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story.lead_photo.caption Moniteau County Library, 501 S. Oak St., California. Photo by David Wilson / California Democrat.

The lawsuit challenging the legality of the existence of the Moniteau County Library Board and the Moniteau County Library can proceed.

The case brought by the three plaintiffs, the City of Tipton, and Joe Ed Hartman, Cindy Dix Suddarth and Leroy R. Knipp (all Western subdistrict taxpayers and patrons of the Price James Memorial Library, Tipton) was dismissed, May 20, by Judge Kenneth Hayden, but in a declaratory judgment action, can be refiled as an amended petition authorized by the Missouri Attorney General's Office.

The lawsuit was filed Oct. 6, 2015, against Moniteau County Library District and the Moniteau County Library Board of Directors. The plaintiffs were authorized by this action to file an amended petition within 30 days.

The letter from the Office of the Attorney General states, "To be clear, the Missouri Attorney General takes no position whatsoever on the merits of this cause and understands that there is a justiciable controversy requiring resolution."

County Librarian Connie Walker commented that since an actual decision needs to be made, it is good that the attorney general's office has decided to allow the case to continue. She expressed concern about the suit's dismissal, as being without merit. "This issue needs to be resolved," she said.

The original suit was a result of patrons of the City of Tipton's privately-owned Price James Memorial Library being unhappy with the donation of the $1.8 million in assets of the private entity, Wood Place Library in California to the Moniteau County Library District. This action, taken in December 2013 to be effective on Jan. 1, 2014, created an actual publicly-owned, taxpayer supported Moniteau County Library. It was then named "Moniteau County [email protected] Place."

The Missouri State Library had urged the county library board to create a Moniteau County Library since the Moniteau County Library District was created by the Moniteau County Commission in 1996. This donation is believed by the county library board to have placed it in full compliance with the Missouri State Statutes governing libraries. However at that time in 2013, the donation of the library facility and contents of the library was opposed by both Western Subdistrict library board members. The current Western Subdistrict library members also support it.

There are three main issues addressed in the lawsuit.

First, there is the question of whether or not the Moniteau County Library District exists lawfully. If it does not, any actions it may take could be moot, including the acceptance of the existing California Wood Place Library, which was a private library. A part of this question is if there is actually any subdistrict other than the Western Subdistrict.

Second, there is the question of whether the county library district is required to contract to provide services with Tipton and the Tipton library in the Western Subdistrict. As a library owned by the City of Tipton, the Price James Library has an advisory board and no governing library board. The county library board maintains that all contracts with the Price James Library must be done through the City of Tipton, and voted on by the Tipton City Council.

Third, is the question of whether the members of the Moniteau County Library Board are legally qualified to hold offices in the organization. They are appointed by the Moniteau County Commission. Two are residents of the Eastern Subdistrict, two of the Western Subdistrict and one of the California Subdistrict.

The answers to these three questions are disputed by the two sides. On one side, the county library board and County Librarian Walker are of the opinion that the donation of the $1.8 million of private library assets to the publicly owned Moniteau County Library, not only brings the county into state compliance, but also provides actual assets belonging to the taxpayers. On the other side, the Friends of the Price James Library, their President Cindy Suddarth and the City of Tipton are of the opinion that the only lawful library county taxing entity is the Western Subdistrict. It appears that up to now, no judicial decision has been reached on the question of how the Missouri Revised Statutes apply to the tax-based funding of various county library entities, and affiliated private libraries.

When County Librarian Walker originally came to Moniteau County, she did not realize that the taxpayers had no assets belonging to the county library district since only private libraries served the county residents. She arrived with a County Library background. All taxpayer funds were going to private libraries - the California Wood Place and the City of Tipton Price James. The idea was that, with the donation of the private library assets to the publicly owned Moniteau County Library, the taxpayers would have something to show for their money.

The Moniteau County Library District was established in 1997. Two subdistricts established, based on the school districts. One subdistrict included the Tipton, Clarksburg and Latham school districts. That subdistrict passed a library tax levy. Those funds, up to the formation of an actual county library, had gone towards the support of the contracted Price James Library in Tipton.

The second subdistrict included the rest of the school districts in the county. The voters in that subdistrict did not approve a library tax. Later, the voters of the City of California approved a library tax. Following that vote, the Wood Place Public Library was supported by the Elia Wood Paegelow Trust and City of California Library taxes. The Wood Place Library had been established in 1955 by the First Christian Church with funds from the Elia Wood Paegelow Trust. It was originally in the Wood-Paegelow home on East Street and moved to 501 South Oak St. in 1998. The facility was provided after restoration by California Progress Inc. (CPI).

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