RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: New Governor Proclamation and Elections - 5/7/2020
The Gov has put out his new proclamation in regards to votes. At [our school district public libra...
Posted: Thursday, May 7, 2020 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

The Gov has put out his new proclamation in regards to votes. At [our school district public library] our vote has always been separate from the school vote but the gov's doc reads that our only option is to have the vote with the school or have it in Sept. Sept would not work since our fiscal year is July to June.

Also, a couple of us are not sure about the trustee election. Do we not hold trustee election since we do not currently have any petitions filed for the open seat, if that is the case can the board appoint until the next election[?]

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

As a prelude, readers may want to take a look at an earlier COVID-19-era “Ask the Lawyer” about library elections postposed per Executive Order 202.12, which ends with this promise:

If and when we get an update or “further directives,” we’ll post any update to this answer.”

As you can see, it took a few weeks, but we got those “further directives” on Friday, May 1, 2020,[1] in Executive Order 202.26.

Libraries don’t miss much.  On Monday[2] May 4th, we also got the above follow-up question.

So here is the promised update, and my answer to a conundrum like the one this “further direction” creates for the asking library.

But first…

If there is one thing providing this service to hundreds of libraries has taught me, it’s that running a library is hard.  And running a public library comes with an overlay of regulations and community politics that makes a hard job harder.

So for those libraries out there finding that this issue of rescheduled budgets and elections is making a hard job harder, I say: yes, it is.  The strain on your communities, staff, and leadership is growing every day, and it’s important to acknowledge that. 

Sometime, in the pressure of the moment, it can be hard to say that.  So, for libraries seeking a default way to unite and raise the spirits of your staff, leadership, and allies in information and community service, I suggest the following “2020 NY Libraries Chanty.”[3] Gather your board,[4] staff, and/or supporters on a Zoom call, or a teleconference, have them all face the direction of the library (this is important, even if you can’t see each other!), and recite:

It’s 2020. 

The books are still here. 

People still need us. 

These challenges are hard,

but we got this.

 

You can also add your own custom lyrics, like:

Located in a sunny glen

New Hartford Library faces ahead

Times are hard, the Town is strong

We’ll do yoga[5] here again ere long.

 

The importance of simple, affirmative, repeated affirmations like a chanty--or simply repeating a mission statement at the beginning and end of a meeting--can’t be over-stated--especially at this time. 

Further, since the notion of “normal” is starting to shift, it is vital that the slowly materializing “new normal” be infused with a united vision of a strong, community-focused, mission-forward library. 

This can be easy to overlook in the midst of emergency budget meetings and communicating about emergency closure.  A simple song or phrase, regularly repeated, can be a key component in buoying spirits and plotting a course for the future.

(And if you do craft a custom message, have a contest, because I bet your local youth can come up with better verses than I can.)

Okay, with the light verse out of the way, here is the hard stuff:

 

Timing of a School District Library Election

As you may recall, Executive Order 202.12 stated:

Any school board, library board, or village election scheduled to take place in April or May of 2020 is hereby postponed until at least June 1, 2020, and subject to further directive as to the timing, location or manner of voting for such elections.

So what does 202.26’s “further directive” do?  First, it expands on the impacted elections (seemingly including ALL of them, not just those set for May or June, as in 202.12), and as the member writes, seems to give only two timing options for conducting your votes.

This timing is found near the end of the Order, which states through May 31, 2020:

Any district or special district, including, but not limited to fire, library, sewer, or water, that conducts an election and/or budget vote shall be rescheduled to September 15, 2020 and collection of signatures for nominating petitions is hereby suspended until further notice, subject to a process determined by a future Executive Order; provided however, a library district may conduct an election on June 9, 2020 pursuant to this Executive Order if such election is managed by a school district.

However, a careful reading of the context of above-excerpted language[6] shows that those particular bullet of 202.26 only applies to “through May 31,” and that it pertains to “any district or special district” library.

In the meantime, earlier in this voluminous Executive Order (nine bullets deep), it states:

[P]ublic libraries established and supported by a school district [may] re-notice an election noticed pursuant to this section. Such election and/or budget vote shall be conducted via absentee ballot in conjunction with the school district’s rescheduled absentee ballot process or independently using the guidelines created for the school district’s absentee ballot process. Such a vote may be managed by the school district or the library, at the library’s request.

If you had eight cups of coffee the day you read it, you may recall that in the answer discussing EO 202.12, we discussed that the EO did not impact all school district library elections, since by law, those have to happen before July 1, and 202.12 only covered elections through May.

This detail now comes roaring back into relief as we dissect EO 202.26.  Upon a close analysis, it can be seen that this Order gives school district public libraries more latitude than district and special district libraries, in paragraphs such as:

Sections 259 and 260 of the Education Law are hereby modified for any library election held on or before July 1, 2020, to eliminate any requirement for an application to access an absentee ballot, and each such eligible voter shall be mailed an absentee ballot with a postage paid return envelope.

If school district public library votes limited to the June 9/September 15 options open to district and special district libraries, this bullet about “any” election before July 1 would be unnecessary.

What does this mean?  Well, as the Order says:

Such election and/or budget vote shall be conducted via absentee ballot in conjunction with the school district’s rescheduled absentee ballot process or independently using the guidelines created for the school district’s absentee ballot process.

Remember, both EO 202.12 and 202.26 modify Section 260 of the Education law, which (among other things) creates special rules for election and votes pertaining to school district public libraries. 

Section 260 provides:

7. The board of trustees of a public library established and supported by a school district shall, in addition to powers conferred by this or any other chapter, be authorized in its discretion to call, give notice of and conduct a special district meeting for the purpose of electing library trustees and of submitting initially a resolution in accordance with the provisions of subdivision one of section two hundred fifty-nine of this chapter. Such meeting shall be held prior to the first day of July but subsequent to the first day of April. Should the board of trustees of the library determine, in its discretion, not to notice and conduct such a meeting, then the election and budget vote will be noticed and conducted by the board of education of the school district as part of its annual meeting.

EO 202.12 did postpone any elections set for April or May (not June!), but left many details about petitions, notice, and voting for “further directive.” 

EO 202.26 now gives those further directions, and modifies Section 206 further to require a vote to happen either

…in conjunction with the school district’s rescheduled absentee ballot process or independently using the guidelines created for the school district’s absentee ballot process.

Further, the EO honors the autonomy of a school district public library by providing:

Such a vote may be managed by the school district or the library, at the library’s request.

What does this mean for a school district public library? 

First, they must work with their sponsoring district to obtain a copy of the guidelines developed for the absentee vote.

Second, they must decide if they have the capacity to manage the vote, or should request the district to manage it.

Third, if the library can manage it independently, they must abide by Education Law 206 and properly notice (or, as authorized, re-notice) and conduct the election and budget vote, per the guidelines adopted by their district, before July 1.

I see no provisions in Executive Order 202.26 limiting school district public library elections and budget votes to the June 9 or 15th dates. 

This might seem to be in contrast to the plain language of EO 202.26’s fourth-from-last bullet, which states: “provided however, a library district may conduct an election on June 9, 2020 pursuant to this Executive Order if such election is managed by a school district.”

However, that fourth-from-last bullet does not apply to school district public libraries—it applies to “library districts.”  Any other interpretation goes expressly against language in the ninth bullet stating that school district public libraries are expressly confirmed as having the authority to run their own election.

So unless we get an even further directive, or the state realizes they created an unintentional hole in the process here, it is clear that school district public libraries still have the authority to conduct their elections before July 1st…so long as they abide by the guidelines developed by their district for absentee voting.

I take this position on May 5, 2020, with a great deal of confidence, but must still acknowledge that I am out on a limb. These Executive Orders are constantly being revised and clarified by subsequent Executive Orders (202.26 “clarifies” 202.23’s provision about absentee ballots in its final bullet).  So while I believe this interpretation makes sense both under the law and within the borders of the document itself, school district public libraries scheduling, noticing and conducting their elections should conduct a clear, explicit, documented discussion with their sponsoring districts to make sure they agree that this is the way to proceed.

And we should all keep our eyes open for further clarification!

 

Trustee Election

Executive Order 202.26 also contemplates that getting candidates’ petitions over the finish line might be a little tough this year, so in that same “ninth bullet” devoted to school district public libraries, it provides:

Furthermore, the same provisions that are made for a school board trustee’s petition shall apply to a library board trustee’s petition.

These “provisions” for trustees’ petitions are in bullets[7] seven and eight:

  • Sections 2018, 2032, and 2608 of the Education Law to the extent necessary to allow candidates be listed on ballots alphabetically, and that ballots for small city school districts shall be set 30 days before the election;
  • Sections 2018 and 2608 of the Education Law to the extent necessary to eliminate any minimum threshold of signatures required, provided, however, an individual must meet any other requirements necessary to be placed on the ballot, including any applicable residency and age requirements;

The member asks “since we do not currently have any petitions filed for the open seat” should they simply appoint trustees, per their bylaws, until the next election?

These are incredibly unique (and hopefully rare!) circumstances, but remember, even at this unusual time, Section 206 (7), except as modified by Executive Order, governs school district public library elections.

That law specifically states:

Should the board of trustees of the library determine, in its discretion, not to notice and conduct such a meeting, then the election and budget vote will be noticed and conducted by the board of education of the school district as part of its annual meeting. [emphasis added]

This does not appear to be an “optional” process, and no active EO has changed it.  Therefore, if a school district public library does not conduct required election, the district must. 

Resorting to a bylaws appointment or deciding not to conduct the election is not an option.

Given all that, and considering the unique circumstances for 2020—incuding the newly relaxed requirements regarding trustee petitions—I advise that before not proceeding with an election process (and thus triggering mandated school district management of one), the board coordinate the quest for trustees with its overall response to the current situation. 

In other words, just like with all trustee recruiting, this is an opportunity to promote the mission of the library, and to recruit qualified people to help in the times ahead.

Here is a template recruitment notice for such an effort, referencing the current relevant Executive Orders, which could be modified for your library, and pushed out in both local media and on social media as well as the library's website:

Greetings from the [NAME] Library. 2020 has been an extraordinary year. In addition to changing our life in many ways, it has impacted the ability of potential trustees to petition to serve on the library's board of trustees (see Governor’s Executive Order 202.12).

Trustees play a vital role in our library: defining library policy, overseeing the budget, and deciding the library’s strategic directions.

The [NAME] Library’s current election, which due to emergency circumstances and per Executive Order 202.26 will be conducted via mail-in ballot, is scheduled for a [DATE]. If you are interested in serving as a library trustee, executive order 202.26 has changed the requirements, and now no signatures are required to put your name on the ballot.

If you are interested in submitting your name for election to this position , please [INSERT LOCAL GUIDELINES].

Service on the [NAME[] Library will be essential as our community recovers from the restrictions caused by COVID-19, and the years ahead. To help us serve that need, we seek candidates who know the community, who [INSERT BYLAWS’ TRUSTEE CRITERIA] and who believe that access to information and shared services will be a vital part of our recovery and the years ahead.

A final word: just like in the last answer regarding postponed elections, I must emphasize: if you can, now is the time for your school district public library to find a local lawyer to assist with your process, just to have back-up during uncertain times. 

I am always happy to get calls from local attorneys to strategize on these issues; sometimes local circumstances can throw a curve ball at an otherwise straightforward situation…and this situation is anything but straightforward!

School district public libraries: I wish you good luck in your recruitment, your elections, and your budget votes. 



[1] A day when many of us learned our children would not be return to school for the 2020 Spring semester.  So…not quite a “day that will live in infamy,” but definitely the day my law office receptionist got a new “duty as assigned”: remote kindergarten substitute teacher.

[2] May the fourth be with you.  Especially now.

[3] A “chanty” is a song sung (usually at sea) by people doing hard work together. Don’t worry, first amendment fans, this one is completely secular!

[4] If you gather the board this way, send a notice, since the notice provisions of the Education Law and the Open Meetings Law are still in effect.

[5] My Mom’s gentle yoga class at New Hartford Town Library has been on hold.

[6] Which, if you’re reading along with the Order, is four bullets from the end…jeez, I wish they’d number these things…

[7] “Bullet” sounds so punchy.

Tags: COVID-19, Elections, Emergency Response, Executive Order

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The WNYLRC's "Ask the Lawyer" service is available to members of the Western New York Library Resources Council. It is not legal representation of individual members.