Trio: Punt library control to board

A trio of Evanston aldermen who support keeping branch libraries open met with branch backers Tuesday night, urging them to cool their rhetoric.

Aldermen Grover and Tendam meet with branch supporters.

The aldermen, Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward; Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, and Jane Grover, 7th Ward, suggested to the three dozen people meeting at the north branch library that the only way to keep the branches alive may be to persuade at least two more aldermen that the City Council should duck the tough budget issue and surrender control of library finances to the appointed library board.

The aldermen said they believe at least three council members — Delores Holmes, 5th Ward; Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, and Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, strongly oppose continued funding for the branches because of concerns about cost at a time when declining revenues are forcing millions of dollars in cuts in other city programs.

But they said  three other aldermen might be persuaded to keep the branches open, although they sense they now are leaning against it. The council also has a recommendation from City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz to close the branches and shift the funds to increase resources at the main library downtown.

Tendam said he’s suggesting the council should treat the library system as a single line item and let the library board decide how to spend all the money appropriated.

"The board certainly knows more about libraries than the council," Tendam said, an argument he also extended to other appointed boards that now make budget recommendations to the council.

He suggested the Evanston Public Library Friends group should stop campaigning to raise funds for branch libraries and instead shift its focus to raising money to expand the book collection across the entire library system.

The Library Board has voted to assert total control over library funding beginning with the city’s 2012 budget year, under a state statute that would permit it to raise the property-tax-funded library budget by as much as 80 percent.

But in Evanston the City Council has historically taken a much more active role in determining library funding, and the council has not yet voted to surrender that oversight to the board.

Alderman Wynne suggested that the frequent claims by library backers that Evanston should fund its library to the level of some other North Shore communities ignores economic reality.

"We are a very different community than Skokie, which has the sales tax revenue from Old Orchard," Wynne said. "And to say we ‘should’ be like Highland Park is not realistic," because Evanston has a very different population with very different financial resources.

She said that in 13 years on the council — through debates on all sorts of issues — she’s heard people come before the council and say, in effect, "’You fools have made one stupid decision after another, and let me tell you what to do now.’"

That sort of attack on the intelligence of the aldermen is not likely to win over any votes, she suggested.

And she added that the recent decision by the friends group to seek support from a group of minority contractors fighting over distribution of funds from a $18 million federal housing grant was unwise, because the contractors complaints could put a program she called the best thing that’s ever happened to the city at risk.

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