Lake County Council to consider Gary library trustee’s ouster
By Rich Bird Post-Tribune correspondent February 24, 2012 2:36PM
Updated: March 26, 2012 8:07AM
The Lake County Council has scheduled a March 13 hearing to decide whether it will remove Cynthia Watts from the Gary Public Library Board for her vote to close and convert Gary’s main library branch into a cultural center.
Councilwoman Elsie Franklin, whose Second District includes the library building at 220 W. 5th Ave., said Watts failed to perform due diligence or discuss the issue with the council prior to the vote.
Watts is the council’s appointee to the Library Board, which also comprises appointees from the mayor of Gary, the Gary Common Council, the Gary Community School Board and the Lake County Board of Commissioners.
A petition drive, organized in part by former Library Board President Ben Coleman, has targeted board members who backed the closure, including Watts, current board president Tony Walker and trustees Jonathan Boose and Rayfield Walker.
“Mrs. Watts is a lady of integrity,” Franklin said. “We have a relationship, but this has nothing to do with friendship. It’s about the public. I have over 1,000 signatures presented to me from the people of that area. The people of that area do not want that library closed. ... That library is in my district. I work for my constituents not just for one person.”
Watts could not be reached for comment. However, Walker — who said he was handling all her calls on the matter — contends Watts is the target of political retribution.
He said the push stems back to Coleman’s days on the board, and Watts’ unwillingness to support Coleman’s extravagant travel expenditures. He pointed to a 2005 Post-Tribune investigation that showed Coleman and the board racked up $33,000 in expenses for more than 20 individual trips to conferences at a time when the board was borrowing money to stay solvent.
“Mr. Coleman is using this opportunity to exact a personal vendetta against Cynthia Watts,” said Walker, an attorney who intends to represent Watts at the hearing. “There is no reasonable basis for her to be removed because she was fiscally responsible in trying to balance the budget. This is totally an abuse of the process.”
Coleman denied the charge.
“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “The petition is a recall. We’re not discriminating against anybody. I don’t have any personal vendetta. The only vendetta I have is that I love the institution — the library.
“You don’t get into a project not knowing what the museum will contain, how you’ll pay for it or a long-range plan for the community to see. As of today, there is still no plan.”
Franklin also dismissed the notion of retribution and said she wanted the hearing because she did not like what she saw at the Library Board.
“I went to the meetings and sat there and watched what was going on,” she said. “Mr. Walker has a bloc, and whatever Mr. Walker wants, Mr. Walker gets. It boils down to a violation of the public’s trust. (Watts) is not representing the people.”
The hearing will take place at 2 p.m. March 13 at the Lake County Government Center.