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Library board's violation needs to be explained

The DeKalb Public Library on Oak Street. (Daily Chronicle file photo)
The DeKalb Public Library on Oak Street. (Daily Chronicle file photo)

DeKALB – The DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office will be sending a letter of inquiry to the DeKalb Public Library Board regarding a violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

The letter will ask the board “to explain what happened and why the violation has occurred, and how they intend to remedy the situation for the future,” DeKalb County State’s Attorney John Farrell said.

Farrell added that no one has contacted his office requesting an investigation into the matter, but through media reports discovered “that there’s an apparent violation by their own admission.”

“We would look into something that is absolutely in violation of the law, certainly potential criminal prosecution,” Farrell said. “In this case, it looks like they know they messed up.”

Farrell plans to send the letter today and give the board seven days to respond. Though he said it’s premature to say what course of action could be taken, violations of the Open Meetings Act can be enforced through civil or criminal penalties.

Violation of the act is a Class C misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $1,500 and 30 days in jail.

The library board will take corrective action at its next meeting after it inadvertently failed to follow the Illinois Open Meetings Act by voting to enter into a purchase agreement to buy the former DeKalb Clinic in closed session May 12, the library’s attorney, Gary Cordes, said Wednesday. The Open Meetings Act mandates that the purchase of property be done in open session.

The property owned by the clinic was sold for $1.8 million so that the library can move forward with constructing a new 89,000-square-foot facility.

Alice Freier, administrator of the DeKalb Clinic, said the library board has been working with the clinic on the project for about a year. The clinic staff and board understands that while the old clinic facilities are “near and dear to us” since they were used for 60 years, that it would be difficult to reuse the buildings.

“It’s a wonderful thing from the clinic’s perspective, who wanted to heal people and make people feel better, to transition into a library, where people can go in and get respite,” Freier said during a phone interview Wednesday, as well as be a resource to the entire community during tough economic times.

The next steps in the process include approving a building program – a 218-page document to guide the design process – and hiring an architect.

Fred Schlipf, the library’s building consultant, said Thursday that he expects the board to formally approve the building program at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Aug. 11.

A meeting agenda is not posted on the library’s website, and messages left with library director Dee Coover were unreturned Thursday. Also, messages left with all eight board members were unreturned Thursday, with the exception of Alan Genis, who referred questions to Cordes.

The board hired Schlipf to study the current facility and create a building program, “a cookbook for the architect,” Schlipf said.

“It doesn’t tell (the architect) what the building is going to look like, but it tells him in great detail about how it’s going to function and what spaces it will need to function,” Schlipf said.

What Schlipf and the board arrived at was an 89,000-square-foot facility – more than four times the size of the current building.

Some of the features, Schlipf said, include building at least two levels, having just one entrance and a focus on meeting space.

“All libraries these days have a wide variety of programs, particularly for children,” Schlipf said. “But also most libraries – once they build a space – find that with a little bit of tweaking it becomes a community space as well.”

The new building will be designed so that community meeting space still can be used when the rest of the library is closed. This can be done by putting meeting rooms and public restrooms between two sets of doors; the inner set, leading into the library’s holdings, can be locked when the library closes, Schlipf said.

He said they arrived at the total square footage by adding up the parts needed – books, seating, computers and meeting rooms.

“It’s not a lavish library, it’s a practical library,” Schlipf said.

In an e-mail response, Coover referred to a new section on the library’s website answering frequently asked questions about the land purchase, which will be updated daily, according to the website.

Among the questions is one about the existing building. While no final plans for the building have been determined, the board’s goal “is to make this building accessible to the community in perpetuity,” according to the website.

The 218-page building program is also available in the FAQ section of the website.

On the net

A new section on the DeKalb Public Library's website answers frequently asked questions about the library's land purchase:

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