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Jackson tables FRL governance change

The Jackson County Public Library is located in the old courthouse. File photo The Jackson County Public Library is located in the old courthouse. File photo

With the Fontana Regional Library agreement up for its 10-year review, Jackson, Macon and Swain county commissions are taking a look at the document. 


“This is a 10-year agreement that does automatically renew every 10 years,” said Adams. “It says that every 10 years it should be reviewed. So what brought this up among managers was, as everybody’s probably aware, there have been conversations in other counties in regards to this regional agreement.”

Earlier this year, after a group of Macon residents complained about the placement of some LGBTQ+ literature, Macon County commissioners debated the idea of pulling out of the Fontana Regional Library system altogether. Ultimately, the county decided to keep its libraries within the system, but commissioners requested that Macon County Manager Derek Roland meet with the county managers for Swain and Jackson counties to begin discussions for potential revisions to the FRL agreement.

Following those discussions, county managers for the three counties suggested one change to the structure of the Fontana Regional Library agreement. As the system operates currently, local library boards have direct appointment authority for the Fontana Regional Library Trustees from each county. County managers are recommending moving appointment authority for the Fontana Regional Library Board of Trustees from the local county library boards to the boards of commissioners for each county.

“We believe that this ‘direct connection’ between the local governments who are responsible for creating and funding the multi-county library system and the policymaking body for that system will be more reflective of the elected bodies, improve communications and make the services more responsive to all of our citizens,” the managers wrote in a letter to the boards of commissioners.

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Jackson County Manager Don Adams presented this recommended change to the Jackson County Commission during its Aug. 15 meeting.

“This isn’t intended to change the system; it’s not intended to rewrite the entire regional system. What it’s intended to do is basically make a more direct connection; we believe this direct connection between the local governments who are responsible for creating and funding the multi-county library system and the policymaking body for that system will be more reflective of the elected boards,” said Adams.

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.

“For the most part, the managers, we all agree that the regional system is a valued system, that you have experience in running libraries,” said Adams. “Right now, county governments do not. None of us as individual county governments have direct experience in running library systems themselves.”

In a letter to the boards of commission, the managers made clear they felt that the Fontana Regional Library system has and continues to be an asset to all three counties.

“The three Managers felt the Fontana Library System has positively affected all counties within its membership through providing citizens with convenient access to informational and educational resources for over 75 years,” the letter reads. “We further agreed that the multi-county collaboration was the most efficient and effective way to continue providing library services as it provides opportunities for service and resource allocations beyond the financial and service capacities of the individual county governments and libraries.” 

According to Adams, if all three county boards agree to the potential governance change, the managers would then sit down with the Fontana Regional Library board to talk about how to proceed forward with the amendment.

At the behest of Commissioner John Smith, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners voted to table the issue for further review before deciding.

“I think we need further discussion before we do anything in support of this,” said Smith. “More study on what the actual agreement is, frankly. Maybe we can table that until another meeting before we make a stand.” 

Macon County commissioners discussed the recommendation during an Aug. 8 meeting, but did not make a motion to accept the change. During that meeting, four Macon County residents spoke during public comment to voice their opposition to the recommended change.

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