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In debate over library control, Detroit City Council considers tax-law resolution

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.

Some Detroit City Council members are discussing a resolution that would change state law and exclude Detroit public schools from tax exemptions and abatements.

Some of those city officials are pushing for control of the public library system, which is now managed by an independent board.

At a meeting Thursday, the council's Planning and Economic Development Committee delayed voting on the resolution for at least another month.

"We're not just not trying to make a decision. We want to make sure that the decision that we make actually addresses the issue and not just put a Band-Aid on it and checks the box that says, we did something with that," said City Council President Pro Tem James Tate.

In recent council meetings, former library board member Russ Bellant laid out details of an alleged wire fraud incident where someone using a Detroit library email account requested and received $685,221.64 of library funds from the city.

A little over $277,000 was recovered, according to the city’s chief financial officer. A city spokesperson said the library and the city both are victims of the alleged fraud.

The city serves as the fiscal agent for the library and collects a millage on city property tax bills on behalf of the library. City officials said the millage funds are put into a library account, and all funds and operations are managed by the library.

In April, Council member Scott Benson said the city should have more oversight of the library system. The council considered a resolution to take charge of appointments to the library's seven-member commission. The Detroit Public School Community District's board of education is currently in charge of the appointments.

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

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.

"We’re supporting financially, we should also have a level say in the governance," Benson said in April. "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 the library is governed would require both a city ordinance and a change in state law.

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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