By JEFFREY B. COHEN And STEVEN GOODE | Courant Staff Writers
August 21, 2008
The battle between the city council and Mayor Eddie A. Perez over two closed branch libraries took a twist Wednesday, with library officials saying a new wrinkle in the funding dispute means the branches that were supposed to reopen Monday no longer will.
"They can say whatever they want to say, but we're not opening," said Geraldine Sullivan, the library board's president. "We cannot operate in a deficit."
The problem? Although the council voted to give $200,000 to the libraries, it failed to explain where the money would come from, the mayor said, adding that he believes the council violated the charter.
The council last week voted to give the funds to reopen the Mark Twain and Blue Hills Avenue neighborhood branches Monday, the first day of school. They were closed earlier this summer because of a $870,000 gap in the library's budget.
Library officials had argued that they needed more money from the city to keep the branches open; Perez argued back that they had all the money they needed and were spending it poorly. Everyone agreed to have the city's auditor look at the library's books to see if there were areas where money could be saved.
On Wednesday, Perez sent council President Calixto Torres a letter telling him that the council did not follow proper procedure when it voted to allocate the $200,000 without indicating where the money should come from. Because the action violated the charter, Perez said, he needed to take no action on it.
In an e-mail, Perez spokeswoman Sarah Barr added that the city can hardly afford to spend more money because "there is a strong likelihood that there will be cuts in services and in personnel as the year progresses to keep the budget balanced."
Torres could not be reached for comment.
The news stunned neighborhood groups.
"We were planning a celebration for Monday," said Susan Hood of the Laurel Corner Neighborhood Association. "What a slap at the citizens of this city. This is political posturing on his part and the result is punishing neighborhoods and punishing children.
"I've had it. I've simply had it," said Hood, saying she's thinking of leaving the city.
Council members had mixed reactions to Perez's letter.
Majority Leader rJo Winch said that the matter could be resolved as long as the council identifies where the money could come from, and that could happen Sunday night when Torres returns from vacation.
"I hope they're still going to open on Monday," Winch said. "I'm going to call a couple of the board members to ensure that the council is still keeping their word and that we just need to find the funds and let the administration know where those funds would come from."
Councilman Matthew Ritter said he thought "it's a bit of a stretch to say we violated the charter because we didn't say where the money was coming from." The council chose to let Perez find the money instead of forcing his hand, Ritter said.
"One can argue it in circles, but what I think he should have done was veto the resolution and not say we violated the charter," Ritter said, adding he doesn't know what comes next.
Catherine D'Italia, special assistant to Chief Librarian Louise Blalock, said the staff had already started working toward a Monday opening. Even if they get word Sunday night that money has been found, they wouldn't have time to open the next morning.
The whole thing left Sullivan disappointed.
"I think it's unfortunate that the community groups, the board, the library and the city council worked hard to come together for a solution," Sullivan said. "Unfortunately, the mayor does not want to be part of the solution."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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