Clackamas County, Gladstone resolve library dispute
Clackamas County and Gladstone have agreed to an out-of-court settlement that clears the way for how future library service will be provided in the area.
The settlement calls for a two-branch solution with a smaller library in Gladstone and a larger library for Oak Grove, Jennings Lodge and other unincorporated communities.
"This is about books without borders," County Commissioner Martha Schrader said. "The prize is access (to library services) for the community and children."
County commissioners and the Gladstone City Council voted separately this week (Oct. 10 and 12) to approve the settlement, which will end an August 2016 lawsuit by Gladstone against the county for $1.5 million.
The amount was equal to Gladstone's request for a county contribution toward construction of a 13,338-square-foot library, coupled with a replacement city hall, at the current city hall site on Portland Avenue. The total structure was estimated at $10.4 million.
But residents of unincorporated areas, who outnumber Gladstone's population of 12,000 by about three to one, complained they would have to travel farther to reach a smaller library than the one they use now.
Both sides accused each other of violating intergovernmental agreements, one specific to Gladstone and another dating back to 2009, the year after voters agreed to formation of a special library district that includes most of the county.
"There is nothing worse than government agencies suing each other, when elected officials have not sat down at the table to try to work out a deal," said Commissioner Ken Humberston, who took office in January.
"This is the way it is supposed to work. We are supposed to talk to one another and figure out solutions to problems."
No added costs
Under the settlement, construction of the new branches will not add costs to the public. The buildings will be paid for from existing library district reserves and a bond measure repaid from future revenues.
Gladstone voters, however, will decide in the May 15, 2018, primary on whether to rescind a city ban on using local money for library construction.
Gladstone City Administrator Jacque Betz said in a statement released by the county: "This is a victory for everyone involved, and the residents of Gladstone should be pleased. This settlement calls for a library that will be a centerpiece of our downtown, and Gladstone residents will not be burdened by additional taxes for its construction."
Schrader said the settlement draws partly on the county's experience with Sandy, although the larger central library is in Sandy and the smaller Hoodland library in Welches — the opposite of the Gladstone situation.
After voter approval of a library district in 2008, Clackamas County and cities negotiated agreements under which cities operate libraries — which also serve residents outside city limits — with proceeds from the library district levy. The county also pays for the computer network that links the libraries.
But until the settlement, Gladstone and nearby unincorporated communities were the only unresolved situation for library services.
The settlement was largely negotiated out of public view by County Administrator Don Krupp and Gladstone city officials with involvement from Commissioner Paul Savas, who lives in Oak Grove.
"I think we did not correctly anticipate that the small community of Gladstone would have such a financial burden to build the library for the unincorporated area at their (city) expense," he said. "That is the crux of how we got into this mess. So it's not Gladstone's fault."
Board Chairman Jim Bernard invited two Oak Grove residents — Stephanie Kurzenhauser, vice chairwoman of Oak Lodge Community Library Advocates, and Chips Janger — to join him and Krupp in understanding community concerns.
"I want to make sure it is understood we were not negotiating Gladstone's agreement," Bernard said.
Krupp offered a public apology for the closed-door process. He said the goal of resolving the lawsuit precluded a public process, but added that other details will require public involvement by city and unincorporated area residents.
"We expect, as a result of our ability to settle this lawsuit, the ability to engage Oak Grove residents to help shape the vision and see that their aspirations for a new library is fully realized," he said.
Many details remain unresolved, including the specific sites for the new branch libraries, both of which Clackamas County will manage.
The larger library, envisioned at 19,500 square feet, will replace a smaller building at 16201 SE McLoughlin Blvd. that advocates acknowledge is inadequate. "It is a tired and old leased facility that is well beyond its useful life," Krupp said.
The smaller library of 6,000 square feet could still be housed at the Portland Avenue site, but the settlement commits Gladstone only to provide city-owned land for its branch library. Gladstone library workers likely will become county employees.
As part of the settlement, Gladstone agrees to contribute $200,000 each budget year for operation of the branch library.
When Savas got emotional during the public discussion of the settlement, Kurzenhauser said many shared his feelings in the long-running controversy.
"This really has been a traumatic, protracted battle — one that all of us as good-hearted, good-faith people, we do not like to fight," she said. "It feels good there is an opportunity now to ameliorate some of the sins of the past and to embark on a path of healing together."
A joint signing ceremony by Clackamas County commissioners and the Gladstone City Council of the agreement has been set for 5:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 16, at Gladstone City Hall, 525 Portland Ave.