CLAYTON — St. Louis County Councilman Tim Fitch wants County Executive Sam Page to remove all five members of the Library Board of Trustees, after the library board’s unanimous vote earlier this summer to build a $20 million administrative building and genealogy center in Frontenac over strong opposition there.
In a letter to Page dated Saturday, Fitch noted that every member of the board was serving on an expired term, and that one of the member’s terms expired more than six years ago. “This unelected Board was selected by previous county executives and are not responsible to any elected body,” Fitch wrote. “This is evident based on some of their recent decisions.”
Chingling Tai, the library board’s secretary, said in a brief interview that the board’s five members had agreed to refer questions to the board president, Lynn Beckwith Jr. He did not respond to a phone message Monday afternoon.
Fitch also asked Page to give the council the power to confirm any nominees to replace the board, which he said would be “another step you can take to restore confidence in county government, which is sorely needed.”
A Post-Dispatch story in February revealed the library paid $6.1 million for six acres in Frontenac without getting an appraisal first.
To acquire the roughly 6 acres near the corner of Highway 40 (Interstate 64) and Spoede Road from four separate owners, the library’s governing board took the unusual step of waiving its policy of getting appraisals before buying property. All four homes bought by the library will be demolished.
The properties have been appraised by the county for a total of $2.2 million, Fitch said.
Library officials say the Frontenac location, which is central within the St. Louis region, was key in the decision to spend $6.1 million for the properties. The purchase was funded as part of the library’s plan to build and renovate 19 libraries through a $120 million campaign using proceeds of a tax levy increase passed in 2012.
In a special meeting on June 27, the library district voted 5-0 to approve the plan to construct the 81,574-square-foot building. The vote came two days after the Frontenac Planning and Zoning Commission rejected the proposal.
The library district, as a political subdivision of the state, isn’t subject to Frontenac zoning ordinances, and its board of trustees, by resolution, can overrule the city with a two-thirds majority — or four of the five trustees.
Lawyers for the city of Frontenac sued the library district in July in an effort to stop construction. A hearing date has not been set.
The lawsuit asks the St. Louis County Circuit Court to issue a preliminary and permanent injunction stopping the construction “because the district refuses to engage in meaningful discussion about the appropriate use” of the land in question.
Frontenac’s board of aldermen on Aug. 12 passed a resolution urging Page and the council to appoint new library directors “who will reconsider and reverse ill-advised decisions” and restore confidence in the library district.
Fitch told Page the library board “made it clear they are responsible to no one. When I met recently with the President of the Library Board, he made it clear they planned to do whatever they want with this project, despite objections of the majority of city officials and residents in the area of the new facility.”
Doug Moore, a spokesman for Page, said members of his staff had met with officials from Frontenac and the library district “to learn more about how this dispute began. The two sides are now in litigation, and we will respect the judicial process. In the meantime, we will continue evaluating how best to ensure county appointees serve the public interest faithfully and dutifully.”