Library focus groups not so public

Shuts out press from event

JOHNSTOWN — A Johnstown Public Library Board of Trustees-hired consultant didn’t want details from this week’s series of public focus groups she conducted made public so she shut out The Leader-Herald.

Libby Post, president of Albany-based Communication Services, is working with the library to review a possible change in operation from a public library to a school district library. She held focus group meetings for the public Tuesday and Wednesday in the library basement.

The meetings were conducted so Post can eventually file a report to trustees.

In 2016, officials from the library and the city first discussed whether the facility could become a school district library funded by Greater Johnstown School District taxpayers. The move could be beneficial financially to all entities involved, officials said. The city currently provides funds for the library and budgeted $283,000 for it in 2017.

The Leader-Herald — given prior permission by the library — tried to attend one of Post’s focus groups for retired persons Wednesday.

But the reporter was immediately tossed out of the session as soon as it began. About a dozen members of the public were in attendance.

“I work with libraries all over the country,” Post began, before noticing the reporter and indicated at that point that The Leader-Herald had to leave. Post stated that the meeting would likely yield comments from the public that they didn’t necessarily want made public.

Library Board of Trustees President Shelley Yerdon didn’t return a phone call Thursday seeking comment.

One of the attendees of Wednesday’s session– Yvonne Major of Johnstown — said Thursday she could “understand” Post wanting to keep some of the comments under wraps. But she also said the focus group covered fairly routine material such as the “strengths and weaknesses” of the city.

“How do you feel about Johnstown?” Major said was a question Post asked.

The Board of Trustees hired Post in May. She is being paid $3,000 per month into 2018. She is being paid through a bequeath to the library. Trustees still haven’t formally voted on whether the library will become a Greater Johnstown School District library.

Even though Wednesday’s focus group session wasn’t a formal public meeting defined under the state Open Meetings law, it was open to the public.

Ironically, the public’s opinion on the library issue may eventually become public. A public hearing will likely be required in connection to a possible referendum down the line for the changeover.

If the school library concept is eventually approved, the process will still require several steps, including a hearing. The public library has to submit signatures on petitions to form and fund a new library, and nominate board members. The library would also conduct a vote on a library proposition. Pending approval of that, the Johnstown Public Library would apply for a new library charter and dissolve and transfer assets of the old library.

Once that process is completed, the library would be funded through school taxes.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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