Are Your Trustee-Worthy? Ethics for Trustees

This afternoon, I’m upstairs for our annual Trustee Training.  This year the topic is Ethics…the good, the bad and the gray middle ground where most of us spend our time.  (Food: Beemer’s BBQ and Teri made strawberry tart dessert things that are To. Die. For.)

Royce Kitts, KLA 2nd VP and Tongie Public Library Director, gave a short Kansas Library Association chat about ‘bringing back relevance to the institutional membership’ by again tying that membership to the Trustee’s membership.  The KLA Conference in early April 2011 is also going to have a Trustee’s Day (at a cut rate).

Brenda also plugged Tech Day and John Blyberg on August 6 in Topeka.  We also get to have Joan Fry William as keynote for Fall Assembly – I’m looking forward to that one!  On Saturday, November 13 we planned a Brunch Workshop for Trustees on Hiring a Library Director with Dan and Jobeth Bradbury (both of whom I’ve worked for and Jobeth used to work here at NEKLS).

Gina Millsap, director of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, will be the featured speaker at this year’s NEKLS trustee workshops. The topic is ethics for trustees, featuring a discussion of various ethical situations your library board may face. Learn from the experiences of other libraries and leave feeling prepared to respond to problems and take action in a fair and thoughtful way. Sessions will be highly interactive, so bring your questions and come prepared for a lively discussion.

Enter Gina – (SlideShare of her presentation will be at later)

  • Being a trustee relies on personal honor and integrity and operating in an open and honest manner
  • Gina has worked with Boards, served on Boards and presented on this topic before
  • Begin to expand your network of colleagues so you know who to call when you need help
  • Topeka has a Library Governance Board, the Friends of the Library Board and the Library Foundation Board – made up with over 30 ‘citizen volunteers’
  • People come to Boards with different experiences, expectations and perspectives, so coming to consensus can be difficult
  • A few answers from our group to “Why I became a trustee?” ::
    ‘I was asked and said YES,’ ‘I was a volunteer,’ ‘As a former library worker, I thought I had something to contribute,’ and ‘I raised my daughter in the library.’   Other answers, ‘Interested in the future of the library,’ ‘enjoy being a community volunteer,’ ‘enjoy working with the other people on the Board,’ ‘see Library as a community center and can take over arts programming,’ ‘greater need for technical support and training with fewer resources,’ and ‘important to read and have access to books.’
  • Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.” – Potter Stewart, U.S. Supreme Court Justice
  • Adlai E. Stevenson says “Public confidence in the integrity of the Government is indispensable to faith in democracy; and when we lose faith in the system, we have lost faith in everything we fight and spend for…”
  • Trustee Job Description :: Advocate, Plan, Monitor, Set Policies and Hire and Evaluate the Director
  • State laws address how non-profit boards should behave, which can guide Library boards.
  • Basic duties:
    Care (informed, act in good faith, preparation, ensure compliance with laws),
    Loyalty (power in interest of the organization, disclose conflicts of interest, maintain confidentiality) and
    Obedience (comply with laws, adhere to policies, remain guardians of the organization’s mission)
  • If you don’t know your library’s mission statement, you don’t have one!
  • Topeka’s mission fits on a pencil and Gina recited it: “Your Place. Stories you want, information you need, connections you seek.”
  • Ethical Board – has a Code of Ethics, reviews it, reviews decisions and behavior of members, and takes the appropriate action if a trustee behaves unethically (it’s not a flu shot, it has to be how work is conducted)
  • Trustee Ethics Checklist
    • Listen to each other, respect opinions especially during difficult discussions, support decisions once they are made, respect the Board’s authority as a Board, speak with one voice, stay informed, participate actively and be prepared for meetings, communicate issues that could have a negative effect on the library, tell the library story (in an elevator speech), listen to and refer complaints, don’t micromanage (ensure library is well-managed without managing it themselves), hire the best director (don’t settle), represent the whole community, be good fiscal stewards, learn and grow, avoid conflict of interest (and declare them and recuse yourself to avoid appearances of conflict), don’t expect special treatment, uphold confidentiality, and respect the spirit and intent of the Open Meetings law.
  • Board has ONE employee, the Library Director.  The Board approves the Budget and the Library Director approves expenditures within that budget.
  • Attend Library events and programs, not just Board meetings.  See how staff interacts with the community and gauge effectiveness of the Library by being a customer.
  • Rules Don’t Ensure Ethical Behavior – Just look at Enron…
  • Failure to Engage – How do you combat this and get Board members to engage?
    • Have attendance policies in the By-Laws
    • Turn in the attendance record to the Mayor at the end of the year
    • Peer pressure — have other members call each other and create a ‘culture’ that fosters engagement
    • Board orientation, so they come to meetings prepared to engage
    • Communicate Expectations – time commitment, duties, roles, work involved
    • Educate the appointing authorities – Mayor, County commissions, etc.
    • City Boards can suggest that a member be removed, but they don’t have authority to remove a Trustee (only the County Attorney can do that, but the person can resign)
    • (TSCPL asked for legal opinion and shared that with NEKLS (and everyone here) and how does this ruling effect District Libraries?)
    • Planning retreat helped focus the Board
    • Private discussion with the Chair AND yearly discussions with the Director one-on-one
    • Members participate by holding Office or being on a committee
    • Talk to the Person :: Have Chair orient new trustees :: By Laws
  • City Council Steps In – “Whatever you say and do at the Board meeting Will appear on the 5 pm news…”
  • Child Projection or Censorship? Jessamine County Public Library –
    • Graphic Novel removed b/c two employees decided it was inappropriate.
    • Both employees were fired for gross violation of library policies and attempted to appeal to Library Board, but the Board declined the request because the policy gave the Director the final authority – there was no appeal procedure in the policies.
    • You will not get in trouble by following your policy but you will always get in trouble if you don’t.
    • ALA Code of Ethics
    • Regularly review your policies to make sure they are still appropriate and timely
  • It’s All in the Family – Cedar Rapids, Iowa
    • “Library Board Member Says She Had Conflict of Interest”  Iowa floods devastated the main library, Board was looking for property to purchase, Library Board member worked as a consultant for a company that owned one of the 3 properties and she voted to purchase that property – the appearance was of collusion.  Should have recused herself from the vote.
  • Questions for the Board – a Discussion Guide
    • Why should someone serve on a board?
    • Why should someone not serve on a board?
      (Bone to pick, ego, personal or religious beliefs are in conflict with the Library’s policies, non-library user)
    • If a trustee behaves unethically, what action may or should the board take?
      (Talk about it, even if it means conflict!  Does it need to take place in open meeting or Exec session? Involve an attorney, then it’s protected by attorney-client privilege.)
    • Do I understand and support all of the library’s policies (not just the ones I agree with)?
    • What if my personal/social/religious beliefs are in conflict with the library’s mission and policy?

Thank you Gina – this was a great Trustee Training.  Awesome discussion, wonderful questions, lots of food for thought and kudos to Brenda for putting this together.


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