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Change recommended to Fontana Regional Library System

The Macon County Public Library is part of the Fontana Regional Library system. File photo The Macon County Public Library is part of the Fontana Regional Library system. File photo

A few months ago, issues arose about the placement of certain LGBTQ+ books in the Macon County Public Library.

This led to discussion among commissioners about pulling out of the Fontana Regional Library system altogether. But ultimately, the county remained part of the FRL. 

However, commissioners did request that county managers in Macon, Jackson and Swain counties meet to review the FRL agreement, and now, those managers are suggesting an operational change to the system. 

“The board had requested that I meet with the county managers for Swain and Jackson counties, who are also parties to this agreement, to begin discussions on potential revisions to the Fontana Regional Library agreement,” said County Manager Derek Roland. “The agreement that we are currently under requires a review every 10 years.” 

Fontana Regional Library formed in 1944 when the Tennessee Valley Authority sponsored a regional bookmobile to visit the most remote areas of Jackson, Macon and Swain counties.

Today, the system offers full library services to rural counties that might not otherwise be able to fund them. By combining cataloging, human resources, finance departments and information technology services for libraries in the three counties, it is cheaper for each county than if they were to provide for each of those departments individually. The regional agreement is renewed every 10 years and can be dissolved or withdrawn from at any time.

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Roland presented a letter to the board of commissioners explaining the positive impacts the FRL has had on Macon, Jackson and Swain, as well as the single revision the managers are suggesting.

“In this review, we found that this has provided citizens throughout the region with convenient access to informational and educational resources,” said Roland. “As far as the structure goes, having that coordination between counties allows for the more efficient purchase of certain services. It’s with anything, it gives you buying power, being part of this regional system, so we did feel that as far as benefits of our region, benefits to the taxpayers within each of the counties, that the regional system and the benefits that provided from an economic standpoint were certainly the way to go to provide this library service.” 

As the system operates currently, the Macon County Board of Commissioners has direct appointment authority over the local library board — the Macon County Public Library Board of Trustees. This local library board then appoints board members to the Fontana Regional Library Board.

“As the financial partner in this arrangement, the board of commissioners for each county have local board appointments, but there is no direct connection currently from the fiscal agent, from the boards of commissioners to the policy-setting agent for the organization,” said Roland.

The Fontana Regional Library Board is the body that sets policy for the library system. Following its review of the FRL agreement, the county managers are suggesting that their commissioners appoint members to the Fontana Regional Library Board directly rather than leaving that up to the local library boards.

“As the funder of the library board, as the funder of the Fontana Regional Library, we did feel it was very important for the fiscal agent to have a direct connection to the policy-setting agent,” said Roland. “Wbat we’ve seen here locally, we know how it works with our local library board and again that is direct appointment from the board of county commissioners. We just want that same level of communication, that same level of connection with the policy-setting board.” 

This is the only change that county managers are recommending to the FRL agreement. The change was presented to the Macon County Board of Commissioners on Aug. 8 and the Jackson County Commission on Aug. 15. At this time, the change is under review and has not been adopted.

Linda Tyler, a resident of Macon County, retired public health nurse and member of the Macon County Library Board spoke during public comment and urged commissioners to still take into consideration the recommendations of the local library board.

“Traditionally, the commissioners have relied strongly on the recommendations of the library board when they’re appointing new members to the board, and they seem to continue to do so with other board appointments,” said Tyler. “I hope that you will continue to take the recommendations of the local boards, the library board and other boards into consideration when you are making appointments.” 

Tyler said that in February the Macon County Library Board turned in several recommendations for library board appointees, some of whom were highly qualified for the position, and that no one was chosen or appointed for almost three months.

“Those delays don’t help any boards do their job properly and I hope that you’re able to move more quickly and look at the qualifications of board members in the future,” she said. “I do hope that you will remember that just like you were elected to serve all of Macon County, all of the people in Macon County, the library is there to serve all the people of Macon County and we don’t always agree with one another, we may think differently and have different opinions, but we want to include everyone.” 

Three other residents spoke during public comment at the Aug. 8 commissioner meeting to voice their opposition to the recommended change.

Commissioner Danny Antoine, who earlier this year voiced support for withdrawing Macon County from the Fontana Regional Library system altogether, said the whole issue has been blown out of proportion and put some of that blame on the media.

“Everything that we’re trying to do with this is actually trying to make everything better. We’re not trying to make anything worse and we’re not trying to take away from anyone,” Antoine said. “The issues that I’ve personally brought up have to do with protecting kids. What I have a hard time understanding is why that is such a point of contention to want to protect kids against pornographic materials. To me that’s beyond me to even try to understand why that is a point of contention.” 

Commissioner Antoine and other residents who argue for tougher restrictions against what youth in the library have access to have consistently referred to books with LGBTQ+ content or themes as inappropriate and even pornographic.

“There’s no way you can poison the mind of a child and call it OK. That’s my only point in that,” said Antoine. “It has nothing to do with an adult’s sexual preference; I’m talking about children and protecting children, and that’s the only point.” 

Macon County spends about $1.1 million annually on library operations. If all three counties approve the recommended change to the Fontana Regional Library agreement, Macon County Commissioners would have direct appointment power to the FRL board which in turn sets policy for the library system.

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