Friends of the Helmerich Library want background check policy to be reconsidered
BY SARA PLUMMER World Staff Writer
Friday, October 19, 2012
10/19/12 at 5:42 AM
Learn More: Read the correspondence about the conflict between Friends of the Helmerich Library and the Tulsa City-County Library system.
Representatives from the Friends of the Helmerich Library once again outlined their objections and concerns about a criminal background check policy and asked the Tulsa Library Commission to reconsider severing ties with the organization Thursday during the commission's regular meeting.
Renee DeMoss, attorney for the Friends of the Helmerich Library, and Candace Baird, a member of the friends organization, addressed the commission Thursday.
"They want to preserve the relationship. They want to work with you," DeMoss told the commission.
The commission voted earlier this year to require all volunteers to undergo criminal background checks.
The library contends that officers of foundations supporting the library are volunteers and therefore need to comply with the background check policy.
Library CEO Gary Shaffer said the policy requirement was put in place to protect children who visit the libraries and participate in programs.
During the Friends of the Helmerich Library's annual book sale fundraiser, teenagers volunteer regularly, Shaffer said, and although the library appreciates the financial support and advocacy of friends groups, the safety of minors is a priority.
Members of the Friends of the Rudisill Library, Friends of the Tulsa County Libraries and the Tulsa Library Trust all agreed to comply with the policy, Shaffer said.
It's estimated that the library has conducted more than 700 background checks of employees, volunteers, Library Commission members, two of the other friends boards and the library trust board, he said.
The Helmerich Friends group opposed the requirement, stating that IRS rules forbid third-party groups from influencing activities or policies of a nonprofit group, and its officers are not volunteers of the library.
DeMoss said complying with the policy could jeopardize the group's tax-exempt status.
She also questioned the need for the board members to undergo a background check because most don't volunteer at the library or work with children.
Only four of the five members on the Helmerich Friends board would require a background check, Shaffer said, because one board member is a volunteer and has already gone through the process.
"It's unfortunate; we're just trying to protect children," he said. "It doesn't seem like too much to ask."
Because the board of the Helmerich Friends didn't adhere to the policy, Shaffer sent a letter to the group at the end of August formally ending the library system's relationship with the group.
Both DeMoss and Baird asked the commission Thursday to reconsider that decision.
"We have always seen ourselves as partners with the library, but partners work with each other," Baird said.
"It was presented to us with no explanation and the expectation that we would comply."
Questions have also been raised about who would have access to the personal information needed to complete the background checks, DeMoss said.
The Helmerich Friends have offered to conduct their own background checks and submit the findings to the library.
Original Print Headline: Library friends balk at criminal checks
Sara Plummer 918-581-8465