Lake council member to face hearing over Gary library vote

2012-02-24T17:00:00Z 2012-02-24T18:06:10Z Lake council member to face hearing over Gary library voteBy Bill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
February 24, 2012 5:00 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | A Gary Public Library board member next month at a public hearing will have to defend her decision to support closure of the city's main library.

The Lake County Council will have a special meeting at 2 p.m. March 13 on whether to remove Cynthia D. Watts as its representative to the library board in Gary.

It will take place in the Commissioners Courtroom on the top floor of the administration building of the Lake County Government Center, 2293 N. Main St., Crown Point.

Ben Coleman, a former Gary library board president, petitioned the County Council earlier this month to recall Watts after she voted recently with a majority on the Gary library board to convert the main library at 220 W. Fifth Ave. into a museum. Book circulation services at that library ended last month.

Councilwoman Elsie Franklin, D-Gary, agrees, saying the Fifth Avenue library was too vital to city residents to be closed.

Ray Szarmach, the County Council's legal adviser, said earlier this month that state law requires the council to give Watts the chance to defend herself and can remove her only for just cause.

The council will vote on whether Watts' decision "jeopardizes public confidence" in her, according to the public notice of her hearing.

Gary library board President Tony Walker said earlier he will argue on Watts' behalf that she acted responsibly to cut costs to save Gary's remaining system of neighborhood library branches.

Gary's Public Library was founded in 1908, according to the system's website, to serve the needs not only of the Steel City's immigrant mill workers but also rural south Lake County and Porter County populations before the advent of township libraries.

But the fortunes of the Gary library system are in decline as are those of other libraries throughout Indiana, said Susan Akers, director of the Indiana Library Federation.

Akers said individual libraries are losing thousands of dollars in revenue because of property tax cuts.

Hammond was forced to close its E.B. Hayward and Howard branch libraries in the fall. Akers said Indianapolis narrowly averted having to shutter six of its inner-city branches.

She said other community library systems are having to cut back hours and staff to avoid their own closures.

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