Until it hears from its partner municipalities, the Rhinelander District Library will be in wait-and-see mode regarding the potential renegotiation of its funding agreement, the library board has decided.
While discussing the city of Rhinelander's administrative cost allocation plan for 2015 and 2016 early last month, the city's Finance, Wage and Salary Committee requested a renegotiation of the agreement between the city, the towns of Crescent, Newbold, Pine Lake and Pelican, and the library.
The city is pushing for a renegotiation because it wants to charge the library for accounting and related services but the present agreement does not allow for such fees.
The agreement, which has been in place for over 30 years, doesn't allow the city to charge the library for accounting services. It states the city will "provide accounting, bookkeeping and payroll services ... at no additional charge." The agreement is not due to expire until the end of 2015 and will be automatically renewed unless the City Council takes action.
After hearing about the city's request to renegotiate the agreement, the library contacted the city's attorney, Carrie Miljevich, and requested a meeting.
Interim Library Director Tom Hurlburt informed the board Tuesday that request has been denied.
"I had emailed (city attorney Miljevich) that (library board president) Jan (Baer) and I would like to meet with her and she responded back that Blaine (Oborn, city administrator) needs to be advised of every department head she meets with. She advised him and he advised her that she should not meet with us and provide (us) with information that might be adversarial to what the city is trying to do," he said.
In an interview with the River News, Oborn explained his decision.
"The attorney represents the city and any time there's a case where the city and the library may conflict with each other, then it doesn't make sense for our city to provide them a legal opinion," Oborn said. "Our attorney doesn't want to get in a situation where she's giving advice that's a conflict of interest for her. That happens all the time. It's nothing uncommon."
"We may be getting legal advice from her on the same issue so it doesn't make sense for her to provide legal counsel on the same thing," he added. "There's no controversy. We're not in an adversarial relationship at all, but they were asking for legal advice on something (where) we could possibly have a conflict of interest so it doesn't make sense for her to do that, to represent them. It was in the best interest of both parties because she's obviously the attorney for the city of Rhinelander first and then on issues that are not a conflict of interest, if they want to use her, certainly she's available. They've used the city attorney in the past."
Oborn's decision caused library board members to consider whether the library should find an outside attorney to provide advice.
Hurlburt suggested holding off on hiring an attorney.
"I don't know if we want to go there yet," he said.
"I don't know either at this point," she said.
If and when the renegotiation takes place, the library board doesn't actually have a seat at the table, Baer explained.
"The city can talk about renegotiating, but they aren't going to renegotiate with the library board," she said. "The other party is really the four towns who are signatories to the agreement."
"The only thing we can do is give them information ... but as the library board, we have no power in that agreement beyond dealing with whatever bottom line they tell us we can work with," she added.
Because specifics on when negotiations may occur have not yet been set forth, Hurlburt and board members agreed that now is a time to sit back and wait to see what happens.
"The district contract, (Oborn) admits that they cannot charge administrative fees. That's why ... one of his goals is to renegotiate the library district contract. I just think we wait and see what they do," Hurlburt said. "The ball is in their court as far as I'm concerned."
"We are under no obligation to renegotiate. We have a contract until 2016," board member Harry Whidden added.
Hurlburt said one thing that may be in the library's favor is that when the original agreement was executed the city promised to take care of the administrative tasks at no charge and has done so ever since.
"In 1984, when the city was basically begging the townships ... to enter a very unique agreement that most cities this size don't have - they get no support from the towns outside the local county tax, which is minimal - but one of the things the city promised is that they would do the bookkeeping and such for free," he said.
In the end, Baer said the board's best course of action is to watch and wait.
"We need to sit and wait, just sit and wait to see what the city does," she said. "I don't think we'll have to wait very long."
Marcus Nesemann may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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