Public Comment

Commentary: Sunshining the Selection of Library Trustees

By Gene Bernardi, Peter Warfield and Jane Welford
Tuesday May 08, 2007

Should Berkeley’s City Council continue to rubber-stamp the Board of Library Trustees’ (BOLT’s) choice for trustee at its Tuesday May 8 meeting? Or, will the council hold off on re-appointing the incumbent trustee, Susan Kupfer, so that the ad hoc Committee for Sunshining Selection of Library Trustees, which the council itself set up, can continue and conclude the work it has begun? 

The library is a public institution that should be run in a public way. The City Council should control the trustee application and selection process from start to finish, in contrast to the custom of BOLT selecting a nominee and the City Council approving their nomination without considering any others. 

What happens now and in the next few months will affect the library for many years to come. That is because current Trustee Kupfer’s first term expires May 13, and Trustee Laura Anderson’s second and final term ends Oct. 1. Two years ago the library trustees selected Trustee Ying Lee (and the City Council appointed her) because of a strongly expressed need for someone who could relate to the community. Trustee Lee is persevering and is reflecting the needs of the community, including the library staff. But a minority of one on a five-member body is not enough. 

The library has been through several years of strife. A recent union report revealed that Berkeley Public Library is still short staffed. Money spent on malfunctioning technology could be better used to hire staff, extend library hours and buy books. The status quo must be changed. We need new direction. The council should allow trustee applicants to compete with the incumbent!  

With a BOLT vacancy looming on May 13, the City Council, on March 13, voted for a recommendation submitted by Councilmembers, Anderson, Moore and Mayor Bates to set up an ad hoc Committee for Sunshining the Selection of Library Trustees. Councilmembers Betty Olds and Kriss Worthington were appointed to serve on the committee, with Trustee Ying Lee and Library Trustees Board Chair Susan Kupfer. The committee’s mission is “to establish a more open and transparent process for selecting library board members.” 

Information about a library trustee opening was buried at the bottom of an April 13 lengthy press release titled “Ad Hoc Committee Works on Public Process for Potential Library Board Trustees... .”  

The last two paragraphs contained a call for applications for an upcoming library trustee vacancy and said that the application had to be submitted just five days later on April 18. Also, all interested applicants “must” be in attendance that very night at the Board of Library Trustees’ (BOLT’s) 7 p.m. meeting. 

Despite the extremely short application period, two candidates applied. One withdrew before the April 18 meeting. The other, Pat Cody, co-founder of Cody’s Books, met the deadline and attended the April 18 BOLT meeting as mandated. Yet Pat Cody’s application was not discussed at the meeting and she was not even given an opportunity to speak. The library trustees voted 3-1 (Kupfer recused) to recommend the re-appointment of incumbent Trustee Kupfer to a second four-year term.  

We think there is a problem in having an incumbent (Chair Kupfer) sitting on a committee which is set up to establish a more open and transparent process for selecting future library trustees.  

The Committee for Sunshining the Trustee Selection is making progress in achieving a more open and democratic process. We urge the City Council to allow this committee to complete its work in the next few weeks by postponing consideration of re-appointment of the incumbent, Kupfer, and if necessary, giving her a temporary extension of her term for the next few months.  

Please attend the City Council meeting tonight at 7 p.m. and/or contact the City Council, asking it to postpone consideration of re-appointing the incumbent so that the Committee for Sunshining the Trustee Selection process can finish its work. 


Gene Bernardi, Peter Warfield and Jane Welford are members of Berkeleyans Organizing for Library Defense (SuperBOLD). Warfield is also executive director of the Library Users Association.