Lake County Council shelves Gary library dispute

2012-03-13T20:00:00Z 2012-03-13T21:50:51Z Lake County Council shelves Gary library disputeBy Bill Dolan, (219) 662-5328

CROWN POINT | Those wanting to read the next chapter in the Gary Public Library dispute are being put on a waiting list.

Lake County Council members indefinitely postponed a decision about their representative to the Gary library board Tuesday after finding themselves undecided.

A coalition of Gary residents is asking the County Council to remove Cynthia Watts as their representative on the Gary library board, where she has served for 15 years. The request came after she voted with a 4-3 majority last year to close Gary's Main Library at 220 W. Fifth Ave. in January and reopen it later this summer as a cultural center. 

Watts didn't speak on her own behalf at the public hearing Tuesday in Crown Point.

Instead, council members heard Gary library board President Tony Walker speak in support of Watts. Eight opponents of the library closure spoke against her.

Douglas Grimes, a former Gary city judge, said Watt's vote closed Gary's "symbol of literacy."

Ben Coleman, a former Gary library board president, said the community was not involved in the decision to close the main library.

"We were shocked when we were told there was no money and we have to close it, and then told we had enough money for a museum," Coleman said. "On the whole, no one wants a museum."

Walker said Watts voted with a library board majority forced to face the harsh reality of shrunken revenues caused by state-mandated property tax cuts.

"The library's six branch footprint was designed for a city with a population of 160,000," Walker said. "We are now down by the latest census to half that, but we still have four full-service library branches in the neighborhoods."

Walker said the library board chose to open a cultural center rather than leave another boarded-up building in downtown Gary, despite a diligent search for another tenant.

Councilwoman Elsie Franklin, D-Gary, said she feels Watts was guilty of following somebody else's lead rather than voting her own conscience.

"She told me she didn't have time to read the information," Franklin said. "Citizens didn't want the library closed. They want to keep it downtown."

Walker said Watts does have her own opinions, but chose to let him speak for her as her attorney.

"I didn't want her badgered by Councilwoman Franklin," he said.

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