Joe Eisner

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(All questions are handled with appropriate discretion. The questions posted in Mr. Eisner’s columns are generalized frequently asked questions.)

Question

May a person who is not a resident of the area which an association library is chartered to serve be appointed to that library’s board of trustees?

There does not seem to be any statutory requirement that a trustee of an association library must be a resident or inhabitant of the geographic area  which the library is chartered to serve. Were the library a public library, as public officers, those trustees would be required to be residents or inhabitants of that jurisdiction. If not, a legislative enactment would be required to allow such an appointment to be made. However, association library trustees are not public officers. As far as is known, this particular question has not yet been litigated, nor have either the Attorney General, the State Comptroller, or the Commissioner of Education or the Department’s Counsel issued any opinions relating to such a matter.

Nevertheless, both association and public library boards are creatures of the State- their powers are derived either by legislative action or the authority of the Regents to issue charters. Some potential solutions to consider in response to this inquiry:

  1. it may be  possible that an association library board could amend its by-laws to allow a non-resident of the library’s service area to be appointed to serve as a trustee. But before doing that, prudence would dictate  that the board first consult the library’s charter to determine if there exists any wording which might be construed to limit its power to do so, and then consult directly with the area staff consultant of DLD to obtain DLD’s view on this matter.  It might be that an amendment to the library’s charter would be in order to justify such an action. The additional purpose of such an inquiry would be to preclude any future possibility of legal action by a disgruntled member of the library’s patrons or even a sitting board member, challenging the library board’s right to have made such an appointment.  At the very least, without such justification, the proposed appointment might result in a public relations situation detrimental to the library board’s future request for an increase in funding.
  2. alternatively, since there is no requirement that a library treasurer be a resident of the jurisdiction that an association library is chartered to serve, the library board could consider appointing him/her  to the position of the library’s treasurer, replacing the current treasurer who may be a board member (it should be noted that an association library board member, unlike a public library board member, is not prohibited from serving as the library board ‘s treasurer.) Again, prudence would dictate that the association library board consult with DLD regarding the possibility that the person so appointed  be an ex-officio officer of the Board, but would have no vote- his/her only duty would be to serve as custodian of library funds, releasing them upon audit and authorization by the library board to pay bills or make investments. Duties would also involve maintenance or supervision of the creation and maintenance of records of such disbursements. He would replace the current treasurer and would serve at the pleasure of the Board. It would be within the Board’s authority to pay him a fee for performing such duties, or he/she could volunteer their services.