Gwinnett Board Blinks, Rescinds System Reorganization

Posted Sunday, October 25, 2009 - 02:00

Citizen-activists in Gwinnett County, Georgia, won a months-long battle with library officials October 21 when trustees at a specially called meeting voted unanimously to keep all 15 branches of the county system open as full-service libraries instead of converting three facilities to bookless computer centers or shuttering them altogether. “I believe we put enough pressure on [library officials] to drag them kicking and screaming into seeing what the people of Gwinnett County want,” business leader Chad Parson posted October 24 to the anti-reorganization blog They Took My Books.

However, the trade-off appears to be the imposition next year of staff furloughs, an as-yet-undisclosed number of layoffs, and the systemwide reduction in service hours from 47 hours per week to 35. The goal is to close a projected 2010 deficit of $1.2-million.

At the meeting GCPL Executive Director Nancy Stanbery-Kellam read from a prepared statement that she was abandoning her September recommendation because “we must have support from the elected officials who have in the past and who are currently working at both the local and state level to provide funding for public libraries in Gwinnett County.” The declaration appeared to have been triggered by strongly worded letters from several county commissioners and state legislators.

“We are asking you to take a methodical, measured approach to changes to the community-based library system that has served Gwinnett County well for decades,” wrote (PDF file) Commissioners Bert Nasuti, Mike Beaudreau, and Kevin Kenrly October 6, insisting that if library officials “believe that a restructuring is necessary [they should] initiate a planning process that is done in the open.” Pulling no punches, Beaudreau said in the October 16 Gwinnett Daily Post, “The letter is meant to be an ‘or else,’ a last resort before having to take irreversible action.”

Two days later, Georgia State Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) and Rep. Donna Sheldon (R-Dacula) echoed the commissioners’ call in an open letter to the community published in the Daily Post. The lawmakers accused trustees of approving actions that were “politically arbitrary, fluctuating, and not professionally planned” and therefore placing future “referenda at stake due to lack of voter trust.”

Despite the grassroots victory, community activist Chad Parson reiterated October 24 the second demand of a petition that began circulating in late September: that library trustees vote no confidence in Stanbery-Kellam and dismiss her, and if they refuse, that the county commission replace the entire board for failing to fire her.

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