Thursday, May 6, 2010

Info about Merger Vote, the House Amendment and other matters

The following message was posted to the WMRLS email discussion list on May 5:

Dear WMRLS Member Libraries, Friends of WMRLS, the We Love Western Mass Libraries FaceBook Group, and other library colleagues: 

We have been receiving questions about the effect of regional members voting for or against the merger of their Regions.  In a discussion with the attorney who is helping the MBLC and the Regions with the proposed merger of the regions into the Massachusetts Library System, I received the basic answer, which follows.  [NOTE:  There is quite a bit more to think about and consider – the long answer – that is contained in the Word document attached to this message. We hope you will read it.] 

The short answer is that a corporation cannot be forced to merge.  At a Council of Members meeting (the WMRLS meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Tuesday, May 25, at the Agawam Public Library), 2/3 of the voting members attending the meeting, or voting by some other means, is required to approve that Region’s merger. 

You probably saw the MBLC Executive Director Rob Maier’s announcement late yesterday about the outcome of the House version of the FY11 budget.  Included for regional account (7000-9401) was language requiring the MBLC to fund at least 2 regions, one serving the West and the other serving the Eastern part of the State.  There are many issues entailed.  Please open and read the attachment to get a fuller understanding of all that is involved, at least as far as I can muster at this moment. 

Thank you for your consideration and support of WMRLS and all the Regions. 

John Ramsay
Regional Administrator, WMRLS

Merger Issues for Members to Consider
I have spoken with the attorney who is assisting the MBLC and Regions with the proposed merger into one administrative organization.  I basically asked, “What happens if the members of a region do not vote to merge?”  He said that a corporation cannot be forced to merge.  So, if a 2/3 vote in favor of merging (by authorized voting representatives from member libraries) is not achieved at a Regional Council of Members meeting, that region is not part of the merger.  But, wait, there’s more to it than just that!  

Funding.  A crucial issue is money.  Regional library systems rely almost entirely for their operations, staff and services on State funds from  MBLC account 7000-9401.  Both the Governor’s and House versions of the FY11 State budget did not include an increase in the funds in the account.  So, thus far, the situation budget-wise is still dire for this account.  

MLS.  The MBLC has already designated the Massachusetts Library System as the recipient of funds from the regional account for FY11. See MBLC press release at  

Amendment 548.  Language was included in the FY11 budget that requires the MBLC to fund at least 2 Regions, WMRLS and the Massachusetts Library System (MLS).   This budget language amendment was proposed by a large number of Western State Representatives in response to unprecedented advocacy from their concerned constituents.  It is important that everyone understand that no WMRLS staff were involved in the filing or wording of this amendment.  We do sincerely applaud our Representatives for taking action on the input from Western Region librarians and library supporters.  

Could WMRLS operate under House Amendment 548 if the regional account is level-funded?  Our preliminary estimate is that WMRLS could provide its key services, but this is contingent on some assumptions and negotiations that have not yet even been broached.  As a long-term and sustainable solution, especially if State fiscal constraints continue, it is very questionable whether WMRLS could continue as a “standalone” region for the foreseeable future.  A total reversal of the State funding picture would be needed, and this is not anticipated in the near future.  

State Budget Process.  There are many steps remaining in the budget process.  We do not know if the Senate will try to incorporate the same language that appeared in the House budget.  And what will the Senate funding level be for library accounts?  If there are differences between the legislature’s versions of the budget and language, a House / Senate Conference Committee would need to resolve those differences.  After that, the Governor could still issue a line item veto of that account.  To reverse such a veto, both the House and Senate would need to override it.  So, the House budget is just a part of the process.    

Funding, Again.  It has been stated since the very start of the merger process that the 6 regions have been doing important and cost-effective work to assist libraries across the State.  Can more funds be appropriated by the State?  We do not know.  

Statewide Effort.  We at WMRLS and across the State appreciate all the efforts by library supporters and State Representatives to advocate for regional services and State support of library services in general.  It is only through a statewide effort, not from just one area, that additional funding might be possible.  This is true whether WMRLS remains on its own or WMRLS is part of the consolidated MLS.  WMRLS has a long tradition of working with and for the whole state in improving library services.  It will take a serious and massive advocacy effort, with help from the Massachusetts Library Association and many more people, to reverse the downward budget spiral for libraries and their regions and the other organizations that exist to help libraries.  As one of our members offered at a roundtable to discuss the merger, “Only those that attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible.”  Maybe we all need to try as hard as we can.  

Thank you,
John Ramsay
Regional Administrator, WMRLS 

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