Gary library board tables plan for layoffs
By Michael Gonzalez Post-Tribune correspondent January 24, 2012 9:34PM
Updated: February 26, 2012 8:16AM
GARY — Buoyed by a vocal crowd, several politicians and speakers were long on criticisms but short on solutions Tuesday on the Gary Public Library board’s plans to convert the closed Main Branch into the South Shore Museum and Cultural Center.
The board picked Gariup Construction to work on the facade for the new center for $386,500 and hired a new legal team, Trent A. McCain and Kelly White, to replace former GPL attorney Karen Freeman-Wilson, now mayor of Gary.
But the board tabled any action on the likely layoffs of 20 to 30 employees due to the Main Branch’s closure.
The lack of action appeared to be a source of frustration for board members, employees attending the meeting and AFSCME Local 2760 members affected by the changes.
The reorganization plan is critical to determining how staffing of the remaining libraries will be handled, but the board said it was not prepared to move on any staffing changes, board President Tony Walker said.
AFSCME leader Willie Wallace peppered the board with questions about the library’s reorganization, which has not been completed.
“Has anyone thought about these employees? When people are out of work, they can’t pay their taxes and they lose their homes,” Wallace said to applause.
“I don’t mind paying taxes, but I do mind paying taxes when my fellow citizens are losing their jobs, losing their homes.”
Walker said Gary’s expected property tax collection rate of 68 percent, fast-falling tax revenue due to property tax caps and the costs of operating a fully staffed library decimated the system’s budget.
He also tossed more doom into the mix.
“And we’re just the first one,” Walker said of the deep changes as he responded to a list of questions from Wallace and AFSCME staff member Cassandra Stigger. “Every other body in this community, this county, is coming behind us.”
Lake County Councilwoman Elsie Franklin, D-Gary, promised to do something, though she wasn’t specific.
“You said to me, ‘The (closure) decision has already been made,’” she said to Walker.
“I say to you there’s nothing that’s been decided in this community that can’t be undone.”
Newly elected Gary City Councilman Ron Brewer, D- At Large, also hammered at the board and made a reference to the much criticized Gary Steel Yard baseball stadium, home of the South Shore RailCats.
“I’m telling all the citizens here, we will get what we want out of this deal,” Brewer said. “This seems like the baseball stadium all over again. Give the people something they want, not something you want.”
Gary School Board president Darren Washington, a candidate for state Senate, encouraged library trustees to go back to the drawing board and added a plug for a 1 percent nonresident income tax the School Board and City Council are pushing.
“I believe we can all win in this issue,” Washington said. “We need to come up with plausible solutions to bring financing here.”