Berkeley Public Library. Photo: Nancy Rubin

About six weeks after voting not to escalate the City Council’s involvement in operations of the Berkeley Public Library, Mayor Jesse Arreguín is proposing to appoint a political colleague to the Board of Library Trustees rather than the lawyer whom the board has nominated.

Arreguín has introduced a resolution to appoint John Selawsky, a long-time Berkeley official, to fill the vacancy on BOLT. His measure on Tuesday’s agenda comes at the same time BOLT is recommending that Libby Hadzima Perkins, who recently got her JD/MBA from UC Berkeley, be appointed.

Arreguín said he proposed Selawsky before Perkins was even formally nominated but is going forward with his plan because he believes Selawsky is more qualified. Selawsky is the chair of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, a member of the Zoning Adjustments Board and the Environmental Advisory Commission. He also served on the Berkeley Unified School District Board for 12 years.

“I feel he is the most qualified person for the job,” said Arreguín. “He is a longtime Berkeley resident, he has experience serving in public office, chairing governmental agencies, helping write and craft budgets and his understanding and experience in personnel matters is also an important qualification for an administrative board.”

Arreguín’s proposal has once again raised concern that the City Council has entered into a new era of meddling in the library board – a board that has been quasi-independent since its founding in 1895. For more than 120 years BOLT has nominated its own members and then sent the nominations to the City Council for ratification. On April 4, the City Council voted to remove two long-time BOLT members, Julie Holcomb and Jim Novosel, the first time any sitting library board member has ever been removed. The City Councl also appointed two new members, only one of which had been nominated by BOLT. When the majority of the council took that step, they also passed a “Fresh Start” resolution that pledged the vote would not set a precedent.

“WHEREAS, we deeply value the Berkeley Public Library and support its independent operation; and WHEREAS, by supporting this resolution we do not intend to set a precedent of escalating City Council involvement in day to day operations of the Berkeley Public Library,” we …. read the resolution.

Darryl Moore, a former BOLT member who was defeated for reelection to the City Council by Cheryl Davila in November, is so concerned about what he perceives as a breakdown of the democratic process that he commented publicly about the current situation. In the past few months, when Berkeleyside contacted him, Moore has refused to comment.

“I have serious concerns,” said Moore. “I think it is just cronyism. It’s political patronage. John Selawsky has been an ally of Mayor Arreguín’s and now he’s being paid off by a seat on the library board. There’s been a process in place for years on how to select a new library board member… Now the democratic process is being destroyed.”

Rachel Anderson, the president of the private Berkeley Public Library Foundation, wrote a letter to the City Council asking it to honor BOLT’s vote to appoint Perkins to the board. On April 19, BOLT voted 3-0-1 to nominate Perkins, who had submitted her application in the fall when BOLT member Winston Burton was retiring. The two new members of BOLT, appointed at that April 4 meeting, Judy Hunt and Diane Davenport, supported Perkins’ nomination as did Abigail Franklin. They praised her critical thinking skills and said they liked the idea of bringing someone new to the city, relatively young and with young children onto the board.

Sophie Hahn, who is also a City Councilwoman, first told her fellow BOLT members that a new nomination was not necessary since Arreguín was nominating Selawsky. Then she said she thought BOLT should open up the nominating process and not just select someone from the pool of applicants created by Burton’s retirement. (Selawsky had also submitted his application at that time.) For that reason, she abstained from the vote to nominate Perkins.

Arreguín said appointing Selawsky falls within the City Council’s duties as the Council has the responsibility of voting on the candidates BOLT recommends. He also said BOLT had long been a place for political appointments. Both Novosel and Holcomb were allies of former Mayor Tom Bates and former City Councilman Laurie Capitelli. After Novosel lost his bid to be elected to they City Council and Holcomb lost her race for the BUSD school board, they were appointed to BOLT, he said.

If Selawsky is appointed to BOLT, he will be serving with his political rival, Hunt. The two of them served on the Rent Board together until 2016. They represented opposing slates.

Editor’s note: This article was corrected to say Holcomb ran for school board, not the city council.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...