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.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Is the city really cutting millions of dollars?

    I heard another new item of waste last night at the library meeting added to the city budget – a volunteer coordinater – when one branch supporter suggest she had not reached out to them – Alderperson Grover -stated she was still setting up her office.   Lets get real – why do we need a volunteer coordinater another new and useless position.   Many citizens volunteer for the city – the police department has quite an active group,  the ecology center has volunteers, these are two programs I am familar with volunteers – there are plenty of people volunteering for programs they value in the city.  Why another $50,000 to $80,000 wasted?

    I am not a member of the friends of the library – but they have done a very good job – creating a large group of volunteers. what did the council do when these people raised the $170,000 – nothing to encourage them to continue their efforts – the phony politics of the council – is not acceptable.  One can not blame these people from being discouraged.

    As for the 311 center – in questioning the alderperson on that – none of them could give me a straght answer – on the cost – one stated it was in the budget – none of them claimed they had seen a document outlining costs?  Lets get real here- they sit around for months worrying about branch libraries and they allow Wally to go out and hire a bunch of people for a 311 Center.  At the budget work shop which it appears the city screwed up the tape of the meeting and now can not replay it – it was stated the cost for the 311 was $800,000 – now other numbers are being presented – are council members "fools" or just have no sense of fiscal responsibility?

    1. Poor leadership is the reason branch libraries might close

      I agree Ponzi.

      The participation in the grassroots effort to keep the branch libraries open is most commendable and admirable.

      But the leadership of the Friends of the Evanston Library along with the Library Board  fumbled big time. When an unelected board votes itself a taxing body without ever holding a public hearing in these severe economic times is unacceptable.

      Then the Evanston Library Friends officially  joins a protest with a minority group demanding more jobs from stimulus money is laughable and embarassing. It was bad PR.

      Then the Mayor appoints two people on the Library Board, one of whom is a close friend, and voila, dreams of the branch libraries dim.

      And now, Tendam, Grover and Wynne hint that two more council members must be persuaded in order to give the Library Board have oversight of library funding.

      So I ask in humility – why in the world did Tendam, Wynne and Grover vote for the 311 Center? Or refuse to play hardball with the Evanston Fire Union who survived the layoffs through intimidation and a lawsuit? What about making a hard decision such as closing down one of the two fire stations on Central Street about one mile apart? Or why did they agree to increase the budget of the Township Assessor’s Office?  These are just some examples of big budgetary  items that could be cut.

      Keeping the branch libraries open is not an expensive proposition compared to the aforementioned items.

      The tenable position the branch libray supporters are in can be chalked up to poor leadership in their group as well as the City Council, in particular Tendam, Wynne and Grover.

      If Tendam, Wynne and Grover truly want to keep the branch libraries open, they would play hardball politics and push to make meaningful budgetary cuts and keep the branches open.

      But in this climate, the Council, although it did layoff 44 employees, has raised taxes, fees, increased the Township Assessor’s budget and created a 311 center, hiring 20 new employees.

      Councilwoman Wynne told the audience that people won’t win votes when they come before the Council and say – "’You fools have made one stupid decision after another, and let me tell you what to do now."

      Au contraie Wynne – you won’t win votes either if you don’t listen. 

  2. Libraries

    I find it fascinating that so many of the people who are against maintaining the branch libraries blindly assume that most Evanstonians can readily access the downtown library.   That is not the case for a fourth- or fifth-grade child of a working mother who lives outside the center of our city, let alone one living on the periphery of our town,   Or a physically impaired adult who cannot get to the downtown library,.  What about the fact that usage is up at the branches?

    No, we’re not Skokie.  Neither are we Winnetka.  Ours is a town with a population that needs easy-access access to computers and/or books.,  The North Branch serves a large and lively community; the South (O.K., East) branch serves a needier one.

    I grew up in Chicago at a time when few people had  home libraries.  I spent much of my  life at the Hollywood Park branch of the Chicago Public Library with my friends.  The books there opened my life to worlds beyond the borders of my  little neighborhood,   I hope that Evanston can do at least as well as Chicago did half a century ago–particularly for those who do not have home libraries.

    Why blah blah blah about the reading achievement gaps in our schools and throw money and resources at  that problem if we limit access to the books which might encourage our children to read? 

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