the ballot, put it on there, and give our voters a chance.”

After the public hearing, the council began deliberating the issue, which is really two issues: how can the council help keep KCL running right now, and how can a ballot measure for $2.50 appear on the upcoming ballot with only a few weeks left before the deadline?

Clark began by addressing the short-term issue, which was already in the councilors packet as a resolution to make $75,000 of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) contingency fund available as part of an agreement between the city and Keizer Community Library. These funds would go toward their short-term operational costs as well as providing them the ability to utilize grant writing services.

The council voted for the first resolution after some discussion surrounding oversight of the grant-writing process. Councilor Shaney Starr requested regular council-KCL meetings be scheduled in order to ensure any grant-writing activity had all the administrative support it needed from the city.

Discussion then turned to the $2.50 library ballot measure for November.

Councilor Starr voiced her earlier request for answers from CCRLS and its current executive director John Hunter regarding his June 10 letter which ultimately led to the council’s July 5 decision. Keizertimes has more details on this in our July 7 issue.

Starr pointed out that since Keizer residents were already being assessed a library fee to fund CCRLS, the $2.50 would be in addition to that, and that no effort was being made to offset the existing fee.

“If we take this to the November ballot without the CCRLS membership, what do we tell the voters this is going to get them?” asked Councilor Dan Kohler.

Toewe was called up to the microphone to address these issues, which she sees as the same issue: namely that a public library requires public support, a public library is what Keizer needs, and that CCRLS is not necessary to achieve that goal.

“There are benefits to being a public library outside of CCRLS membership,” Toewe replied, citing how Oregon state law generously funds literacy programs through local public libraries through such programs as the Ready to Read Grant.  She also mentioned there were federal grants available, some of which can even fund construction of new library buildings.

“As a public library, we’d be able to apply for these grants,” she said. “It just all depends on funding from a public source – that is the only stipulation the state has that we haven’t satisfied. We would qualify as a public library with the passage of this ballot measure in November.”

The issue of space also came up, once again, but Toewe responded by pointing out her earlier level of service data she had supplied to the council, and said she felt that if a new storefront is needed, the $2.50 public funding would be adequate to make that happen.

The only remaining issue was timing – is the deadline too soon?

City Attorney Shannon Johnson, when questioned by Clark about the timing for the November ballot, said that while “it would be tight,” the council make it happen.

“All in favor signify by saying aye,” said Clark, preparing her gavel. “With no objections, the motion passes unanimously.”

The room erupted into cheers and applause.