Lawsuit Over Hartford Library Branches Is Withdrawn
By JEFFREY B. COHEN And STEVEN GOODE | Courant Staff Writers
July 23, 2008
A Superior Court lawsuit filed by neighborhood residents seeking to halt the closing of two city branch libraries has been withdrawn.
The action by the plaintiffs — on Monday, less than three weeks after the request for an injunction was filed — brought an abrupt end to a legal challenge to the Hartford Public Library board's decision in June to close the Mark Twain and Blue Hills branches.
The closings, justified for budgetary reasons, prompted neighborhood protests and harsh criticism from city hall.
As tempers have cooled, some city council members expressed hope that other cost-saving options could be found. The attorney for the Asylum Hill residents and children who filed the lawsuit said by withdrawing the lawsuit, talks with library officials will be able to reopen.
Jeffrey Dressler filed the suit July 3 to prevent "irreparable damage to the children of the neighborhoods and the community at large."
But after the library's board was instructed by its attorney not to speak with the residents while the suit was pending, Dressler said his clients decided to withdraw the action in order to reopen the lines of communication.
"We hope to sit down with all involved parties in order to work out a solution," Dressler said.
The library's board closed its Blue Hills and Mark Twain branches on July 3 and laid off 40 employees in an effort to close a $870,000 budget gap. The library said it needed roughly $9 million to operate; it got $8.2 million from the city.
The move has stirred a wave of discontent. The head of the library board of directors says there isn't enough money to keep the two branches open; the mayor and the council say the board could find the money if it tried.
Mayor Eddie A. Perez and Council President Calixto Torres threatened last week to take the library over entirely.
Since then, other options that might allow the reopening of the branches have been put forth by members of the council.
"People are trying to find some common ground, some common understanding," said Councilman Matt Ritter. "I don't think we're all the way there yet."
Council Minority Leader Larry Deutsch agreed with Ritter and said that various options are on the table to reopen the branches. They include reducing some operating hours across all city libraries; getting more money from the city council, the state, and corporations; consolidating the branches into buildings already used by the public; and putting libraries in schools where possible.
"There's universal recognition that closing library branches is not a good solution for the sake of the children, the elderly, the jobless, and others who are users," Deutsch said.
Both Ritter and Deutsch agreed that taking over the library isn't a good option, and Deutsch said that he thought it a bad idea to use the library's endowment, as some had suggested.
Perez has repeatedly asked the board to look into using some of its endowment to help offset its annual operating costs, saying the decision to close the library branches "is not acceptable to me and it's not acceptable to a the majority of the council."
Library board President Geraldine Sullivan said that the library already uses money from its endowment — since the 1970s, the library has "given over $8 million back to the city" from the income from its endowment. That figure represents 75 percent of the total endowment income, she said.
"The endowment has allowed us to contribute each year, and that's what it's supposed to do," she said. "We don't want to jeopardize that in the future."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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