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Omaha would elect public library board under proposed bill

Posted at 6:02 AM, Feb 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-15 07:02:36-05

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — Under a new proposed bill, Omaha citizens would elect their library board members.

After months of the public voicing their concerns about moving the Downtown library at library board meetings and city council hearings, their message has been heard in Lincoln by Senator Terrell McKinney.

“The people of Omaha have reached out to me in mass to express their concerns with the operations of the public library board," McKinney said. "I do have a platform to stand in solidarity with the people of Omaha and to their opposition to what has happened with the library board as of late.”

McKinney’s bill, LB1256, would require metropolitan cities to host elections for public library boards members. Only Omaha is meets the falls in this category, as metropolitan cities have to have 300,000 or more residents.

Right now Omaha’s library board is appointed by Mayor Jean Stothert and approved by the Omaha City Council.

RELATED: Omaha council approves downtown library move

This is a process citizens are questioning, saying the board seems to be working for the mayor more than the people. Several citizens testified in favor of the bill on Monday during a General Affairs Committee.

“Appointments rarely are focused on what is best for the library, while other city business can take priority in that decision," said Nicole Wheeler, owner of the Dundee Book Company and co-director of the Omaha Lit Fest.

Others proponents of the bill said the board needs more diversity to represent all districts of the city.

“Right now Omaha library’s trustees are concentrated in wealthy, primarily white neighborhoods in West Omaha and a small wealthy section of Midtown," said Kimara Snipes, who is an employee of the library but was not there as their representative. "There is practically no representation from North or South Omaha and it shows in the decisions that are being made.”

This bill would have citizens elect a board member from each city council district, as well as two at-large members from the Omaha metro. Members would serve for four-year terms.

Mayor Jean Stothert's chief of staff, Thomas Warren, was the only opponent to the bill to speak. He said he believes the board and city have been transparent with the process of moving the Downtown library, and that the board is a diverse in its appointments.

“Converting the Omaha Public Library board to an elected board, would undermine the authority of the mayor and politicize these voluntary appointments," Warren said.

Warren said creating an elected board would cause an undo burden on the system, which could impact programs and services.

Citizens who spoke on Monday, say they feel creating an elected board is necessary to draw a clearer line between the mayor and the library.

“There is no trust established," Snipes said. "There is no accountability. And this would change if the board were elected.”

Members of the committee asked several questions about the process of appointing board members and what other changes could be made to solve the issue of public trust in the board.

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