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"It doesn't make any sense": Detroit City Council may take over key part of how libraries are governed

Exterior of Detroit Public Library, green grass, white building
Detroit Public Library
Detroit's City Council is considering a new resolution that would give the city more direct authority over the Detroit Public Library's leadership. The resolution would put the city in charge of appointing the library's governing body. Right now, Detroit library commissioners are appointed by the Detroit Public School’s board of education.

Update: Monday, April 25, 2022, 6 p.m.:

Detroit’s Public Library system commissioners plan to fight a new resolution that would put the city in charge of appointing the seven-member governing body. Detroit’s library system is among the few in the state to have the public school board of education appointing the library’s governing body.

The city council is reviewing a resolution that would put them in charge of that duty.

Russ Bellant, secretary for the library commissioners, said that would be an unmitigated disaster.

"What we have going on right now is an attempt to substitute control for oversight, and they’re conflating the two. This is really about control takeover, not the creation of oversight," he said.

The resolution is on the agenda of the Detroit City Council's public meeting on Tuesday at 10 a.m.

Original post: Monday, April 25, 2022, 5 a.m.

The Detroit City Council might take over a key part of how the city's public library system is governed.

The council is considering a resolution to take charge of appointments to the library's seven-member commission. Right now, Detroit Public School Community District's board of education is in charge of the appointments.

Council member Scott Benson said the city should have more oversight of the library system.

"The City of Detroit supports the library administratively in many, many ways, yet we don't have any say in the governing," he said.

Detroit’s public library system is an outlier in the state, functioning as its own form of government, largely outside of city oversight.

The commission is in charge of hiring, administering funds and implementing policy. Day-to-day operations in the libraries are managed by the library's executive director, Jo Anne Mondowney.

Neither library leadership nor commission leadership responded to requests for comment.

"We’re supporting financially, we should also have a level say in the governance," Benson said. "It doesn’t make any sense for our tax dollars to go to an entity outside of the city where we do not have any say in the governance."

Changing how it's governed would require both a city ordinance and a change in state law.

The city council resolution states, "Michigan Public Act 451 of 1976, The Revised School Code, empowers the Detroit Public Schools to appoint the Library Commission, which appears to be solely based on the historical origin of the Library and not for any administrative basis."

The resolution also states that the Detroit Public Library leader has requested more money from the city.

"The City of Detroit is authorized to provide the Library additional support. However, it would be appropriate for the City of Detroit to have a greater role in the administration of the Library if the City were to pursue providing DPL with additional funding," the resolution states.

A city report from 2021 says the Detroit Public Library system is the second largest library in Michigan and the twentieth in the United States in terms of volumes held.

Due to the pandemic, only eight library locations are open but officials have said that twelve more locations will reopen in July.

Briana Rice is Michigan Public's criminal justice reporter. She's focused on what Detroiters need to feel safe and whether they're getting it.
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