Cheryl Everett

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another …” — Declaration of Independence by the American colonies, 1776

“Libraries need Friends …” — American Library Association website, 2020

If the City of Rio Rancho and the Rio Rancho Friends of the Library could agree in principle on both statements, it could help avert a messy divorce and start building new groundwork for this and future partnerships between the city and engaged citizens.

Briefly, the Friends — a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation — are asserting “ownership” of the proceeds of their fund-raising activities, and their right to remit those proceeds to the city on their own terms. The city seeks to gain sole control of what it considers to be city assets and to supervise all volunteer activity on city premises.

Disclosure:  I am a dues-paying but otherwise inactive member of Rio Rancho Friends.  I once directed over 300 volunteers in a variety of roles at a large public hospital that valued volunteers as a goodwill asset.

I was alerted to the current clash by a Friends email seeking support for their continued operation of book sales. The Friends furnished me with copies of their bylaws and a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the city on respective administrative and fiscal roles.

The city’s “side” is laid out in a lengthy memo from Acting City Manager Peter Wells.  Attorneys are involved on both sides.

As a former city councilor, I flinch at this line in the current MOU:  “… all donations from the public, and such materials culled from the library and donated to the Friends, are the sole property of the Friends.”

The cities of Albuquerque and Santa Fe have the same “ownership” arrangement as Rio Rancho’s. But our Friends group has reportedly denied some city funding requests while carrying a hefty balance in its treasury.

At the same time, the Friends operate an impressive array of library programs. Books for Babies.  Used Bibles for needy families. Summer reading program.  Not to mention nearly $300,000 raised and donated to the libraries since 2007.

I sometimes feel that the city gives short shrift to citizens and civic groups, regarding them as a nuisance and a distraction to professional staff in the performance of their duties. And as I’ve noted before, the last Rio Rancho community survey reported that only 47 percent of residents feel the city welcomes citizen involvement in government.  To me, these issues should concern elected officials who represent those citizens.

Quotes from some city spokespeople have an adversarial tone.  The Friends group is reportedly unwilling to yield. When I spoke with Rio Rancho Friends president Joseph Driear, the tone was one of resigned sadness.

My suggestion: Scrap the current MOU and work from an online template created by the American Library Association to guide libraries’ working agreements with their Friends groups.

As things stand now, the city will “win.”  And the community will lose.

(Cheryl Everett is a Rio Rancho resident and former city councilor.)