Bureaucrats Run Amok: A Case Study in Failed Governance at a Public Library

Shared control” of a public library by an inattentive appointed board creates the illusion of governance without any accountability. This is a recipe for disaster. Will the funding bodies wake up?

Thanks to the Tennessee Star Report (here) and Stella Morabito at The Federalist (here)!

The Blount County Public Library (BCPL), with a magnificent edifice and an annual budget of $2.5 million, is properly regarded as the crown jewel of the East Tennessee community of 140,000 residents it serves. But, like the dysfunctional Blount Memorial Hospital, shared control (among the three funding entities, Blount County and the cities of Maryville and Alcoa) and an entrenched, appointed Board of Trustees (BOT) that recommends to the appointing bodies candidates for nomination, combine to create the illusion of governance without any accountability. The BOT is asleep at the switch. Accordingly, the bureaucrats and administrators in charge of the BCPL run amok, without any meaningful oversight by the nine-member BOT.

Case in point: BCPL administrators, without the approval or authorization of the BOT, have allowed a non-profit organization that provides services to the homeless to be headquartered in the BCPL, rent-free, and for over two years have ignored objections by residents concerned about turning the BCPL into a de facto homeless shelter—as has happened in many other public libraries across the nation. Social service agencies, especially those involved in outreach, by definition attract “clients” needing help. Libraries are not designed for social work, and library patrons reasonably expect a quiet, safe, and clean environment free of the chaos created by mentally-ill, drug-using, and/or malodorous transients.

Just up the road in Knoxville….

When the BOT finally confronted this issue at a recent meeting, the ensuing discussion was a combination of finger-pointing, blame deflection, Sgt. Schultz-like professions of ignorance, and virtue-signaling.  The BOT, which is supposed to serve as the “eyes and ears” of the funding bodies–providing accountability to the taxpayers via the elected officials who appoint the BOT–is asleep at the switch, allowing the woke staff of the BCPL to make unilateral decisions without review, approval, or authorization.

The problem began in December 2020, when liberal activists then-employed by the BCPL [1] decided to make the public library a “community partner” with a newly-formed group, A Place to Stay (one of several organizations and agencies serving Blount County’s small homeless population), and to allow the group to be headquartered in the BCPL. This initiative, reported in the local newspaper, was neither authorized nor approved by the BOT. Nor—despite claims to the contrary by BOT Chair Andy Simon– was the decision approved by the three bodies that fund the BCPL: the Blount County Commission, the Maryville City Council, and the Alcoa City Commission.

I promptly objected to this decision, in a December 27, 2020 letter to the editor of the Daily Times. I said:

Dear Editor:

In many American cities, public libraries — once quiet, safe places for ordinary citizens to read and study — have been converted into de facto homeless shelters. When libraries allow, or even encourage, hygiene-challenged bums, vagrants, drug addicts and mentally ill derelicts to “use” their facilities, they “bathe” in the restrooms, watch porn on the computers and sleep while pretending to read, surrounded by their plastic bags of detritus. For ordinary citizens, the library becomes unusable.

The Blount County Public Library appears to be headed down this same road, proposing to “partner” with a newly created nonprofit organization for the homeless that will be based in the library.

The Daily Times reports that the library will work “hand in hand” with the new organization, encourage the homeless to use the library and its resources, and even do “street outreach” to recruit homeless people to use the library.

This is a prescription for disaster. The library will become a homeless shelter — a flophouse for vagrants, drunks and misfits.

What’s next? A soup kitchen at Maryville City Hall? Needle exchanges at the courthouse? Will the library allow camping on its grounds as part of its homeless outreach?

As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and in cities across the country, good intentions toward the homeless have produced urban squalor, crime and blight. Austin, San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles are examples of such disasters.

The Blount County Public Library should stick to its mission of providing a clean, quiet refuge for ordinary citizens, and leave social work to specialized agencies equipped and trained for that purpose. The County Commission and County Mayor Ed Mitchell need to squelch this debacle before it is too late.

I also sounded the alarm in a January 2021 article for The Federalist, entitled “Leftists Are Colonizing Red Towns Like Mine, And Local Republicans Are Clueless.” When the local newspaper reported in July 2021 that the BCPL’s “community partner” would be conducting a “Street Outreach Service Day” for the homeless in the parking lot of the BCPL, my concerns escalated. A Place to Stay was hosting what amounted to concierge service for the homeless on BCPL property, complete with shower stalls, food trucks, a clothing pantry, a hygiene station, hair-cuts, beard trims, a food pantry, a washer and dryer, and even foot baths and massages. A day spa experience for bums and vagrants! The event was intended to attract every homeless person in Blount County to the BCPL—the last place we should want them to congregate.

This time, I wrote a letter to the BOT and appeared in person before the BOT at its July 20, 2021 meeting. Here is what I told the BOT:

As I stated at the Blount County Public Library’s (BCPL) Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting last night, I am a resident of Maryville who is very concerned about the library’s movement in the direction of becoming a social service agency for Blount County’s homeless population.  I have previously lived in major cities (Los Angeles, San Diego, Austin), and am familiar with the phenomenon of “if you build it, they will come.”  Attracting homeless people by feeding them and providing them services will increase their numbers and concentrate them in one area. The library is the last place you want them to congregate. In Austin, a magnificent, costly downtown library was essentially taken over by the homeless, who treated it as a de facto homeless shelter, rendering in unusable by the taxpaying public. I do not want to see Blount County’s expensive library meet a similar fate. 

To that end, I have some questions I request that you answer, either informally or (if you prefer) in the form of a response to a public records request. In the latter event, please consider this email a public records request. 

  1. What are the terms of the arrangement between the BCPL and “A Place to Stay,” pursuant to which that organization maintains office space in the BCPL? Specifically, is there a written lease or similar document? What is the duration of the arrangement? Does “A Place to Stay” pay rent, and, if so, how much? Are there any memoranda or minutes reflecting the BCPL’s or the Board of Trustees’ consideration and approval of the arrangement? Who, if anyone, recommended or advocated on behalf of the arrangement?
  2. How many employees (or volunteers) staff the BCPL office of “A Place to Stay”? How large is the office (in terms of square feet)? Do BCPL personnel provide any assistance to “A Place to Stay”? Do any other nonprofit organizations have similar arrangement with the BCPL?
  3. Was the “Street Outreach Service Day” event reported in the Daily Times on July 19, 2021 approved by the staff of the BCPL and/or the BCPL BOT? Is such approval required for events being conducted on BCPL property? Are there any documents memorializing the approval process? Did “A Place to Stay” pay the BCPL for the use of the property? The Daily Times reports that community outreach coordinator Cassandra Brown told the reporter that “they came to us asking if we wanted to do an outreach event.” Does this mean that the BCPL staff initiated the event? If so, who suggested it? Was consideration given to holding this event on the premises of one of the participating churches, the Helen Ross McNabb Center, KARM, or some other location?
  4. Last night we strolled around the BCPL building to see the solar charging stations near the front of the building. There were a number of apparently homeless people being fed pizza provided by a couple claiming to be affiliated with something called “The Promise Outreach.” Based on photos posted on the Facebook page of The Promise Outreach,” this is a regular occurrence. Is permission required to use the tables/benches/solar charging stations? What is the BCPL’s policy regarding the use of this area either during BCPL hours or after it closes? Is there any type of formal arrangement between “The Promise Outreach” and either the BCPL or “A Place to Stay”?
  5. Are cars allowed to park overnight in the BCPL parking lot? Are people allowed to sleep overnight in their cars or other vehicles?  

I do not make these inquiries lightly. I read with distress about the high and rising crime rate in Knoxville. I have visited Knoxville at night and have been startled to see the large number of homeless people congregating near shelters offering food and other services. I do not want to see crime and blight come to Blount County, and I am sure that many of my fellow residents agree with me. 

I have nothing against non-government charitable efforts to help people in distress, even if the distress is due—as it often is with homeless people—to drug and/or alcohol abuse, mental illness, or lifestyle choices. I DO object to taxpayer resources being used to enable dysfunctional behavior, and I STRENUOUSLY object to the despoilation of public spaces and public buildings to accommodate the homeless. Libraries are for reading books, newspaper, and magazines, quiet places to study and reflect, and places that children should be able to visit safely. When libraries are used to pursue “social justice” agendas unrelated to this mission, and especially if doing so makes libraries unusable for their intended purpose, the taxpayers’ investment in those facilities has been squandered.    

Thank you in advance for your assistance in this matter.

I received no response from the BOT. Instead of simply answering my questions, the BCPL staff made me jump the time-consuming hoops of making a public record request.

What I eventually found out was that a “Memorandum of Understanding” between the BCPL and A Place to Stay was entered into effective December 1, 2020 providing for rent-free use of the BCPL facilities (including office space, meeting room space, and wi-fi) as a “pilot program” lasting 150 days, ending May 1, 2021. The MOU was signed by Director K.C. Williams, who resigned on April 30, 2021.   

The “Interim Director” of the BCPL, Anjanae Brueland, then extended the MOU—still rent free—for a period of 14 months, from May 1, 2021 until June 30, 2022. After K.C. Williams resigned, the next time A Place to Stay hosted an outreach event for the homeless was October 16, 2021, but it was held at an off-site location (a local church), not the BCPL parking lot.  Between K.C. Williams’ departure and the relocation of the outreach event, I assumed that my concerns were being addressed and A Place to Stay would be leaving the library when the MOU expired in June 2022. My assumption turned out to be incorrect.

The current Director of the BCPL, Manny Leite, was hired in October 2021, starting in January 2022. Many people expected the BCPL to return to normal after the tumultuous tenure of K.C. Williams and the Covid-marred transition period during which a successor was recruited and selected.

In January 2023, while visiting the library I noticed a number of homeless people sleeping in the library, and on January 9, 2023 brought this to the attention of Director Leite by email:

On my visit today, I couldn’t help notice that some people were sleeping in the library, in both the sitting and prone positions, with what appeared to be a suitcase or bag of personal items nearby. What is the policy regarding this? We also observed some people who appear to congregate in the corners of the library, awake but not necessarily reading, who emitted a distinctly unpleasant body odor. One of the sleeping “patrons” was surrounded by food wrappers and containers. Are there any policies regarding eating and drinking in the library, outside of the café area? 

I raise this not to be confrontational, but out of concern for the long-term viability of the library. In my experience living in cities such as Los Angeles, San Diego, and Austin, and in my travels to other cities, and in the course of my reading and research on the topic of homelessness, I have found that homeless people will take over any public space that is ceded to them. At some point—and the “tipping point” is usually discovered when it is too late—the typical library patrons will avoid a facility if it becomes overrun by stinky, unsavory vagrants. The new library in downtown Austin, built at a cost of over $100 million, has become a de facto homeless shelter. 

It would be a shame if that happened to our magnificent public library.  

BTW, is A Place to Stay still based in the BCPL, rent free? Does that arrangement have a fixed term, and, if so, when does it end? (Emphasis added.)

The next day, Director Leite responded that “A Place to Stay does have an office in the Library near the Reference Department,” without disclosing that the MOU had expired on June 30, 2022, and that the rent-free arrangement had continued for six months without any documentation whatsoever. When I inquired about the details of the arrangement, instead of simply answering my questions, the BCPL staff made me formally request the documents in a second public record request. Transparency? Hardly.

What I found out, when I eventually received the documents, is that—prompted by my question—Director Leite discovered the lapse in the MOU and hurriedly directed his staff to prepare an updated MOU, which was effective as of January 1, 2023, but not prepared or signed until later in the month. The updated MOU, which was effectively backdated, has a term that expires on June 20, 2024. Still rent free.

When I found out that the MOU had been clandestinely extended, and that no policy existed to authorize the BCPL staff from providing office space (rent free!) to non-profits favored by BCPL staff, and that the BOT had never authorized or approved any of the MOUs, I was dumbfounded. The arrangement I had objected to in December 2020 continued, ultra vires, for over two years, with the knowledge of the BOT but without any official imprimatur. This is the very definition of a bureaucracy run amok–lazy, inattentive governance.

On March 31, after finally receiving and digesting the documents I had requested, I wrote this email to Director Leite, with a copy to the BOT, going into some detail in order to recap events that occurred before his arrival at BCPL:

Dear Director Leite:

As the email below indicates [forwarding my July 21, 2021 email to Interim Director Brueland], I tried to begin a dialogue with your predecessor almost two years about the problem of homeless people using the library as a shelter, and in particular the inappropriateness (in my judgment) of allowing a social service agency for the homeless (A Place to Stay) to be officed in the BCPL. I was told to put my questions in the form of a public records request, which I did in July 2021.

What I found out was that—for reasons that were never clear to me—prior to your arrival, the BCPL entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with A Place to Stay (APTS) dated December 1, 2020, pursuant to which the BCPL would provide APTS with office space, a meeting room, wi-fi, utilities, and “routine housekeeping” for a trial period of 150 days (ending May 1, 2021) so that APTS could conduct a “pilot program” to assist homeless people. The MOU was signed by former Director K.C. Williams.

As far as I can tell, APTS pays no rent pursuant to the MOU, and is allowed to use BCPL meeting rooms free of charge even though other non-profit organizations must pay to use meeting rooms. (The batch of emails recently produced, in response to my second public records request made on February 7, 2023, indicates that another non-profit tenant of the BCPL, Be Aware Blount, pays $190/month for office space.)

Apparently, former BCPL staff member Ari Baker was involved in the APTS effort. In an internal email dated January 5, 2021, Baker referred to APTS’s mission as “having a social worker in the library we can refer folks to as needs arise.”

In May 2021, the MOU with APTS was extended until June 30, 2022. The MOU recites that “At the end of this period, both parties will evaluate this program and determine whether to continue it on a longer-term basis.” The extension was signed by Deputy Director Anjanae Brueland.

To my knowledge, the BCPL Board of Trustees did not approve the original MOU or the extension. Nor, to my knowledge, is there a BCPL policy addressing the use of BCPL facilities by non-profit organizations unrelated to the core functions of the BCPL. (I understand allowing the BCPL Foundation, Friends of the Library, and the Blount County Genealogical and Historical Society to use BCPL facilities, but do not understand the basis for providing office space to social service non-profits, especially rent-free.)

I was not happy with the arrangement with APTS, but was somewhat mollified when the “Street Outreach Service Day” event held in BCPL’s parking lot on July 18, 2021, was relocated to a more suitable location for subsequent occasions. I assumed that APTS would leave when the current MOU expired.

So matters stood until January 9, 2023, when I sent you an email renewing my concerns about homeless people sleeping in the library, in violation of BCPL policies. At the end of the email, I asked whether APTS was still based in the BCPL, whether the arrangement had a fixed term, and when it would end.

In the batch of documents (including internal emails) I received recently from the BCPL in response to my second request, it appears that at the time of my question, the APTS MOU had expired—six months earlier, on June 30, 2022. My question apparently prompted you to realize this, and to hurriedly prepare an “update MOU.” You informed your assistant, Anna Gombert, that you would “answer Mark with a vanilla answer” pending the preparation of an updated MOU. Your “vanilla answer,” dated January 10, 2023, confirmed to me that APTS has “an office in the Library near the Reference Department,” without specifying the status of the MOU.

An updated MOU (dated January 1, 2023 but signed by you on January 20, 2023) extends the arrangement with APTS until June 30, 2024. To my knowledge, the latest MOU was not approved by the BCPL BOT, and I have not been able to find any reference to it in the BOT minutes.

Despite my inquiries, no one has explained why a social service agency focusing on the homeless is provided office space in the BCPL. Or why office space is provided rent-free. Or why meeting rooms are provided to APTS free of charge. What is the justification for any of this? Whose idea was it?

Do BCPL staff simply make these decisions without consulting, or seeking the approval of, the BOT? In the absence of pertinent policies?

The emails contain cryptic references to a “bed bug” infestation at BCPL that apparently required the “expensive” replacement of affected BCPL furniture. The lackadaisical response to my reports (including photos) of homeless people sleeping in the library suggest to me that BCPL staff are sympathetic to vagrants who loiter and sleep in violation of BCPL policies. What other issues involving homeless people go unnoticed? I have heard anecdotal reports of homeless people passed out in the BCPL. The presence of malodorous vagrants is not conducive to the BCPL’s mission.

My greatest concern is that governance and oversight seem to be lacking at BCPL. Important decisions are evidently made by BCPL staff without authorization from (and possibly even disclosure to) the BOT. Instead of candid communications with concerned Blount County residents, “vanilla answers” carefully conceal the truth. This is called dissembling. Forcing residents to make time-consuming (and unnecessary) public records requests instead of simply giving forthright answers to legitimate questions shows disrespect to the public you serve.

The MOU can be terminated by either party upon 30 days’ written notice. I request that the BCPL (through either the Director of the BOT) give written notice of termination, and ensure that APTS evacuates from the BCPL within 30 days after notice is given.

Social service agencies for the homeless do not belong in public libraries, period. This ill-advised decision was made by a departed Director whose poor judgment played a role in her departure. APTS should have left when the MOU expired on June 30, 2022. The passage of six months after the MOU expired makes me question who is in charge at BCPL. The rushed extension—apparently without BOT approval or even consideration whether the MOU was in the BCPL’s interest—was your decision.

If you (or the BOT) decline my request, I will take this issue to the Blount County Commission and bring public attention to what I consider mismanagement at BCPL. Blount County residents properly expect the library they generously support with their tax dollars to operate as a library—not a social service agency. There are many agencies in Blount County devoted to helping the homeless: KARM, the Salvation Army, Family Promise, United Way, Haven House, Blount County Habitat for Humanity, Good Neighbors, Blount County Ecumenical Action Council, The Promise Outreach, many churches, etc. BCPL should not become a magnet for homeless people needing assistance they can obtain elsewhere. Allowing APTS to be officed in BCPL was a mistake from the inception.  That mistake should be corrected as soon as possible. Waiting until June 30, 2024 is unacceptable.  

The BCPL is not a homeless shelter and must not be treated as one. I feel that my concerns—expressed almost two years ago–have been ignored. I was hopeful that things would improve under your direction, but your recent actions have shown that nothing has changed. Enough is enough.

Please let me know what you decide. Thank you.

Director Leite responded to me on April 3, 2023, stating in part as follows:

You sent the Board of Trustees and BCPL Director an email on January 9, 2023 titled, Question re Library Policy. After reading the email I looked at the MOU between the BCPL and APTS and noticed it was expired. A new MOU between both parties was created and signed on January 20, 2023. In the past, the BCPL Director handled every aspect with APTS and without Trustee involvement, and I followed suit. 

I do agree BCPL should be charging rent to APTS parallel to Be Aware Blount. I did have a conversation with the Executive Director from APTS and on March 27, an email was sent regarding the monthly office rental fee of $100 starting in May (see attachment). APTS’s Board will be voting on this amendment in April.  

Again, thank you for expressing your concern and I will get back to you promptly. (Emphasis added.)

I found Director Leite’s unilateral decision to begin charging rent to A Place to Stay to be an unsatisfactory response to my concerns, and told him so. In an email to Director Leite dated April 8, 2023, with a copy sent to the BOT, I said:

Dear Director Leite:

Thank you for your response, but I am concerned that it may fall into what you refer to as the “vanilla answer” category: it avoids actually addressing the issues I raised in my email to you dated March 31.

Unilaterally deciding to charge A Place to Stay (APTS) nominal rent of $100/month (about half of what is paid by another non-profit tenant, Be Aware Blount) doesn’t answer the questions I posed: whether the BCPL Board of Trustees (BOT) ever authorized APTS to be located in the library; whether any applicable policies exist; who decided that servicing homeless people from a location in the BCPL was a good idea; and what the justification was for such an arrangement in the first place. My ultimate objection is to the presence of APTS in BCPL, not the rent-free arrangement.

The closest you come to answering my questions is the statement that “In the past, the BCPL Director handled every aspect with APTS and without Trustee involvement, and I followed suit.” The fact that your predecessors acted unwisely and without authority is not an excuse for you to continue making the same mistake. Although I was unaware of the fact (as apparently you were, also) when I contacted you in early January 2023 about homeless people sleeping in the library, the APTS Memorandum of Understanding had expired six months earlier. Instead of making an independent inquiry regarding the appropriateness of the APTS arrangement, or consulting with the BOT, you simply directed that the MOU be extended without disclosing the fact that the MOU had expired.

“Vanilla” does not begin to describe backdating an extension to make it appear that it was prepared before I asked about its status.

As the Director of the BCPL, you are the steward of substantial amounts of taxpayer funds to operate a library—not to serve as a social service agency for Blount County’s homeless population or other groups that your staff may feel deserves assistance.

Homelessness is a vexing public policy problem, and one that has blighted many American cities. Throwing resources at homeless people often makes the problem worse. Christopher Rufo is one of the leading experts on this issue. Some of his work is cited below:

https://www.prageru.com/video/what-do-we-do-about-the-homeless?gclid=Cj0KCQjwocShBhCOARIsAFVYq0jny8IS4q1Y8kn_V6vNBEtc7O9A6ZNuIXlhw4sKU_odzwtIbAM_GAUaAni7EALw_wcB

https://www.heritage.org/poverty-and-inequality/report/homelessness-america-overview

https://www.manhattan-institute.org/the-shaky-foundations-of-las-housing-entitlement-for-the-homeless

https://www.city-journal.org/cities-must-balance-public-services-with-public-order-to-reduce-homelessness

https://nypost.com/2020/02/18/the-moral-crisis-of-skid-row-las-most-notorious-neighborhood/

https://nypost.com/2019/12/18/waging-social-justice-war-on-the-taxpayers-dime/

There are many more, but this is a sample.

If one reviews the literature regarding the ruination of public libraries across the country when facilities are surrendered to the homeless to use as a de facto shelter, one finds that this course of action inevitably leads to disaster. Again, here are some links:

https://www.sfexaminer.com/our_sections/forum/homeless-takeover-has-ruined-main-library/article_6f7007d3-e4f0-58a8-b0ad-518da3a8827e.html

https://abc7news.com/sf-castro-library-free-wifi-market-street-homeless-encampment/12010180/

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/01/very-short-book-excerpt/355728/

https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g52024-d532080-r144610863-Multnomah_County_Central_Library-Portland_Oregon.html

Bottom line: Attracting homeless people to congregate in a public library, or refusing to enforce policies against sleeping and loitering, can destroy the cleanliness, safety, and tranquility that libraries are supposed to provide. Blount County must not allow its library to be overrun by homeless people. Servicing homeless people from an office in the library is imprudent—foolish, even.

To repeat what I said in my March 31 email to you:   

Social service agencies for the homeless do not belong in public libraries, period. This ill-advised decision was made by a departed Director whose poor judgment played a role in her departure. APTS should have left when the MOU expired on June 30, 2022. The passage of six months after the MOU expired makes me question who is in charge at BCPL. The rushed extension—apparently without BOT approval or even consideration whether the MOU was in the BCPL’s interest—was your decision

If you (or the BOT) decline my request, I will take this issue to the Blount County Commission and bring public attention to what I consider mismanagement at BCPL. Blount County residents properly expect the library they generously support with their tax dollars to operate as a library—not a social service agency. There are many agencies in Blount County devoted to helping the homeless: KARM, the Salvation Army, Family Promise, United Way, Haven House, Blount County Habitat for Humanity, Good Neighbors, Blount County Ecumenical Action Council, The Promise Outreach, many churches, etc. BCPL should not become a magnet for homeless people needing assistance they can obtain elsewhere. Allowing APTS to be officed in BCPL was a mistake from the inception.  That mistake should be corrected as soon as possible. Waiting until June 30, 2024 is unacceptable.   

The BCPL is not a homeless shelter and must not be treated as one. I feel that my concerns—expressed almost two years ago–have been ignored. I was hopeful that things would improve under your direction, but your recent actions have shown that nothing has changed. Enough is enough.

I urge you (or the BOT) to terminate the MOU with APTS forthwith and put this unfortunate chapter in the life of the BCPL behind us. If someone associated with the BCPL or the BOT wishes to make a case for servicing homeless people from the crown jewel of our public library, I’m sure the residents of Blount County (and their representatives on the bodies that fund the BCPL’s operations) would be interested in hearing it. So far, no such explanation has been forthcoming, only “vanilla answers.”

I attended the BOT meeting on April 18, 2023 and renewed my concerns in the two minutes allotted for public comment, briefly highlighting the chronology set forth above. I told the BOT that “I have still not gotten an answer to the question why APTS is in the library to begin with. One has to wonder who is in charge.”

When the BOT got around to discussing this issue at the end of its agenda (when most people in the audience had left), a charitable description of the colloquy among BOT members would be “dithering.” When the Zoom recording of the April 18 meeting is posted, I will link to it so observers can draw their own conclusions. It is undisputed that the BOT never authorized or approved the arrangement with APTS, but the BOT inexplicably declined to terminate the ultra vires MOU. No one was reprimanded or criticized. No one apologized or expressed regret. No one questioned the wisdom of allowing a homeless outreach organization to be based in the library, rent free, without official approval or authorization.

After considerable discussion, the BOT decided to continue the dithering at the May BOT meeting. There was a “consensus” that some type of written policy is needed to address the circumstances in which non-profits unrelated to the BCPL are allowed to use the BCPL as their office. This is merely “kicking the can down the road.”

There also appeared to be some sentiment among BOT members that homeless people using the BCPL as a shelter is appropriate, and that APTS—instead of serving as an undesirable magnet for homeless people—is a “resource” for the BCPL. This is comically misguided. Only one BOT member, Susan Williams, displayed what I consider to be the proper role of governance—asking skeptical questions of BCPL staff, insisting on answers, and actually representing the interests of Blount County taxpayers as opposed to cheerleading for the BCPL staff and administrators.

This sorry episode—still not resolved—is truly a case study in failed governance at a public library. Blount County residents deserve better. Will the funding bodies, who also appoint the inattentive BOT, make the BCPL Board of Trustees do its job?

Is this what the BOT wants for Blount County?

Who is in charge? If the bureaucrats at the BCPL can do whatever they want, without accountability or consequence, what is the point of the BOT? Board members are supposed to be representing the interests of the taxpayers, not just padding their resumes or sitting idly by while the bureaucrats at the BCPL run amok. It is well past time to pull the plug on A Place to Stay. They should find office space elsewhere, and let the BCPL be a library instead of a social service agency.

Footnote

[1] The BCPL Director at the time, K.C. Williams, subsequently resigned under pressure, and the BCPL staff member quoted most extensively in the newspaper report, Ari Baker, likewise resigned.

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