Vo­cal but vain protest

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - News

BY STEVEN WAR­BUR­TON

Staff About 60 pro­test­ers de­ject­edly left the Stor­mont- Dun­dasGlen­garry coun­ties coun­cil cham­bers Mon­day morn­ing af­ter learn­ing that there’s very lit­tle coun­cil can do to halt the clo­sure of three li­brary branches.

About an hour be­fore the meet­ing, the demon­stra­tors marched out­side the coun­ties build­ing on Pitt Street in Corn­wall, wav­ing signs call­ing for the li­braries to re­main open and for the res­ig­na­tion of the SD&G Li­brary Board chair, Bill McGimpsey.

Late last month, the board voted 4-3 to close branches in Dalkeith, St. An­drew’s West and More­wood as of Sept. 3. The de­ci­sion sparked a wide­spread, and emo­tional, out­cry.

A del­e­ga­tion from each branch urged coun­cil Mon­day to fight for the li­braries. But coun­ties CAO T. J. Simp­son said that ac­cord­ing to a le­gal opin­ion, coun­cil can­not over­rule the li­brary board.

Both North Glen­garry coun­cil mem­bers spoke out against the clo­sures. Deputy- mayor and Coun­ties War­den Jamie Mac­Don­ald tem­po­rar­ily left the chair to crit­i­cize fel­low li­brary board mem­bers, de­nounc­ing “a last minute meet­ing that lacked trans­parency” dur­ing the High­land Games week­end. “How can any­one be com­fort­able with this process?” he asked, slam­ming the board for not hold­ing a pub­lic meet­ing and for ad­ding the Dalkeith branch to the list of clo­sures about 30 sec­onds be­fore the meet­ing be­gan. “Politi­cians are of­ten crit­i­cized for their lack of trans­parency,” he said, ad­ding that the li­brary board sit­u­a­tion was a good ex­am­ple of that.

North Glen­garry Mayor Chris McDonell said the board had, at a pre­vi­ous meet­ing in Wil­liamstown, agreed to hold pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions be­fore any clo­sures. “That was not done,” he said. “[Coun­ties coun­cil] had bud­geted for the op­er­a­tion of 18 branches and the board went against this de­ci­sion. We should be en­cour­ag­ing growth in­stead of clo­sures. How are stu­dents and the el­derly who don’t drive sup­posed to have li­brary ac­cess?”

South Glen­garry DeputyMayo­r Frank Prevost, who also sits on the board, said he was of­fended that the meet­ing was called on such short no­tice and that he’d like the board to re­con­sider the mat­ter.

For his part, Mr. McGimpsey, who is also Deputy-Mayor of North Stor­mont, de­fended his board’s de­ci­sion, say­ing that in the long run, it would im­prove li­brary ser­vices across the united Coun­ties.

He con­tin­ues to be the tar­get of branch sup­port­ers. At one point, a per­son called out, “Dis­hon­est,” prompt­ing Mr. Mac­Don­ald to de­clare the com­ment was in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

Although Mr. McGimpsey agreed Dalkeith res­i­dents would have to drive at least 22 min­utes to ac­cess an­other li­brary, in Alexan­dria or Van­kleek Hill, he said that the Dalkeith lo­ca­tion would live on as a de­pot where li­brary pa­trons could order books on­line and have them de­liv­ered to Dalkeith.

He said the build­ing would re­main open and would still pro­vide in­ter­net ac­cess and a se­lec­tion of his­tor­i­cal books. Although it would be op­er­ated by vol­un­teers rather than paid li­brary staff, Mr. McGimpsey sees this as more of a plus than a mi­nus.

“I think it’s ex­tremely cre­ative,” he said. “It’s a great op­por­tu­nity for them to set their own hours. I see it as an op­por­tu­nity to keep the branch open more than 15 hours a week.”

That idea isn’t likely to get a whole lot of im­me­di­ate sup­port, at least not ac­cord­ing to Friends of the Dalkeith Li­brary board mem­ber Brenda Noble, who said there’s not a whole lot of li­brary pa­trons in­ter­ested in vol­un­teer­ing.

As for the ac­cu­sa­tions of call­ing a meet­ing on short no­tice, Mr. McGimpsey says he called the July 29 meet­ing July 22. He said that date was ideal for a num­ber of stake­hold­ers so that the meet­ing wouldn’t con­flict with board mem­bers’ va­ca­tion plans or fam­ily com­mit­ments.

Not every­one at the coun­ties coun­cil ta­ble was quick to con­demn the li­brary board for its ac­tions. Coun­cil­lors Eric Dun­can and Gerry Boyce both said it was nec­es­sary to trust the judg­ment of the li­brary board.

Check­ing out for­ever

Brenda Noble says that if the Dalkeith li­brary closes on Sept. 3, she will never set foot in an­other SD&G li­brary ever again.

Ms. Noble, a mem­ber of the Friends of the Dalkeith Li­brary, was one of two pre­sen­ters to speak to coun­ties coun­cil on Mon­day morn­ing to fight for her li­brary’s fu­ture.

Af­ter not­ing that coun­ties coun­cil had ap­proved “a bud­get that in­cluded enough money to run all 18 branches for the year,” Ms. Noble asked for one of the coun­cil­lors to in­tro­duce a mo­tion to de­lay or dis­al­low the clo­sure of the Dalkeith branch as well as branches in St. Andrews West and More­wood. She also asked that li­brary board chair­man Bill McGimpsey be re­moved from his po­si­tion.

Ms. Noble spent much of her pre­sen­ta­tion dis­cussing the bud­get, stat­ing that coun­ties coun­cil could eas­ily keep the Dalkeith branch open if it sim­ply re­al­lo­cated some dol­lars.

Ac­cord­ing to Ms. Noble, the Dalkeith branch re­quires .1 per cent of the to­tal bud­get, about $27,000. She noted that the fur­ni­ture bud­get was $40,000, or $ 2,200 per li­brary branch. “Surely we could go with­out new chairs for a year to save a li­brary.”

She also noted that 65 per cent of the li­brary bud­get, $1.4 mil­lion, goes to wages. She said that if the board cut just 21 staff hours, the Dalkeith branch could stay open for one year.

Ms. Noble also took is­sue with be­ing told that Dalkeith res­i­dents could ob­tain li­brary ser­vices in Alexan­dria. She noted that the driv­ing dis­tance is the “equiv­a­lent of driv­ing from Corn­wall to Long Sault,” which she de­scribed as un­re­al­is­tic. She also said that the li­brary dou­bles as a gath­er­ing place and that shut­ting down the Dalkeith branch would, in ef­fect, be “shut­ter­ing a town” and “dis­plac­ing a com­mu­nity.”

Ms. Noble wasn’t the only one to speak specif­i­cally about the Dalkeith branch.

Leo Le­htiniemi, who is mar­ried to the li­brary board’s for­mer vice- chair­per­son, Barb Le­htiniemi, said that clos­ing the Dalkeith li­brary goes against the li­brary board’s for­mal man­date, which is “to pro­vide free and eq­ui­table ac­cess to rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion for the cit­i­zens of our di­verse com­mu­nity, wher­ever and when­ever they need it.” Mr. Le­htiniemi noted that Dalkeith is 23 km away from Alexan­dria, which is more than twice the dis­tance as it is to Van­kleek Hill. He said res­i­dents could get their li­brary ser­vices there but would have to pay a non-res­i­dent fee of at least $30 since Van­kleek Hill is out­side of the United Coun­ties.

“It might take as lit­tle as eight min­utes on the 401 to get from one branch to an­other in south part of SD&G, but it takes three times that long - on two-lane town­ship/county roads to drive be­tween Dalkeith and Alexan­dria,” he said. “It will cost Dalkeith li­brary pa­trons $5 per trip to go to Alexan­dria. That’s a sur­charge over and above the part of their taxes to sup­port a lo­cal li­brary - one they will no longer will have.”

Mr. Le­htiniemi added that the statis­tics the li­brary board – specif­i­cally its chair­per­son, Bill McGimpsey – based the de­ci­sion on were not ex­am­ined closely enough. Af­ter claim­ing that Mr. McGimpsey only com­pared user statis­tics for sin­gle month in 2016 with a sin­gle month from 2015, he then in­vited coun­ties coun­cil to ex­am­ine the big­ger pic­ture.

“Every­one knows things fluc­tu­ate from year to year and month to month, even in busi­ness,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Mr. Le­htiniemi’s anal­y­sis, the av­er­age num­ber of monthly bor­row­ers so far in 2016 is up 36 per cent from this time last year. Also, the monthly cir­cu­la­tion in 2016 is up 23 per cent and the num­ber of vis­i­tors is up 11 per cent.

Mr. Le­htiniemi wanted coun­cil to de­fer any ac­tion to im­ple­ment the clo­sure un­til the num­bers have been care­fully ex­am­ined and the pub­lic has been con­sulted.

“This coun­cil has the op­por­tu­nity make this a good news story,” he said.

STEVEN WAR­BUR­TON PHOTO

FU­TILE: Pro­test­ers, launch­ing per­sonal at­tacks against the li­brary board chair, learned coun­ties coun­cil could not save branches.

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