RENO, Nev. - The Washoe County Library board on Wednesday voted down the eLearning Cafe's proposal to operate in the Incline Village library, based on a legal opinion that such a public/private agreement is not supported by state law.
The nonprofit eLearning Cafe had proposed a one-year contract with the Incline Village Library to allow its learning center to be housed in the west end of the library and be used as an after-school gathering/study area for high school students.
Incline resident Kathryn Kelly, founder of eLearning Cafes Inc., proposed that paid cafe staff and volunteers could be trained to assist in library operations, with the hope of increasing its hours from the current 30 hours per week to 70 at no additional cost to the library.
The library board of trustees addressed the proposal at its January meeting Wednesday at the Reno County Library.
Four Incline Village residents spoke during public comment - all against approving the proposal - with Kelly speaking in defense of an eLearning Cafe/library joint venture.
"There have been cutbacks. We want more hours. But it is not just an issue of opening doors. The library has to be a safe, professional setting," said Incline resident and former Washoe County Library Board member Judith Simon.
Prior to the board's meeting, Washoe County Deputy District Attorney Herbert Kaplan issued the opinion that a contract with a private entity is not authorized by state law.
"In Nevada, unless authority has been established by statute, authority does not exist," he said.
Based on that legal opinion, the board voted not to consider potential private/public agreements such as the eLearning Cafe idea.
"I see all the pieces coming together here. I appreciate the decision that a contract, per se, is not the right vehicle," Kelly said. "There are 100 reasons not to do something. I'm waiting for the trustees to find ways to do something."
The board spent time Wednesday considering new ideas and revisiting the library system's current policies.
One such issue discussed Wednesday is library staffing, specifically how many employees must be on site during operating hours. Currently, policy mandates that two county employees must be on site at all times, and therefore, eLearning Cafe employees and volunteers would not qualify, according to the board.
Board members also discussed how the Friends of Washoe County Library, a private entity, operates. It's different because the group doesn't have a contractual agreement with the county, and its only function is to raise money for the library, the board determined.
"What we have to look at in the future is what kinds of partnerships are permissible," said library board chairman Fred Lokken. "My heart goes out to Ms. Kelly. But we are dealing with a strong legal opinion. It has to be something we can do. But those who have creative ideas are very welcome."
"A public/private partnership is a scary proposition, but these are scary times," Kelly added. "We have to ask legal counsel, how can we make this happen?"
- Frank Fisher is a freelance reporter for the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza. He can be reached for comment at email@example.com.