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

The legal battle over the former Moniteau County Library District is over.

Special Judge Donald Barnes this month accepted receiver H. Ralph Gaw's petition for approving the final settlement.

Barnes wrote, in a June 12 order: "The Court finds that the receiver has paid to the claimants and distributees the personal property" that Barnes ordered to be distributed on Nov. 9.

The parties involved in the case told Barnes in September they agreed to a settlement plan, which they finalized in October and November.

That plan included paying all claims filed by former county library employees for wages and taxes, a computer firm and Gaw's bills for serving as the receiver.

After the bills were paid, any leftover money was to be divided between the former district's two subdistricts.

Barnes also discharged Gaw from the receivership duties the judge had given him in March 2017, to "administer and liquidate the assets of the district."

That assignment followed Barnes' February 2017 ruling that the district had to be dissolved, because it had not been created legally in the first place — since a majority of the county's voters in 1997 had voted against adding a proposed property tax to pay for district operations.

Barnes' ruling to dissolve the former district came in a case that began in October 2015, when the city of Tipton and three western Moniteau County residents sued the library district and its board of directors, claiming they were spending money illegally for some library operations.

The events leading to the legal battle were complicated and spread over a number of years.

The Moniteau County Commission authorized creation of the library district in 1996, when the county had two privately owned libraries — Price James in Tipton and Wood Place in California — but no public libraries.

The commission in 1996 created two subdistricts — based on the public school district boundaries in Moniteau County — and proposed a property tax for voters in each subdistrict to approve.

However, when the vote came in 1997, only voters in the Tipton-based Western subdistrict endorsed the tax.

Still, the district was declared to have been formed and began operating, using revenues from the Western subdistrict tax to provide money for both private libraries.

In 2004, the library board asked California residents if they would support a tax to be used only for operations of the then-private Wood Place Library in California — and they did.

Things got more complicated when California's Wood Place Library and its collection were donated to the district, and the library board designated it as the county's main library.

In his 11-page, February 2017 order, Barnes agreed the commissioners legally placed the district proposal on the 1997 ballot — but found "no provision in the statute for the contingency where one subdistrict passes (a proposal) and another does not," or that would allow a district to be created in areas that didn't vote for it.

Additionally, the judge wrote, "There is no statutory authority for a library district, without (county) commission authority, to create a new subdistrict with different boundaries than any earlier proposition and initiate a vote for it."

After Barnes' ruling last year, and his appointment of Gaw as the receiver, Tipton residents petitioned for the creation of a city-only library district, and approved that district last August.

The county commission then proposed a new, county-wide library district covering all of Moniteau County except the city of Tipton, and voters approved that district — and its 12-cent tax levy for each $100 of assessed property value — last November.

Meanwhile, the Wood Place Library in California has been operating with funding from the Elia Wood Paegelow Foundation and private donors.

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