Jackson, Swain refuse proposed FRL agreement changes

Jackson, Swain refuse proposed FRL agreement changes

Neither Jackson County nor Swain County commissions have agreed to approve the changes Macon County proposed to the Fontana Regional Library agreement, citing legal and logistical concerns.

Next steps in the novel and increasingly complicated process might involve a more collaborative meeting. 

“There’s no doubt that there’s going to be fuss over the agreement no matter what happens from either side,” said Jackson County Commissioner Todd Bryson. “But we need to come up with an agreement that’s going to make everyone happy and get this done.” 

The Fontana Regional Library system governs libraries in Jackson, Macon and Swain counties. The interlocal agreement is currently undergoing its 10-year renewal process and this time around, county commissions are looking to make some changes. Macon County, the partner spearheading the changes, proposed revisions to the agreement last year.  

When the Jackson County Commission reviewed the changes proposed by Macon County at its December meeting, then-County Manager Don Adams recommended that the county attorney review the document and provide legal counsel. Board attorney John Kubis did so and presented his findings to the commission during a January meeting. Since that time, attorneys for both Jackson and Swain counties have been reviewing the document and the suggested changes from Macon in order to provide needed revisions.

Kubis came back before the Jackson County Commission during its May 7 meeting to give an update on that process.

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“We recently met with county attorney for Swain County and came up with a consensus on how best to restructure or streamline this agreement that you have before you to make sure that we are getting everyone’s considerations into this process to make sure that the Fontana Regional Library interlocal agreement continues to be a living document that folks are happy with and it’s carrying out its intended purpose,” said Kubis.

Macon County first passed its recommended changes to the document in November of last year.

“Obviously, this is one step in what’s going to be a continuing process in communication with the other counties and Fontana Regional to make sure that everybody is getting an opportunity to have their say in how this ultimately plays out and we finalize this document,” said Kubis.

But Jackson County commissioners were not pleased with the back-and-forth nature of the work on the FRL agreement and just how long the process is taking. Commissioner John Smith suggested choosing representatives from each county commission to sit and work collaboratively on the agreement, rather than each county working through it individually.

“This process started last November, and we’re not any further along than we were in November when Macon County passed theirs,” said Smith. “Get us in a room, hash it out, and then we’ll have something, but we won’t have to pass it around for another five or six months.” 

Chairman Mark Letson directed County Manager Kevin King to organize a meeting with two commissioners from each county — so there would not be a quorum from any county, which would require public meeting laws to take effect — the county attorneys, county managers and a representative from the Fontana Regional Library.

“That’s a good starting point,” said Letson.

Commissioner Mark Jones raised some preliminary concerns that he has with the changes Macon commissioners suggested to the agreement, one of which involves the proposed requirement that the chair of the FRL board address questions raised during public comment periods.

“It’s great to have public comment,” said Jones. “But I question this language. I’ve been involved with a lot of boards, committees, never has the chair had to answer questions by the public. We’re not allowed to engage with public comment, so I think that needs to be taken out.”

The changes proposed by Macon County sought to address complaints from community members about the lack of spoken public comments at all library board meetings. Proposed changes to the rules would require a public comment period before each library board meeting with no less than three minutes allowed per speaker. The comment period would be limited to 45 minutes, but the board may allow for additional time. The proposed change also says, “the public shall be permitted to ask questions for clarification directly through the chair, who shall attempt to answer to the best of his or her ability.”

Like Jones in Jackson County, Swain County commissioners also brought up concerns with this proposed change when they discussed the Fontana Regional Library agreement during their May 7 meeting.

“Some of the language are things that I would oppose, for example, our public comment time, we basically say, we listen to you but we don’t have to respond or don’t need to respond or maybe don’t even want to respond,” said Swain County Commissioner Roger Parsons.

Parsons said this language insinuated that the public could direct the chair through public comment and expect answers immediately for all questions.

“I don’t have any issues with keeping the old [agreement] like it was,” Parsons said. “That was my position then, that is kind of my position now, just to keep it the way it was without any changes.

“We haven’t had any issues,” said Parsons. “These are issues that have kind of been heaped on us from another county, is what it seems like to me. So, I want us to be very careful in this. This seems to be from another county trying to bring their issues to us instead of us just dealing with our own issues.”

Swain County Commission Chairman Kevin Seagle said that he feels like the focus of this whole process has diverged from its original purpose of protecting children.

“I’m 100% for protecting our children on every avenue that there is, but I am also 100% not being bullied by somebody else, and that’s kind of the way it’s been thrown at us,” Seagle said.

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