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Public support saves Fairhaven Library

By On

The Fairhaven Library will stay open. The reason is many people informed library and City officials that they wanted the library to stay open. Over 40 people attended the Board of Trustees meeting this afternoon and a show of hands revealed almost all were there to support the Fairhaven library. One can surmise many could not attend during work hours.

Last week the five-member Board agreed they would vote to close the Fairhaven library at today's meeting. However, today while they discussed closing it, all were very shy of saying they were for closing it. They had changed their minds from last week, but they did not admit it. The Board dragged out the meeting for over two hours and finally voted to cut other programs.

Even Jay Gordon did not suggest closing it. Jay had obviously been given, and had taken, his marching orders. Last week Jay said very clearly he would vote to close Fairhaven library. Tonight, when the vote was taken, he did not move his lips. He did not vote. After the meeting I asked him how he voted, he said, "I'm not going to tell you." A minute later, the library secretary went up to him and asked how he wanted his vote recorded, and he told her it was a "yes" to go along with the other three. Jay was very angry - apparently at me.

Marilyn Master very weakly said "aye" to the question of abstentions from Edelstein, the chair. I asked her afterward if she had indeed abstained and she reluctantly admitted she had. She gave no reason.

The board clearly reversed itself from last week. Even the Library Director's handout with a list of possible items to cut was adjusted from last week, but not explained as such. The recommended cuts were green-colored text. Last week's handout had Fairhaven in green. Today's had it in black and, lo, wonder of wonders - the savings to result from closing Fairhaven has shrunk from $99,000 down to $80,000. So, closing Fairhaven would no longer save that much. And was no longer recommended. It all worked out so conveniently.

Make no mistake. The Fairhaven library would have been closed had not many people strongly objected. The chair, David Edelstein, never once suggested Fairhaven was not up for consideration. No Trustee did. The board spent over an hour with lectures and explanations to the audience about budgets and the angst they endure. There was even a power point presentation. It was as if last week's meeting never took place, as if they never spent an hour and a half reaching agreement on what to cut - which then included Fairhaven. It was a show for our benefit. Edelstein casually asked one board member to suggest what she would cut and, amazingly, the items she listed turned out to be exactly what they voted for a half hour later, after much discussion. Just so convenient. Probably well prepared. Jay Gordon was not asked for his list. Marilyn did not list all of hers.

Yes, this is tending toward "inside baseball." This is how public decisions are made - not in open public discussion, but before hand.

Herald reporter Sam Taylor was there, replacing Kie Relyea who covered last week's meeting. Her story of last Saturday was overwritten by Sam. Sam "reported" that people were in a panic over the possibility that Fairhaven would close. In tomorrow's Herald, Sam will tell us that closing Fairhaven was never mentioned, instead suggesting it was never considered and that I cried wolf. Sam knows the truth. Normally the Herald would not have run any article on the Library Board deliberations until after the final vote - and too late for anyone to attend and speak out. It was probably only because of the article on NwCitizen that the Herald ran the article on Saturday trying to debunk it.

Our Fairhaven Library is again temporarily "safe" after this 8th attempt since 1992 to close it. It is sad we citizens have to turn out to a long public meeting just to save something that should never be at risk. It is sad our daily newspaper is so irresponsible. The community value of the Fairhaven library is huge and I hope to write about that value this summer. We deserve better from our library leadership. But the problem extends much higher. The question of whether branch or central libraries will best serve our city's future deserves careful examination, not political gamesmanship.

A closing tidbit. A bit of progress. The board of Trustees sat at a table facing the audience, and spoke up. It was a nice change from their past practice of sitting in a circle around a table talking quietly to each other with their backs to the audience.

About John Servais

Writer • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Kamalla R. Kaur

Jun 16, 2010

Way to go NW Citizens!

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Tip Johnson

Jun 16, 2010

I hope you do write.  I see at least three other stories, besides the Herald, I mean ;-)

1) What kind of board training would leave their members believing that their votes are not public?

2) What administrative magic is required to change an agreed agenda prior to the meeting at which action is intended?

3) What is our city’s vision for neighborhoods, urban villages, transportation and an aging population, and how do branch libraries compare with central libraries in terms of efficiency and convenience?

I guess I can think of a few more, but then I’m not writing the articles!

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John Servais

Jun 16, 2010

There is another topic - and it should be touched on immediately.  The Outreach Services of the library. 

It is very easy to continue the outreach services even with the budget cuts - if the Bellingham Library would allow volunteers to help.  For years the library has turned down volunteers with the excuse that the “union” would not allow volunteers to supplement city staffing needs.  Members of the Friends of the Bellingham and Fairhaven libraries have repeatedly offered their volunteer time for many years for any tasks that would help seniors or the libraries or the kids using the libraries.  The library has always given swift rejection to these offers. 

It is time to publicly question this claim that the union is the culprit.  Why?  Because just these past few weeks I’ve learned that the union representing city workers had offered to allow furloughs as a cost cutting measure.  The mayor turned down the offer and let the public think that the union was against furloughs.  So, if the city administration is being duplicitous with the issue of furloughs, then perhaps they are doing the same with regard to the issue of volunteers. 

I would welcome others to shed further light on both these issues.  This is a touchy issue and city employees would risk their careers and jobs with the city by exercising their American right to free speech.  That is a sad fact of life in Bellingham.  Regardless, I hope some will find a way for the public to know the truth. 

Bottom line - in a time of cost cutting, we should look to where volunteers can help.  Volunteers can help with outreach services, and there are many who would volunteer if only the Bellingham Public Library would accept their help.

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Mary Dickinson

Jun 17, 2010

Thank you so much for bringing this to the public’s attention, Northwest Citizen and Mr. Servais.  I saw no other reporting about this until a couple of days after this website “broke” the story.  Thanks for looking out for us on local issues! :-)

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Robert Mongue

Jun 17, 2010

John,,,,YOU ROCK!

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Tip Johnson

Jun 17, 2010

Interesting point on the volunteer potential.  It occurs to me that the position of the union and administration may be irrelevant. Why couldn’t the several proximal neighborhood associations initiate their own outreach programs, making sure residents know how to access and utilize the library’s services?

It is definitely time to demonstrate the advantages of a branch library system, and there is no better agency to do so than the neighborhoods that benefit.

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