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Macon, Jackson, Swain counties discuss Fontana Regional Library agreement

Macon County Commissioners heard the recommendation of the three county managers at their August 8 meeting.
Courtesy of Macon County Commissioners
Macon County Commissioners heard the recommendation of the three county managers at their August 8 meeting.

For the first time, stakeholders in the Fontana Regional Library system are negotiating the terms of the agreement. Calls to reconsider the tri-county agreement with the nonprofit system began in 2023. This summer county managers from Macon, Jackson and Swain counties began the negotiations.

All three county managers, (Macon County Manager Derek Roland, Swain County Manager Kevin King and Jackson County Manager Don Adams) signed a letter of recommendation about the agreement that states the current arrangement with the regional library is good for the region. But they recommended one structural change - that the regional board of trustees be directly chosen by each county’s board of commissioners.

Macon County manager Derek Roland presented the recommendation to commissioners.

“We did feel that as far as benefits to our region and the taxpayers of each county that the regional system and what that provides from an economic standpoint was certainly the way to go,” Roland said.

The managers agreed in the letter that the Fontana Regional Library System (FRL) has “positively affected all counties within its membership through providing citizens with convenient access to informational and educational resources for over 75 years.”

In April, Macon County Commissioners announced they wouldnot explore leaving the library system. The managers recommended the library stay with the region agreement.

“The multi-county collaboration [is] the most efficient and effective way to continue providing library services as it provides opportunities for service and resource allocations beyond the financial and service capacities of the individual county governments and libraries,” the letter read.

Macon, Jackson and Swain County Managers all signed the letter of recommendation. Click to enlarge.
Courtesy of Macon County Commissioners
Macon, Jackson and Swain County Managers all signed the letter of recommendation. Click to enlarge.

The county managers recommend one big change to the FRL board: the trustees be chosen directly by each county’s board of county commissioners.

Currently, the FRL Board of Trustees is made up of representatives from each of the county’s local library boards. The Trustees are elected by each local board. The local boards are appointed by the county commissioners.

“We did feel that as a funder of the Fontana Regional Library for the fiscal agent to have a direct connection to the policy setting agent. That way, if you will, everyone is singing off of the same sheet of music,” Roland said.  

Macon County Commissioner Danny Antoine spoke in favor of changes to the library agreement.

“Some of those things [in the contract] do not benefit our county. So if they don’t benefit the county there is no reason to go into another 10 year agreement that is actually not beneficial to the people in the county,” Antoine said. “Everything we are trying to do with this is actually to make it better.”

Antoine has advocated to restrict books for children in the library so that they cannot access "inappropriate" titles. He has also discussed a special child library card.

All three county commission boards and the FRL Board of Trustees need to agree to any changes to the regional agreement. The discussion was on the work session agenda for Jackson County for August 8 but the meeting was canceled. The next Jackson County Board of Commissioners meeting is scheduled for August 15.

The Swain County Board of Commissioners also met on Tuesday. Swain County Manager Kevin King presented the recommendation but the board did not take any action, according to the Smoky Mountain Times. The next Swain County meeting is August 15.

Earlier this year, Macon County commissioners delayed the selection of local library board members then in June voted among 17 applicants for three appointments. The commissioners elected Leah Gaston, Diann Catlin and Justin Bohner to the local board. All three have been active in conversations tochange the Fontana Regional Library Board collections policy and to remove “inappropriate” books from the library.

Catlin requested the removal of “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health.” At the FRL board of trustee’s meeting in July, the board voted not to move the book from the children’s section.In June, the FRL board moved a teen sex guide to the adult section after a request for reconsideration.

Editor's note: This piece has been updated with additional information about the Swain County Board of Commissioner's meeting.

Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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