Cullman Library Board accused of open meetings violation

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Nov. 21—Vinemont resident Shirley Arnett has accused the Cullman County Public Library Board of violating the Alabama Open Meetings Act after allowing board member Brenda Scott to participate in last month's meeting via cellphone.

The Library Board approved revisions to its bylaws in September which would allow for members to attend meetings electronically either by phone, teleconference or video chat. The boards specific reasoning at the time was to create an avenue for Scott — who had missed the past several meeting for health reasons — to continue participating in future meetings.

Arnett, whose three book challenges were struck down by the board in October, is now saying Scott's participation in the meeting was unlawful according to the Alabama Open Meetings Act.

In an email obtained by The Times, Arnett told the board she believed all business conducted during the October meeting should be considered null and void because an electronic meeting policy had not been established for the minimum requirement of 45 days. She also said Scott should no longer be considered a member of the board because she had been absent for more than three consecutive meetings prior to October.

Article III Section I of the Library Board bylaws state "three sequential absences by a member will be considered resignation."

As of Monday, Nov. 20, the board's bylaws did not contain an electronic meeting provision.

After being presented with the complaint Thursday, Nov. 16, the board, including Scott, unanimously reaffirmed all actions taken in the October meeting. Board member Rusty Turner mentioned how the actions would have been approved even without Scott's participation.

"There was a quorum here in person last month as well. So, that's probably the biggest thing, even if Ms. Scott's participation is not technically legal, there were plenty of people here," Turner said.

Arnett told The Times she had also sent her complaint to the Cullman County Commission who — because of the library board's autonomy — suggested she submit her complaint to the Alabama Ethics Commission. She told The Times on Friday, Nov. 17, she would likely be pursuing further action.

"They still are not following the law, Act 2022-421, so probably," Arnett said when asked if she planned to file an ethics complaint.

The board also rescinded a cease-and-desist letter which was sent in January to local non-profit group, Friends of the Public Libraries of Cullman County.

The friends group has acted as an autonomous organization which has raised more than $100,000 since its formation four years ago to fund various projects throughout the county library system. The group also acts as the Cullman County sponsor for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program.

Board member Drew Green, said the board's concern at the time of the letter was what he described as a "lack of accountability."

"There was not any accountability to us, we didn't know what [their] plans were or what was coming up, how much money [they] were anticipating making or what [they] were going to do with the money," Green said.

Current library board member and former friends board member Jill Meggs said the majority of these concerns were addressed during a meeting which took place between the two groups in June. She said while the library board is not allowed to have any direct authority over the friends group for legal reasons, she believed the friends were willing to meet with and discuss their activities regularly with the library board.

"I think any person who sits on the board of that organization would be willing to have those talks ... It's complicated because they are an autonomous group, but they do fundraise. It's like the foundation for the hospital where you have an affiliated associated fundraising arm raising funds for a certain organization. I think legally if you have a fundraising arm like that, you can't have direct input. We would just have to come together and have those discussions," Meggs said.

Meggs chalked the letter up to a "communication snafu" which could be easily remedied. The board approved to rescind the letter and even suggested approaching the friends group to help offset salary concerns over the library director position.