The Hamilton East Public Library Board approved a new resolution during a special meeting Sept. 12 that states the board “acts and speaks as a single government entity” and restricts individual board members from exercising the powers of the board without explicit authorization.
The HEPL special session was the first meeting with Tiffanie Ditlevson as board president and Bill Kenley as a newly appointed board member.
The resolution was drafted by Board Vice President Craig Siebe and focused on the roles and boundaries of the board. It was a response to individual board members who authorized expenses for “law firms to essentially act as PR agents,” Siebe said. Later in the meeting, Payne said former board President Laura Alerding, Noblesville Schools’ previous appointee to the library board, authorized the board’s previous legal counsel to write her media releases, which she would edit.
“I would like to get away from individual board members serving as spokespeople for this library and for this board. It is not our role to do so,” Payne said.
Payne suggested approving Siebe’s resolution Sept 12 immediately, pending legal review. However, Ditlevson and Ray Maddalone, board secretary, expressed concern about approving it before legal review. Ditlevson said she believed the board collectively knows what is out-of-bounds now after past mistakes. Payne disagreed.
Ditlevson said the board’s previous legal counsel — who Payne said quit — and one of the current legal firms the board spoke with recommended hiring a public relations team. Ditlevson mentioned hiring a public relations team in a statement to library patrons, parents and stakeholders, including in the meeting documents.
Payne said public relations is not a specialty of law firms.
Ditlevson said there have been times when things have happened and the board has been silent, to which Payne asked if Ditlevson was referring to media requests. Micah Beckwith, board member, said yes and said misinformation has been coming from Payne’s side of the board.
Beckwith said he wasn’t going to stay silent to the public.
“We have to respond,” Beckwith said. “This is the problem, we all are individually appointed by elected members of our community, we have the right to say what we want to say based on their appointments.”
The resolution also touched on the powers of board members versus the power of Edra Waterman, executive director of the library.
“I think so much of our problems come down to a fundamental misunderstanding of what the seven of us represent versus Edra,” said Andre Miksha, assistant secretary/treasurer. “She is the executive. She operates the library day-to-day. If there’s an emergency, she responds to it. She operates under the policies and the general direction the seven of us establish through resolutions and policies that we enact. We don’t sit every day, she does.”
Because there were disagreements on other paragraphs in the resolution, the library board motioned to vote on the first two paragraphs.
The first paragraph stated that the board “acts and speaks as a single government entity.”
Paragraph two stated individual board members cannot exercise the powers of the board unless explicitly authorized by the bylaws or other formal action of the board, and individual board members can’t direct the operation of the library, give directions to library staff, contractors or professional service providers or incur expenses or other liabilities on behalf of the board or the library without express authorization of the board.
The vote carried in favor of the first two paragraphs with no opposition. The board also agreed on having hourly legal counsel for the rest of 2023.
The next HEPL board meeting is at 6:15 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Fisher’s library, 5 Municipal Dr.