Jessica Cejnar / Monday, Oct. 5 @ 4:22 p.m. / Elections, Local Government

With Only One Seated Member Left, the Three Current Candidates for the Library Board Will Likely Assume Office Early

The three candidates running for three open spots on the Del Norte County Library District Board of Trustees in the Nov. 3, 2020 general election will take their seats early.

Robin Fornoff, Ruth Rhodes and Marie Jondal will take three of the four seats recently vacated by Lupe Guiterrez, Sierra Smith, John Roberts and Colleen Luttrell, all of whom have resigned this year, County Clerk-Recorder Alissia Northrup told the Wild Rivers Outpost last week.

Northrup said she spoke with county counsel, Joel Campbell-Blair, who agreed that swearing the new members in early was a better option than leaving the Library District board without a quorum for two months.

“I spoke with all of the incumbents and they all agreed they would be willing to step up and serve early,” Northrup told the Outpost. “They’ll probably be sworn in and appointed to fill the last two months of the other (members’) terms and take office officially in December.”

Though Northrup said she’s waiting on the Library District board to set a date for swearing in its new members, there is only one sitting director at the moment -- Angela Stanley.

“It leaves the library in a really difficult position because we can’t take care of any business. Because there’s no quorum,” Stanley said. “What has been discussed between legal counsel and Ms. Northrup and myself is we ask the candidates who are to be voted on on Nov. 3 if they would take office early.”

The Library District board’s first resignation came on May 12, when Lupe Gutierrez left, Stanley told the Outpost.

Sierra Smith submitted her letter of resignation on Sept. 24, according to Stanley. Sierra Smith was absent at the Library Board's meeting Sept. 15.

After they found themselves at odds with Stanley on Sept. 15 over who should replace Gutierrez on the Library Board, Roberts and Luttrell submitted their resignation letters on Sept. 28.

Roughly four months after Gutierrez resigned, her former colleagues had narrowed her replacement down to two candidates — Uncharted Shores Academy teacher Andrew Napier and Susan Smith, education coordinator for the Tolowa Dee-ni' Nation's Early Learning Center.

Because of Sierra Smith's absence on Sept. 15, the Library District Board's vote on Gutierrez's replacement had to be unanimous for it to pass.

Following a heated debate, which included Susan Smith withdrawing her application, the three sitting members agreed to submit Napier’s name to the Board of Supervisors for approval.

Roberts’ assent, however, was reluctant.

“If I were to abstain, that would throw the whole thing into an uproar,” he said Sept. 15. “So, yeah, I vote for it.”

At the meeting, both Roberts and Luttrell said Susan Smith should replace Gutierrez on the library board. They were impressed with programs she had implemented at the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation and wanted to introduce them to the library.

“She’s had a lot of programs she got going with fathers and children reading together,” Roberts said. “She’s been to a lot of education classes through the Tolowa Dee-ni’ and I think a lot of her programs could easily be folded in.”

Luttrell also pointed out that Susan Smith has a master’s degree in education. Luttrell, reading from a letter of interest Susan Smith had submitted to the Library District board, stated that Susan Smith wanted to bring more of the local native culture brought into the library.

Stanley argued that since most of the Library Board’s members -- including she, Roberts and, until recently Luttrell -- were Smith River residents, equal representation on the board may be a good thing, noting that Napier lives in Crescent City.

However, Stanley said, that, alone, wasn’t the only reason she felt Smith wasn’t the right pick for the library board.

“The main reasons I prefer Andrew are his working in the school district, his Brown Act and his education code knowledge,” she said. “He’s done trainings on this and would be a great asset to the board.”

Roberts pointed out that Library Manager Beth Austen and the district’s legal counsel are versed enough in the Ralph M. Brown Act to guide the Board of Directors. Roberts said that since the vote on Gutierrez’s replacement had to be unanimous, Stanley was going to be the “one hold out.”

Roberts advocated for letting the Board of Supervisors know the Library District board couldn’t decide who Gutierrez’s replacement should be and have them make a decision.

“Another option would be to push this back until the new board takes over,” Roberts said. “At this point, I make a motion that we forward the two candidates to the Board of Supervisors to make the decision.”

Before Roberts’ motion could come to a vote, however, Susan Smith withdrew her application.

“I will make it easier on all of you, I am officially dropping out,” she said. “Thank you for the opportunity.”

Though Susan Smith withdrew her application to the library board of directors, Stanley said the Board of Supervisors will be asked to appoint either Susan Smith or Napier to fill Gutierrez’s vacancy. But, the library board didn’t take a vote on whether Susan Smith should join them, Stanley noted.

“Andrew Napier is the one we agreed on,” Stanley told the Outpost last week. “And I sent the recording to legal counsel and she said, ‘Well, the vote was a legal vote.’ There was no vote done for Susan. We had motions on the floor and I was doing the thing where we talk about it … and before a vote could be taken, she withdrew her application. Had we taken a vote, she would have won.”

In his resignation letter, Roberts said he has had serious reservations as to “events in the last year and especially this last week.”

“I see no resolution to these problems by the present leadership,” he wrote. “Not all of the board and library management have had the best interest of the library and the community at heart.”

On Monday, Roberts told the Outpost that he thought his voice didn’t matter during the discussion over who should take Gutierrez's vacant seat.

“You could see that I tried to get a compromise and there was no way the third member was going to compromise at all,” he said. “I thought it was best that a new board be appointed when I resigned, so that was my thoughts on it.”

Roberts said he wants the new Library District board to “start fresh.”

Sierra Smith, who had been the board's chairperson, said she stepped down as a member of the Library District board because she wasn’t able to accomplish the goals she had set for herself when she applied to join the agency.

“Primarily, I wanted to work to help create a positive cohesive team/relationship with the board and staff,” Sierra Smith told the Outpost via Facebook messenger on Monday. “I found myself to be ineffective. I have always thought for an organization or team to sustain and grow was by teamwork and agreed-upon actions through democratic decision-making.”

According to Stanley, who was elected to the Library District board in 2014, no one joins the board “for any reason other than wanting the very best for the library.”

“There’s no compensation. There’s no health insurance. There’s nothing,” Stanley said. “I like to say you get paid in warm fuzzies by being on the library board. We have a super small budget and we somehow still provide books and are open six days a week normally and that’s what we should be doing. All this does is take time and stress away from being able to do that.”

Luttrell told the Outpost on Monday that she had no comment about her resignation.


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