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Gladstone City Council won't back off from its lawsuit against Clackamas County for $1.5 million in library funds. And Library Board members didn't rescind their belief that that the lawsuit is unnecessary.

Gladstone’s Library Board meeting on Tuesday was significant for what didn’t happen.

City Councilor Steve Johnson didn’t step down from his role as council liaison to the board, as requested by Library Board members in an open letter last month. City Council won’t back off from its lawsuit against Clackamas County for $1.5 million in library funds, Johnson told them. And Library Board members didn’t rescind their belief that that the lawsuit is unnecessary.

Especially in doubt prior to this week’s meeting was whether the Library Board members would reverse their opinion on the lawsuit. In a Sept. 21 email circulated to city councilors, Gladstone Library Director Linda Lewis issued an apology on behalf of the board members. Then some Library Board members heard secondhand that they would be removed from their positions if they didn’t agree with City Council’s methods for funding a new library/city hall building.

Johnson said that he knew of no plan to remove Library Board members for their beliefs. Mayor Tom Mersereau said any decision to replace board members would be a mutual decision of City Council once there were alternates being considered.

“Without all the facts, I won’t make an opinion,” Mersereau said.

At the Oct. 4 board meeting, Lewis made clear that her apology email wasn’t a veiled threat. She said that she sent the email to convey the board’s new focus on “mending fences” now that they’ve had their say.

“What this board wanted to do is let their voices be heard and they accomplished that,” Lewis said.

But several members of the Library Board said on Oct. 4 they weren’t sorry they expressed their views in the open letter to City Council. Library Board members, including Board Chair Margaret Bertalan, said they have been receiving input from other citizens that needed to be conveyed to city councilors. Given the public interest, Library Board member Beverly Chase said there should have been a joint meeting between all the members of City Council and County Commission prior to filing the lawsuit.

“I do support the letter, because I get so many questions about when we’re going to have a new library,” Bertalan told the board members and City Council candidates in attendance at the meeting.

“Linda, the library director, met with each one of us and explained to us the importance of moving forward, and we agree,” Library Board member Katie Lewis said. “But I did tell her personally I am not sorry for writing that letter. We didn’t want to embarrass the city, but they needed to know how we felt.”

Library Board member Natalie Smith was the exception, saying she was sorry about the letter and wanted “to extend that olive branch” to City Council. She had encouraged the Library Board to change statements in their original draft letter: For example, “There have been secretive meetings behind closed doors and decisions made without public input or acknowledgement” was changed to “As your library advisory board, we feel we have been excluded from the process.”

Other members of the Library Board were glad that City Council still received the message that city and unincorporated residents had been trying to work together for a solution and were blindsided by Gladstone’s filing of the lawsuit.

“I would never change my mind and I’m very convicted in my belief that the lawsuit isn’t the right way to go,” Katie Lewis said. “The city needs to take a step back and have a conversation with the Oak Lodge folks and find a mutual ground.”

Johnson said that he had received personal calls from county commissioners that made it clear they weren’t interested in the city’s perspective. In the meantime, the Gladstone Library Board recommended that the city appoint one or two people to the five-member board who are from the unincorporated area, in response to the county’s request for fair representation of Oak Lodge.

Any plans to merge the Gladstone and Oak Lodge library boards is on hold until the lawsuit is settled. Assistant City Administrator Jacque Betz said the city has not been holding any library-related executive sessions since filing the lawsuit. City Attorney Ashley Driscoll told them it would be at least six months before a resolution could be reached.

Correction: This version of the online story incorporates the fact that the library measure approved by voters did not include approval of new three-story library/city hall. We apologize for not checking the text of the measure and for using incorrect information from a city staff email as fact in an earlier version of this story.

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