Loudoun County supervisors will this year ask the General Assembly for legislation allowing the county board to seize the powers of the Loudoun County Public Library Board of Trustees.
Like the School Board, although the Board of Supervisors provides the budget for the public libraries, the Board of Trustees is the library’s governing body, deciding on library programming and how to use those funds. Unlike the modern School Board with elected representatives, members of the library board are appointed by the Board of Supervisors, and the library system leans on the county for administrative functions like human resources and payroll management.
But County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) likened the library board to the county’s other advisory boards.
“Technically, the library board is a governing body, so I certainly understand why they don’t want to lose that, but the way I feel about our advisory boards and bodies, I don’t see the library board as a higher board or an advisory board as a lesser board,” Randall said during the Nov. 16 Board of Supervisors meeting.
Loudoun’s library system is considered among the best in the country, regularly winning national acclaim including in July being recognized with an honorable mention for Library of Year, in part for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Loudoun, like most Virginia counties, is required by state law to create a body that governs its public libraries, including control of funding put toward the library system. County supervisors came into conflict with the library Board of Trustees in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when they decided—by email, rather than in a public meeting, and with no advance notice—that they would take over the Rust and Ashburn library buildings to use for daytime childcare services for county employees while schools were closed. County Attorney Leo Rogers reasoned that because the buildings are owned by the county government, the Board of Supervisors could do that. Ultimately, the libraries were not needed for that service—which got lower-than-anticipated enrollment even after opening signups to all families countywide—and supervisors relented and allowed those libraries to reopen.
In October 2020, members of the Board of Supervisors’ finance committee, discussing the possibility of taking over the authority of the library board, said it was not about that conflict, but about collective bargaining.
This October, the Loudoun library board unanimously voted to ask supervisors to seek an amendment to state code that would permit library boards to negotiate with their employees in a collective bargaining arrangement. Supervisors instead will seek to make those library employees their own, bringing them under existing collective bargaining law. And the state’s newly authorized collective bargaining ordinance for public employees is also what gave some supervisors pause on that change.
“I’ve struggled with this because I’ve been generally supportive of the notion that the libraries should be fully under the county umbrella,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). “I think this is probably the year I’m just not going to support this even though this will be the year it might pass, because I’m just too uncertain on how the collective bargaining situation is going to play out.”
Supervisors voted to add that change, giving them the option to take over the powers of the library board, to the county’s legislative agenda 5-3-1, with Letourneau and Supervisors Caleb E. Kershner (R-Catoctin) and Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) opposed and Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian) absent for the vote.