The Liberty County Board of Commissioners’ recent appointment to the local Live Oak Public Libraries board has sparked controversy.
About 15 community members showed up at Tuesday’s meeting in support of Sandra Hicks Sheffield.
Sheffield was earlier appointed to the local library board by the Board of Commissioners and served as chairwoman. She reapplied when her first term ended, but her position was given to another applicant, Kathy Walden — the wife of Commissioner Eddie Walden — whose application was submitted a week after deadline.
Three commissioners are part of the nominating committee: Gary Gilliard, Pat Bowen and Walden.
Sheffield said it was unfair for Kathy Walden to be appointed to the library board.
On June 7, the commissioners met and heard nominations to various local boards from the committee. Gilliard was the spokesman for the review committee.
Commissioner Marion Stevens, who asked Sheffield to apply for the position, asked if Sheffield neglected her duties on the board. Gillard said no.
The board voted 5-1 in favor of appointing Kathy Walden to the library board, with Stevens opposed. Commissioner Connie Thrift was not present.
On Tuesday, Sheffield made a statement to the commissioners expressing
her concern over the appointment.
"I’m just concerned where the flaw may have come from, why I wasn’t considered for reappointment to the board," Sheffield said. "What was wrong that I was not reappointed to the board?"
Her next concern was with the board appointment procedures. She said her application was on time and understood that if an application is late "that person’s name goes on the bottom. It is held in reserve, and you choose from the top down."
She asked why that procedure was not followed.
She talked about the nominating committee.
"One of us who applied for that position of being on the library board, turning in the application late, had a spouse on that nominating committee. And somewhere in my learning and life, that is called a conflict of interest, and that person should have officially removed themselves from that position," Sheffield said.
County Attorney Kelly Davis said the deadline for applications was established for the convenience of the commissioners to ensure that appointments are made in a timely manner. He said the board has the right to waive the deadline and that this is consistent with the original intent of the policy, which is to encourage public participation in local government.
"It wouldn’t make much sense to have a strict deadline if you have one or two more applications from people who want to volunteer in the community," Davis said. "I think you did everything you could to consider those applications. So with respect to the public notice and procedures that might bind you to the board of trustees appointment, there really isn’t. It’s up to your discretion."
Sheffield said other people would have applied if they thought their late applications would be accepted.
In Georgia, conflicts of interest are limited to pecuniary interests, meaning related to money, Davis said, and "in the absence of any pecuniary interests, typically it’s not a conflict of interest that requires recusal."
At the end of her statement, Sheffield mentioned the opportunity for the library board to have an at-large board member.
Davis said the library board needs a two-thirds vote to add another member. He advised that a resolution be signed by the county and the city of Hinesville agreeing to let the board expand because they are the two primary funding agencies for the library. Library board members would have to vote on amending their bylaws to consider the additional seat at their next meeting this month.
Stevens said this is the first time he has encountered this situation during his 18 years on the board.
"We can’t continue to go like this," Stevens said. "We are in reverse instead of drive. We need to correct the problem and do it the right way. To find good volunteers out there is hard to find."
Davis said the commissioners can change the policy to have hard deadlines for board applications, but he recommended against it. He suggested that applications have a disclaimer saying the commissioners can waive application requirements.
Commissioners Chairman Donald Lovette felt it was best to pursue adding another member to the library board.
John McIver, a former commissioners chairman, said he was "instrumental" in establishing the appointment process. The process removed the chairman from making appointments and allowed three commissioners to make appointment recommendations. He said the commissioners drafted the written policy and later had to amend it to allow a procedure of removing appointees from boards.
Lovette said staff was able to find the removal policy, but not the procedure of how to advertise and appoint board positions.
McIver said, "When the advertising went out, there was a deadline … applications must be submitted by this deadline. After the deadline, an application may come in, but you missed the deadline. … We drafted policy and procedure for this board. I know he’s (Davis) saying the state law doesn’t dictate that, and he’s right, but we have local policy and procedure for our board in governing appointments."
Lovette felt that adding one more seat to the library board would help pacify the situation.
Liberty County Branch NAACP President Graylan Quarterman, said after the meeting that he wanted to make it clear that, "This is not a black or white thing. This is a ‘right’ thing."
Quarterman said he requested access to the policy and was told that there was no written policy. Quarterman worked as McIver’s campaign manager, and one of McIver’s platforms was making board appointments fair and open to the public.
"I know Chairman McIver. He does nothing by word alone. So I know that there’s a policy in place and, as matter of fact, I read that policy years ago," Quarterman said.
Quarterman was also concerned that only one person from the review committee spoke — Gilliard — while Walden and Bowen did not. Quarterman wanted to hear their opinions about the current policy. He also thinks the board expansion is a good idea, but the current situation should not be the reason to add a board member.
Lovette provided a statement to the Coastal Courier in response to a question seeking comment on the board appointment.
"It is unfortunate that we had two excellent candidates but only one position to fill," Lovette wrote, later adding, "We always want to encourage participation and appreciate the service given by local citizens to the various board and committee appointments."
County Administrator Joey Brown presented to the Hinesville City Council on Thursday that the library board wants to expand membership, and council members indicated their approval without taking formal action.