Tensions from the Jan. 11 incident involving a Black teen being wrongfully accused of arson continued to permeate discussions during the Wednesday, April 19, East Lansing Public Library (ELPL) Board of Trustees meeting. But the board did work through a full agenda that included trustees facing a change in the board, questions about management of the minutes and the budget, bargaining with the workers’ union, and changes in a school district policy that may send more teens to the library after school.
The board approved a backlog of meeting minutes along with changes to the recordkeeping process.
When time came to approve the minutes of past meetings – something that hasn’t happened since the March 1 meeting – Trustee Ameenah Asante signaled she was prepared to approve the backlog of minutes but would make a motion to address what she felt was an inappropriate history of editing by ELPL Director Kristen Shelley.
As ELi previously reported, Asante believed Shelley had added “library policies were followed” to meeting minutes referring to the Jan. 11. The explosive incident involved Shelley calling the police on a Black teenager whom she wrongly identified as having been to blame for an earlier incident of alleged fire-starting in the men’s bathroom.
“I was able to devote some time to researching the different types of minutes, look into what minutes have taken place here in the board of the library, and just wanted to present some of the things that I found,” Asante said. “Last meeting, there was some discussion around what minutes are supposed to entail, how thorough they’re meant to be. There are different types of minutes. Some are more formal, some are more casual, but the most important thing is that minutes are the legal representation of a meeting and its official record.
“I also learned that minutes may contain contextual information, questions, answers, clarifications, discussions of decisions and also, rationale of why actions and deadlines, problems, amendments, as well as a summary.”
Asante continued, saying the current practice of the minutes being taken by Executive Assistant to the Director, Shori Teeple, and submitted to Shelley for approval and potential editing was not a practice she wanted to see continued.
“When I viewed some of the examples of the original minutes that were taken by the executive assistant,” Asante said, “and then viewed them in their edited state from library management, some of these examples removed individual accountability and insert[ed] the board’s agreement with such actions.”
She went on to cite the “library policies were followed” example, saying since the Jan. 11 incident was now under investigation by the East Lansing Human Rights Commission, if the minutes had remained altered, it might show the library trustees were in agreement with Shelley’s actions of Jan. 11.
After discussion with the trustees and referencing the exact wording in the board’s manual, Asante made a motion to “return the duties of the taking, editing, posting of the library board’s minutes to first the executive assistant, as well as the secretary of the library board, in accordance with the trustees bylaws and manual.”
The motion passed unanimously. Teeple explained that proposed (draft) minutes must be posted on the website within eight business days of the meeting.
Public comment saw two speakers: comments from a parliamentarian and a statement from the ELPL Workers Union.
Carol Prahinski, a faculty member in Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business and a professional parliamentarian, rose to offer her praise to the board for striving to improve their meeting minutes. She also offered her advice that the perfect time to offer edits for the minutes was in the public meeting before the body voted to accept them.
Gabby Kindig spoke on behalf of the Non-Supervisory Unit of the ELPL Workers Union, her colleagues standing with her.
“Our collective bargaining agreement will expire on June 30,” she said. “We have chosen our vocations within this organization because we deeply value the library as a social institution and we care greatly for the community that we serve. To that end, we look forward to a productive and collaborative bargaining period in the coming weeks as we work together with the administration to pursue our mutual guiding purpose of building a robust library for our patrons. We have worked diligently and thoughtfully on our contract proposals and we believe each of them would help create an even stronger library for our patrons. We look forward to the opportunity to discuss our proposals with administration.”
During the time set aside for old business, Director Shelley gave an update on the upcoming replacement of Trustee Diane Goddeeris, whose term is ending. She reported three new applications from the community and said there were others in the cache. President Polly Synk and City Council Liaison George Brookover will review the applications, conduct interviews and recommend someone to the city council to be appointed in time for Council’s June 6 meeting.
Synk and Asante then reported on the work of their subcommittee exploring the causes and aftermath of the Jan. 11 incident.
The committee of two indicated they’ve spoken several times with Shelley and Brice Bush, the assistant director, and have set the end of the month as a deadline to get a survey out to the community, with a plan to use both ELi and the high school student newspaper to share the survey.
Synk mentioned the goal of speaking with library staff during their work breaks, with the possibility of setting up times to speak with them at the library.
“For those of us not on the subcommittee,” Zaagman asked, “will we see the survey questions before they go out? Will it be presented as a survey from the board?”
“We have looked at it as a survey from the subcommittee,” Synk said, citing the necessity to not reach a quorum when discussing the survey outside of meetings because of the Open Meetings Act.
“Let me say this,” Synk said, “if you’d like to submit your ideas on what to ask, we will take your input and would love to see it.”
“Could you describe the tone and tenor of the questions?” Zaagman asked. “Is it limited to the scope of the subcommittee and the events of Jan. 11?”
“It is not just the incident,” Synk said, “but it also goes to teen and youth services, the library, how people feel about what they’d like to see continued, changed or added at the library, and if people feel comfortable at the library. That’s a very, very broad overview.”
Zaagman expressed concerns the survey might have very narrow parameters and about the audience it would reach. Asante said they hoped to reach beyond active library patrons.
Goddeeris went back to Synk’s earlier mention of speaking with library staff, expressing concern and hesitation.
“I have two hats here. I have a board member hat and then I have [a] past union member hat. And now that we have officially started, I assume by you giving us notice,” she said, motioning to the unioned library staff sitting in the audience, “that you’ve given the library notice, that you want to begin to have negotiations. Now, us meeting with them, that’s kind of a problem in the negotiations world. You can’t have another group getting information. There’s two groups. There’s management, the city, versus the collective bargaining.”
Synk asked whether she should speak with the steward of the union or someone else, with Brookover recommending she speak with the city’s labor attorney.
“They’re just going to say ‘no’,” said one of the library employees from the audience.
New business brought Shelley’s discussion of a new patron code of conduct she is working on.
“Brice and I have been looking at policies across the state,” she said, “And have met with the Capital Area District Library director out there and I have met with five or six other directors to see their policies. So we drafted a policy very much in line with the Capital Area District Library.”
The policy has gone out to library staff for review and feedback and, once that feedback is folded in, Shelley plans to share it with the board of trustees.
“And once the board has looked at it,” she continued, “it will go to the city’s attorney.”
Shelley said she would also be looking at the unattended child policy and the exclusion policy.
The one heated exchange of the meeting came during Shelley’s financial report.
“During the last meeting,” Asante asked Shelley, “when we were discussing possible funds for the subcommittee for some of the things we were looking for regarding an overall program audit…. I left that conversation with the understanding that there were no funds available. Is that correct?”
“No, there’s funds available,” Shelley said.
The two went back and forth several times, with Shelley clarifying that, while no set-aside funds existed, she could find funds for a strategic plan or a facilitator in restorative justice. She proceeded to tell Asante she had already reached out to three companies who could create a strategic plan.
“Because we’ve talked about it over and over again,” Asante said, “and now it’s ‘oh yeah, there’s money available, you just have to tell me what to do and who to find,’ and that’s why I’m surprised by it. I’m surprised by that. If we’ve talked about this in every meeting since this incident, we’ve talked about the need and importance of it, why then, has it been put off until the next fiscal year if it was needed and important.”
“Because that [2024 fiscal year] is when I had budgeted for a strategic plan,” Shelley said. “I had started to do [the] 2024 fiscal year budget at the end of the year , beginning of January.”
Their discussion continued for several minutes, bringing in other trustees, but with no resolution.
During her director’s report, Shelley remarked the library was averaging 50 teen visits a day.
Trustee Amy Zaagman asked if the school district had informed the library about the reduction of its after school programming. It had not.
On March 23, an email was sent to parents of high school students, informing them the After School Program (allowing students to sit in the cafeteria with a staff monitor after school) was being reduced to one hour on Mondays through Thursdays.
Trustees expressed concern that the district made this decision without informing the library, which would likely mean a larger group of teens in the library and no planned programming to meet the growing demand.
The next meeting of the library board of trustees will be Wednesday, May 17, at 4:45 p.m. in the large meeting room of the library.