Lake County Council hears pros, cons of removing Gary library board member
By Rich Bird Post-Tribune correspondent March 13, 2012 5:10PM
Lake County coucnilman Dan Dernulc listens along with other council members as arguments are made for and against the removal of Cynthia Watts from the Gary Public Library board during a special hearing in Crown Point Tuesday Mar. 13, 2012. The council voted to delay any decision until a later date. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 15, 2012 8:11AM
CROWN POINT — Cynthia Watts remains a member of the Gary Public Library Board — the question is, for how long?
The Lake County Council on Tuesday convened a public hearing to consider removing the embattled Watts from the board over the controversial vote to close Gary’s main branch and the subsequent plan to convert the building into a cultural center.
Watts, who is in her fourth term as the council’s representative to the board, has a little more than a year left on her term.
She remained silent throughout the hearing, letting attorney and Library Board President Tony Walker represent her. Walker presented the County Council with a binder of documents to chronicle the two-year process the Library Board took to consider the closure of the main branch, as well as the Tolleston branch.
His presentation included jabs at the governor and the property tax caps that reduced anticipated tax revenue to the library system. He also hinted at a politically motivated plot to target Watts. He also attempted to discredit those who organized the petition of more than 3,000 names calling for Watts’ removal, questioning where they were for the two years of meetings that led to the vote.
He said it would be an “absolutely horrible precedent” to remove Watts “for voting to be fiscally responsible and for a balanced budget.”
Those opposed to the closures filled the commissioners’ chambers at the Lake County Government Center, and several spoke publicly against Watts.
Local lawyer Douglas Grimes questioned the legality of using tax money collected for a library to create a cultural center.
“You’re using money for a different purpose,” Grimes said. “(That money is designated) not for a cyber café or a cultural center, but for a library.”
Miller resident and businessman Richard Barnes questioned the impact to the thousands of residents who rely on the library for Internet access.
“She was charged to protect the institution, and voted to close the library and gut the building,” Barnes said. “Today we are here because Cynthia Watts has lost her vision.”
County Councilwoman Elsie Franklin, whose 2nd District includes the library building at 220 W. 5th Ave., brought the matter before her fellow council members, and said last month she had the votes to remove Watts.
However, after the close of the one-hour public hearing, Franklin moved to take the matter under advisement.
“Miss Watts is an honorable lady,” she said. “This has nothing to do with that. It has to do with her fiduciary responsibilities.
Council attorney Ray Szarmach prefaced the hearing by citing the portions of Indiana Code that establish library boards, and what he called the narrow circumstances under which the council could remove its appointee.
“It is whether or not the member did something to jeopardize public confidence in that member,” Szarmach said.
No date has been set for further consideration.