Loma Colorado Main Library

(Editor’s note: Gary Herron was a member of the Friends of the Library of Rio Rancho in the past, and in 2010, he served on the board of directors.)

It appears the war between the City of Rio Rancho and the Friends of the Library of Rio Rancho is over.

The city disconnected itself from the Friends, but the private nonprofit group will continue to operate in the City of Vision.

In June, Library and Information Services Director Lynette Schurdevin and an assistant city attorney said the city would take all book donations, take over monthly book sales and bookstores at both libraries and require all volunteers in the libraries to become city volunteers.

The Friends pointed to a 2018 memorandum of understanding between them and the city, saying donations from the public and materials culled from the libraries and donated to the Friends belong to the nonprofit.

According to a mass email from Friends leadership to members, Acting City Manager Peter Wells, with the support of Mayor Gregg Hull, said he was unilaterally terminating the 2018 MOU, calling it “garbage.” The Friends’ funding of all library programs since the 2009 recession was termed “a mistake” on the city’s part, according to the email.

Thus, with the termination of the MOU, the Friends must remove their property from the libraries.

Since the termination of the MOU, the Friends are spending money that could be used to support libraries to rent space, but the city will use paid library staff instead of Friends volunteers to manage future library donations and the in-library book stores, according to the email. The city will have to replace the equipment the Friends provided for free.

Friends president Joe Driear said, “The Friends of the Library are deeply saddened that the Rio Rancho city administration has chosen to terminate the 2018 agreement between the Friends and the City, and thus to dissolve the 37-year-old partnership that brought libraries to Rio Rancho and helped make them great.

“However, as an independent non-profit public charity, the Friends will continue to exist, to have book sales when the pandemic eases and to support libraries and literacy because we value them.”

Complaints and responses

The city memo withdrawing from the 2018 MOU laid out the following complaints and a Friends email gave the following defenses.

Complaint: The Friends have denied library requests for money, including requests to make up for shortfalls in funding from general obligation bonds.

Response: In the past three years, the Friends funded 416 grant requests for $75,547 and only one was rejected ($350 for public document-shredding freely available elsewhere). This summer, the Friends paid for the Summer Reading Program bags mailed in June and the books mailed in July, and gave $2,134 to pack and post the two mailings.

Complaint: The Friends use public property to operate and sell books and media that taxpayers bought.

Response: About 0.5 percent of what Friends sell comes from the library-collection discards; 99.5 percent comes from community donations.

Complaint: The Friends have a reserve fund they insist on maintaining even when librarians need the money.

Response: The Friends have reported income, expenses and reserves to city staffers every month for more than 10 years. The reserve is used to replace and add new equipment ($12,877 in the last four years), to pay bills in the pandemic and to support the city if and when it builds a new library. (Friends contributed $110,000 to the Loma Colorado Main Library.) The Friends have never denied a library program grant request based on these reserves.

City spokeswoman Annemarie Garcia said the city wouldn’t comment on statements or documents provided by Friends members.

“However, city legal counsel and city officials met with Friends’ legal counsel at the end of July,” she continued. “While we won’t comment specifically on what was discussed at the meeting, I will say that they discussed unresolved issues.”

According to the memo, librarians want administrative oversight of property, fundraising and donations, which will provide revenue for programs and materials.

Friends member Mary Roskom said, “It’s a lose-lose, no matter how you look at it. There is so much anger and hurt in our group, I wouldn’t want to make any decisions too quickly.”

In his statement to the Observer, Hull said, “I appreciate FOL’s past contributions. However, as I have learned more about the FOL and city relationship over the years and reviewed operational recommendations from professional staff, it is clear change is prudent.

“The services provided by our libraries are a key component of what makes Rio Rancho an outstanding community. And, like many other things, in order to sustain and improve over time, adjustments and evolution are necessary.

“The opportunity to support Rio Rancho libraries via volunteerism remains open to FOL members, as well as all other community members, and is encouraged and valued.”