TRAVERSE CITY — A judge denied a request to stop two people recently appointed to the Traverse Area District Library board from taking their seats, saying he believes it would do more harm than good.
Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power on Friday refused to grant a temporary restraining order that would have prohibited Susan Odgers and Stephanie Mathewson from being seated on or acting as voting members of the TADL Board.
“If I suspend the appointments of two people for a period of months while we litigate this process, their interests are violated and it affects the board,” Power said. “I don’t know who fills in for those people during the absence of these two, so this is pretty significant.”
Jason Gillman and Patricia Thompson claim that Odgers and Mathewson’s appointments violate a 2013 TADL appointment agreement between Grand Traverse County and Traverse City.
The complaint contends that some of the criteria for the appointments made by county commissioners weren’t followed, like preference for applicants in commission districts that contain a member library, soliciting member library board recommendations and geographic representation throughout the county.
The TADL Board consists of seven members — five appointed by the county commission and two by the Traverse City Commission.
There are six libraries within TADL, but only three — the Traverse City, East Bay and Kingsley branches — are controlled by the TADL Board. They are known as “branch libraries.” Fife Lake, Interlochen and Peninsula libraries each has its own elected board, sets its own policies and are known as “member libraries,” according to TADL’s website.
Gillman and Thompson also want the two appointments to be declared null and void and for the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners to be ordered to make the appointments using the provisions of the appointment agreement.
“The judge has to decide: does this contract meant anything or not? We’re going to live or die on that,” said David Bieganowski, the attorney for Gillman and Thompson.
Normally, only parties to a contract — in this case, the county and the city — can enforce it, Power said. Power rejected Bieganowski’s argument that his clients are third parties intended to benefit from the contract and therefore have the right to enforce it, citing that as a primary reason for denying their request.
County Deputy Civil Counsel Kit Tholen disagreed with Bieganowski's claim. He said that county commissioners did apply the contract and, in fact, discussed it extensively on Jan. 16, prior to appointing Mathewson on a 7-0 vote and Odgers’ on a 6-1 vote.
Odgers and Mathewson originally were appointed by the previous Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners on Dec. 19. The newly elected board rescinded Odgers' appointment on Jan. 2, a move Tholen later determined to be ineffective.
At Tholen's recommendation, commissioners subsequently declared the Dec. 19 vote invalid and voted on the appointments for a third time on Jan. 16.
Gillman is a former county commissioner and current TADL Board member. The complaint does not identify him as a TADL Board member and he previously stated that he is not acting as a member of the board in his opposition to the appointments.
Gillman told county commissioners in an email that his efforts are “not with sense of malice toward the commission, or any other party, or with improper intent.” He said he expects established rules to be followed, lest arbitrary and capricious actions be taken by those in power.
The process in which Odgers and Mathewson were appointed was rushed and erred — likely unintentionally — but needs correction, Gillman said.
“The people who were selected are not the problem, but represent the fruit of a failure to adhere to the process,” Gillman wrote. "The trust in the ability to govern or operate in an unbiased way by the county has been challenged.
“The way in which I am challenging this may be unpopular, but will at the very least bring attention and transparency so that subsequent procedures are followed more carefully,” he added.
Thompson was an applicant for one of the previously vacant TADL Board positions and resides in the county district that contains the Interlochen Public Library.
Tholen said he and Bieganowski will be filing competing motions in which they will argue in favor of their clients. Power then would make a decision based on those arguments, he said. No future court dates have been set.