The New York Library Association Announces Successful Legal Defense

of Key Funding Mechanism for Local Libraries

The New York Library Association (NYLA) is pleased to announce the New York State Supreme Court has rejected a constitutional challenge to Education Law 259(1)(a), which is used by libraries throughout New York State to secure sustainable funding. This is a tremendous victory, and marks an important turning point for the NYLA Legal Defense Fund. NYLA Council authorized $25,000 to fully cover the legal fees incurred by DeWitt Community Library as they were forced to fight on behalf of all libraries that use 259(1)(a) for funding.  

In 2012, the DeWitt Community Library (Syracuse), along with the Jamesville-DeWitt Central School District, was sued by a local anti-tax activist who challenged the library’s use of 259(1)(a) to place their budget proposition on a school district ballot. In June 2015, the SED Commissioner dismissed the majority of the petitioner’s appeal. The petitioner subsequently pursued the constitutional question in New York State Supreme Court.

NYLA was contacted by DeWitt Community Library for assistance. The library had incurred $35,000 defending itself in this matter, and lacked the resources to continue funding this litigation. Given the potentially devastating statewide effects of an adverse court decision, NYLA Council unanimously voted to cover DeWitt’s future litigation costs.

Though the suit specifically challenged the authority of free association libraries, such as DeWitt, to present budget resolutions to school district voters under 259(1)(a), the nature of the constitutional challenge also had wide-ranging implications for school district public libraries. The petitioner’s argument centered on the procedures for ballot access: because 259(1)(a) requires school districts to submit ballot resolutions to voters upon request, school districts engage in mere “ministerial” acts, and thereby delegate taxing authority to the requesting library. As free association libraries and school district public libraries use the same ballot access procedures in 259(1)(a), an adverse decision would have been disastrous for hundreds of libraries throughout New York State.

Though NYLA is gratified the court found in favor of DeWitt, we remain troubled by the circumstances of this action. The anti-tax attorney activist who pursued this matter laid a roadmap for all manner of future legal challenges: bully a small, local library with limited resources in an effort to effect statewide policy changes through the courts.

NYLA’s ability to continue aiding libraries facing legal issues of statewide concern is predicated on a robust Legal Defense Fund. NYLA Council voted to authorize $25,000 to cover the legal expenses incurred by DeWitt Community Library. Through the generous support of our members and advocates, NYLA has raised 40% of these costs. As we prepare to fight against future legal challenges, the NYLA Council requests that you consider a contribution to the NYLA Legal Defense Fund, so we may continue this important work.

Donate to the NYLA Legal Defense Fund


The DeWitt Community Library Association

Challenge to Education Law 259

The DeWitt Community Library, is chartered as a free association library, and is located in the Town of DeWitt in Onondaga County.  Like many free association libraries, DeWitt Community Library uses the provisions of Education Law 259 to place their budget levy before the local voters on the school district budget ballot.

In 2012, a local individual brought suit to challenge the statutory authority granted to DeWitt Community Library, and all free association libraries, to use the mechanisms found in Education Law 259 in placing a budget proposition on a school district ballot. This despite previous determinations by the State Comptroller, NYS Commissioner of Education, and the NYS Supreme Court that Section 259 does confer this right.  In June 2015, the Commissioner affirmed this right exists. However, the petitioner in this suit raised novel issues of Constitutional Law, and that part of the suit is now before the NYS Supreme Court.  If the court finds in favor of the petitioner on these constitutional issues, it would throw the primary funding mechanism for dozens of free association libraries across the state into disarray.

Because of the potentially destructive statewide impact an adverse finding in this case would have, the New York Library Association has agreed to provide assistance from the NYLA Legal Defense Fund to help defray legal costs. The DeWitt Community Library has already expended $35K defending this matter, and the potential further costs of this litigation are significant – particularly if the court finds merit in these novel constitutional issues, and the library is forced to litigate through the appeals process.

Debby Emerson, President of the New York Library Association, commented “NYLA is pleased to be able to step in and provide assistance to help defer the legal expenses for the DeWitt Community Library against this baseless litigation.”

In order to aid in this defense, you are invited to donate to the

NYLA Legal Defense Fund.

To donate by check, please complete and submit this NYLA Legal Defense Fund Donation Form (PDF)

To donate online, please use the form at the bottom of this page.


Formal overview from DCL

DeWitt Community Library

The DeWitt Community Library Association, granted a provisional charter as a free association library in 1961, is located in the Town of DeWitt in Onondaga County. In 2012, a resident in the library’s service area (hereafter the Petitioner) appealed to the New York State Commissioner of Education challenging the propriety of the DeWitt Community Library’s intention to place a library funding proposition before voters of the Jamesville-DeWitt School District in May, 2012. Both the library and the school district were named as respondents. The Petitioner also asked the Commissioner to: nullify all prior similar actions in which the School District approved the placement of a free association library funding proposition before district voters at the request of the Library; to void all votes by district residents to approve such funding propositions; to preclude any similar future actions by the School Board, and; to direct the School District Board not to collect any tax dollars in support of the Library.

The DeWitt Community Library retained the Albany law firm of Whiteman, Hanna & Osterman to serve as legal counsel in the matter. On June 4, 2015, Acting Commissioner of Education Elizabeth Berlin dismissed the Petitioner’s appeal, ruling that the school board acted within its authority when it approved a funding proposition requested by the DeWitt Community Library and placed it before district voters.

On October 7, 2015, the Petitioner filed an Article 78 proceeding with the New York State Supreme Court in Albany challenging the Commissioner’s decision, and the DeWitt Community Library will once again retain Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna as legal counsel.

For questions about the DeWitt Community Library, please contact Wendy Scott via wscott@onlib.org or (315) 446-3578
 


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