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Trustee Support Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

Are members of a rural county library district board of trustees, not including seven-member rural county library district boards established under RCW 27.12.192, required to be residents of the rural county library district that they serve?

AG Opinion AGLO 1973 No. 67 (1973) states:

“A person is not required to be an inhabitant of a rural county library district in order to serve as a member of a board of trustees thereof under the provisions of RCW 27.12.040… Neither this statute nor any other provision contained in this RCW chapter relating to libraries states either expressly or by implication that residency is a qualification for appointment to such a board.”

This opinion remains in force for five-member rural county library district boards of trustees established under RCW 27.12.190. As of 2017, seven-member rural county library district boards of trustees established under RCW 27.12.192—for “any county with an adopted home rule charter and one million or more residents”—are subject to residency requirements enumerated in RCW 27.12.192.

Are members of an intercounty rural library district board of trustees required to be residents of an unincorporated portion of a county?

An informal AGO Opinion issued 1/27/1982, signed by Assistant Attorney General Thomas R. Bjorgen and addressed to Nancy Zussy, states:

“You have inquired whether a person residing in an incorporated part of a county may sit on the board of trustees of an intercounty rural library district… In AGLO 1973 No. 67… a similar question was posed regarding rural county library districts. That opinion held, in sum, that… it is not necessary that a trustee of a rural county library district be a resident of the unincorporated area of the county. This reasoning applies with equal force to intercounty rural library districts.“

May a member of a library board of trustees serve two consecutive full terms after, and in addition to, serving a partial term to which the individual was appointed in order to complete another trustee’s term?

An informal AGO Opinion issued 3/7/1991, signed by Assistant Attorney General Carole A. Ressler and addressed to Martin Muench, states:

“You have asked whether, under RCW 27.12.190, a Library Trustee who is appointed to complete another Trustee's term can then serve two consecutive full terms… The Trustee who fills an unexpired term is not serving ‘a term’ as defined in the statute. Under this analysis, a Trustee can serve two terms in addition to completing another's unexpired term… Filling a vacancy is different from ‘regular’ appointments made by the appointing authority. That distinction provides additional support for interpreting the limitation to apply to ‘regular’ appointments: two consecutive full terms as defined in the statute.”

Does a rural county library district have the authority to establish an independent retirement program for its employees?

AGO Opinion AGO 57-58 No. 223 (1958) states:

“The board of trustees of a rural county library district does not have the power to set up a pension program other than the state employees' retirement system… [but] the board of trustees of a rural county library district is authorized to join the state retirement system.“

In a city that has adopted a council-manager form of governance, either operating under the Optional Municipal Code or independently, does a city manager hold the authority to appoint or remove library trustees at will?

AGO Opinion AGO 49-51 No. 274 (1950) states:

“The city manager has authority to appoint library trustees and employees, subject to any civil service regulations… Although the city manager has authority to appoint library trustees and employees, subject to civil service requirements, and to generally supervise operations, it is equally clear that he cannot abolish the board or shift its functions to other city agencies.”

An informal AGO Opinion issued 6/15/1972, signed by Assistant Attorney General Wayne L. Williams and addressed to Maryan E. Reynolds, states:

“In [previous] opinions, we concluded that although a city manager could appoint or remove, at will, the library trustees, he could not abolish the position… The same considerations and conclusions would apply in the case of a city which has elected to adopt the optional municipal code. RCW 35A.13.080 is the controlling statute, and it contains similar, if not the exact, language of RCW 35.18.060… The former statute deals with the powers of a city manager in an optional municipal code city and the latter section deals generally with the powers of a city manager in a council-manager form of government.”

The opinion is consistent with AGO 49-51 No. 274 and AGO 55-57 No. 196.

In a city that has adopted a council-manager form of governance, either operating under the Optional Municipal Code or independently, does a city manager hold the authority to dissolve or abolish the library board of trustees for a city library?

AGO Opinion AGO 49-51 No. 274 (1950) states:

“Although the city manager has authority to appoint library trustees and employees, subject to civil service requirements, and to generally supervise operations, it is equally clear that he cannot abolish the board or shift its functions to other city agencies.”

An informal AGO Opinion issued 6/15/1972, signed by Assistant Attorney General Wayne L. Williams and addressed to Maryan E. Reynolds, states:

“In [previous] opinions, we concluded that although a city manager could appoint or remove, at will, the library trustees, he could not abolish the position… The same considerations and conclusions would apply in the case of a city which has elected to adopt the optional municipal code. RCW 35A.13.080 is the controlling statute, and it contains similar, if not the exact, language of RCW 35.18.060… The former statute deals with the powers of a city manager in an optional municipal code city and the latter section deals generally with the powers of a city manager in a council-manager form of government.”

The opinion is consistent with AGO 49-51 No. 274 and AGO 55-57 No. 196.

Does a mayor under the Mayor-Council form of municipal government in an Optional Municipal Code city hold the authority to appoint or remove library trustees at will?

An informal AGO Opinion issued 3/23/1983, signed by Assistant Attorney General Thomas R. Bjorgen and addressed to Nancy Zussy, states:

“The Mayor under this plan of government has essentially the same power over a city library as does the City Manager under the Council-Manager plan. That is, the Mayor is ultimately in charge of the library and may appoint and remove the trustees.”

In a code city governed by the Optional Municipal Code, who hires and fires a library director?

An informal AGO Opinion issued 4/18/1992, signed by Assistant Attorney General Jean M. Wilkerson and addressed to Mary Y. Moore, states:

“There is a conflict between RCW 27.12.210 and provisions in Title 35A RCW. Under RCW 35A.21.160, Title 35A RCW prevails in the case of conflict… Either the mayor or the city manager has the ultimate authority to hire and fire the city library director… Regardless of the governance plan (charter, mayor-council, or council-manager), city ordinance or policy could allow the board of library trustees some role—even a substantial one—in hiring and firing the library director.”

The opinion is consistent with AGO 49-51 No. 274.

In a code city governed by the Optional Municipal Code, who sets the salary of the library director?

An informal AGO Opinion issued 4/18/1992, signed by Assistant Attorney General Jean M. Wilkerson and addressed to Mary Y. Moore, states:

“There is a conflict between RCW 27.12.210 and Title 35A RCW, and the provisions of Title 35A RCW prevail. Therefore, the city council sets the library director’s salary in a non-charter code city. However, so long as the city council has the final say, the council may delegate to the library trustees a role in the matter of setting the library director’s compensation… With respect to a charter code city, the city council will set the library director’s compensation, unless the charter provides for something different.”

Can an individual sit on multiple public library district boards?

  • Trustees for library districts do not need to live in the district they represent. There is no RCW that requires them to pay taxes to the library district, live within the boundaries, or vote in that district. However, it is appropriate for a board of county commissioners to use these criteria for selection, if they so choose.
  • While there is no law that prohibits someone from being on two library boards (or in our case, on the district board and a member of a city council of a city that contracts with us for services), there could be potential for conflict of interest: competitive grants, hiring a director, or bids for contractors come to mind. 
  • Be sure to check your public library's bylaws to see what is required or allowed.  

In the end, perception is everything. If there were to be a situation that could be construed as a conflict of interest, or "fingers in too many pots", it's best to avoid that situation.

Can/should a member of the Library's Board of Trustee also serve on the same Library's Foundation board?

Unless the Library's bylaws prevent it, there is nothing to prevent this.  Libraries will frequently have a Library Board member serve on the Foundation Board in an ex officio/non-voting member of the Foundation to facilitate communication between the two boards