Analysis | Definitive Account: “Supervisors finalize their end of new HCLS library agreement”

Dwayne Bremer was at Hancock Board of Sups meeting, which was dominated by Hancock County Library system Executive Director Courtney Thomas raising a ruckus over the proposed new inter-local agreement because it gives the County, the system’s largest financial contributor by far, a majority of the new Library Board seats. Ms. Thomas currently has a “handpicked board” per Ward 6 Bay St Louis Councilman Josh Desalvo at Tuesday’s Council meeting. That pretty much sums up the crux of the controversy with speculation running rampant that the reason Executive Director Thomas is acting out so is because she fears for her job. Meantime the clock is ticking per Dwayne’s story:

A few months ago, supervisors voted to opt out of the current agreement, saying — among other things — that the current agreement is out-dated and unfair to the county.

If a new deal is not reached by Sept. 30, the county would no longer provide funding for the library system.

The original inter-local agreement that created the library system is about 25 years old and does not include the city of Diamondhead and its library.

This gets me to Tuesday’s Council meeting. At an earlier Supervisor meeting both Councilmen Reed and Seal asked the Sups to reconsider opting out of the current library inter-local but that request to kick the can never stood a chance. The issue of Library over staffing has put a strain on the relationship between the last 2 Boards of Sups and the current library Board.  It has popped in and out of the news cycle for the last three years including Thomas closing the Diamondhead branch for a brief time before the last election, an act that from outward appearances was designed to show the Sups who was Boss and that gets me to this snippet on who contributes what to the current inter-local:

Hancock County is the largest contributor to the library system, but it only has two of the county’s five libraries (Pearlington and Kiln).

The county collects 2.65 mils for the library system annually, which generates about $1.3 million. Bay St. Louis collects 2.65 mils, which generates about $300,000, and Waveland charges its residents three mils, which produces about $180,000

For Thomas, she appears to have bitten the hand that feeds her organization which is generally a very ill advised act. Even better was Tuesday’s Bay St Louis Council meeting where Councilmen Doug Seal suddenly became math challenged on his numbers about what the “City of Bay St Louis” actually contributes to the system and agreed with Thomas on the Bay needing an outsized voice on the new library board.

The public forum and ensuring Council discussion was at times very good political theater with Councilmen Desalvo and Zimmerman demonstrating the best reads on the whole issue while at other times the grandstanding was a bit overdone. Also watching the live stream of the meeting was Board of Sups President Blaine Lafontaine and I put myself in his shoes to analyze this situation.

The County library millage will end on September 30 and it will cost the City of Bay St Louis far more than the $300,000 they currently give to support the inter-local agreement to operate the Bay St Louis branch with all the staff Director Thomas has there. But before I drive home how inferior the City’s negotiating position is to that of the County we need to repeat a snippet from Dwayne’s must read story one more time:

Hancock County is the largest contributor to the library system, but it only has two of the county’s five libraries (Pearlington and Kiln).

The County could operate those branches for a fraction of the money they currently contribute to the inter-local and simply tell the Cities they are on their own. I’ve spoken with one elected official from the City of Bay St Louis and have seen certain email communications from a County elected official on this topic and this is what I learned: The Bay certainly does not want to go it alone due to the price tag of operating its own library and the County Board of Sups does not appear to be of a mind to renegotiate the agreement everyone (this means the BSL has a representative there too) indicated they could live with before the Sups approved it at their meeting Monday 5-0.

Therein is where the logical fallacy Thomas keeps peddling about Bay St Louis and Waveland contributing the lions share of the library budget lay. After all, if that were actually true, the City would not need the Board of Sups to participate in an inter-local agreement because they already would already have all the money they need to operate those two branches.

Finally I personally an amused with all this award winning hype the library folks bandy about like candy. Overstaffed compared to its peers by close to a factor of 2, winning library beauty contests should be easy.

The bottom line here is Director Thomas knows the new proposed level of support per the new inter-local will require her to make some hard decisions. The County is willing to share its savings with the Cities but they will need to get on board with the new inter-local agreement to realize those savings.

Judging from her vigor in trashing the County Board of Sups at Tuesday’s Council meeting along with spreading half truths in social media, it appears Director Thomas may not be up to the tasks that certainly lie ahead for her. We’ll be keeping an eye on this.

8 thoughts on “Analysis | Definitive Account: “Supervisors finalize their end of new HCLS library agreement””

  1. Doug,
    What has me puzzled is this: The Library Board Pres. and Director told the Bay Council Tuesday night that the reason they like to pick their own Board members is because they don’t want it to get political. They don’t want politicians picking Board members.
    But who is promoting their petition on the Library Facebook page? A far, far left political organization, actionnetwork.org!!!
    So, they tell the local politicians who fund them with our money to butt out, while they promote their “cause” with what is described as a group of “aggressive progressives.”
    Research for yourself http://www.actionnetwork.org and draw your own conclusions.
    Doesn’t pass the smell test with me.
    PS: wonder if that Petition is costing the Library Foundation anything$$$

    1. Lana, they just want their own politics. Appoint those who agree with you. They only need the elected officials and general tax payer to get the money. It is obvious they want immunity from the electing public.

      The action committee the are with are as far left as one could get. Non profits are not supposed to support or PAC politics. This may be another investigation.

      1. Questioning,
        The strange thing here is the Library Board has their own attorney, Michael Haas, Jr. competent, comes from an old, established, well respected legal firm in the County. Surely he could have drawn up a petition for them to circulate in the community to garner support for the library.
        If you look at the petition on the Library System Facebook page, in the upper left corner it says
        actionnetwork.org.
        Strange and troubling at the same time!!??

      2. Councilman Desalvo pointed out Tuesday night then when you go to a political body for money, you are playing politics.

        I always try to look at the big picture. It seems to me the Library Director’s conduct, with all the accompanying venom, is endangering the overall system not helping it.

        As Lana pointed out a few days ago the new Bay Council is finding out there is no such thing as a money tree to close the gap in next years budget. Currently there are policemen without adequate vests, there is a need for additional investigative staff along with a desperate need for a permanent police station. The list of needs that comes with 8 years of absolute neglect is very long.

        The BSL Council meme about it ain’t being broke is nothing but a form of denial. Obviously the Sups think something is broke and they write the biggest check. Left unsaid in the post above but also absolutely true is besides the grandstanding and moments of great political theater the denial of there even being a problem was an act of political cowardice.

        If the Council prioritizes the featherbedding at the Library over the Chief’s men having decent vests and no police station that is their prerogative. Just seems to me we have the tail wagging the dog over at the Bay City Hall complex these days.

        1. Wow 😳 saw Facebook tape! Ms Thomas’ display: appalling at least….Sups didn’t just say it, they researched it……previous BSL Mayor & Councils have been complaining about double taxation for years and now they “no guts, praise Library glory and then only address one appointment as issue…. Chicken scratch, fix BSL first, let Sups fix Library……Put Referendum on Congressional Elections in 2018 and I believe all County folks will vote “all pay thru County millage”. Period!!!!!!

          1. Fact,
            You are 100% correct. The fact that the Lions share of property taxes on Bay Saint Louis tax payers is county tax. The property owners in the county get many tax breaks on their so called agriculture land it is ridiculous and puts the burden back on City Dwellers.

            It is a county library. It needs single source funding then you will find out the importance of it when the county folks are not re subsidized by the city folks.

            The same goes for non profits that pander the county, port, cities, state agencies etc…It is all the same tax payer and receiving many times from the same person to make it look as if any one entity is only giving a little.

            It is a shame. How many non profits can a small county support.

            Libraries and Chamber of Commerce’s and other Non Profits are not required functions of government. They get gifts from tax payers and you should never look the gift horse in the mouth the way that they do.

  2. Desalvo is asking hard questions. That is a good thing.

    Not only do these nonprofits politically solicit politicians for money, it is stated on the chamber web site that belonging to them makes you more politically connected. Yes, they wine and dine politicians to pander money and contracts.

    Port Bienville gives them $15K a year but the chamber does not include them as a government entity that feathers their nest. Read their proposal.

    The Library is another arm of the chamber as they flow their foundation moneys through the chamber along with many other non profits. This flow of cash through the chamber comes with a service fee to the chamber. The Library Foundation Manager is a board member of the chamber and the directors brother is the attorney.

    The system has gone unchecked for many years. Actually the last check was when the previous director was arrested for mishandling funds some 15 years ago. If the cash is followed, in many cases it flows through an arm of the chamber that manages all participating nonprofits with tax payer money flowing with it.

  3. Asking the hard questions are easy, let’s wait till they vote. We should contract it out along with the hospital and the Bay PD. The private sector will be more efficien and effective. Government employees get too complacent and are too expensive. Regan said it best ” the best minds are not in government, if they were business would steal them away”. Take a look at the court house on Main St. The shingles have been missing for years and the ceiling between the columns is falling and rotten. While the supervisors do nothing about it.

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