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Gary Library Board member removed by Lake County Council

Updated: May 12, 2012 8:13AM



CROWN POINT — The Lake County Council voted 4-3 Tuesday to remove Cynthia Watts from the Gary Public Library Board of Trustees.

At the request of Councilwoman Elsie Franklin, fellow council members Ted Bilski, Rick Niemeyer and Daniel Dernulc voted to remove Watts, who has served as the council’s appointee to the board for the last 15 years.

Council President Jerome Prince, and council members Christine Cid and Michael Repay voted against the removal.

The council did not address the vacancy created by the vote.

Watts and other library trustees came under fire from the public for the board’s decision to close the Tolleston and main branches, and the subsequent plan to convert the main branch building into a cultural center. Franklin, who represents an area of Gary that includes the main branch building, called for the vote after receiving a petition with more than 3,000 signatures calling for the ouster.

Library Board President Tony Walker, who defended Watts last month at a public hearing called by the council on the request, called the vote “blatantly disrespectful.”

“From the library’s perspective it’s regrettable,” Walker said. “Miss Watts showed up to every meeting. I don’t recall her missing one meeting. She showed up prepared every time. She had almost 16 years of service. She’ll be missed on the board.

“I think it was unfair that in 15 years, they never called her into a county council meeting for an update. They failed to send any representative to our meetings to inform the appointing authorities about what we were doing. This has more to do with politics than anything taking place with the library.”

Prior to the vote, Franklin stated publicly that her request to remove Watts was not political.

“I want to make this emphatically clear,” she said. “… Miss Watts is not a political person, and does not hold office. This is not political.

“The question is whether she fulfilled her fiduciary responsibilities to the people, the taxpayers, of the city of Gary, Ind.”

Cid also prefaced her vote with an explanation.

“I know that as a council member here — although I’m elected and not appointed — I’ve had to make some very tough fiscal decisions,” Cid said. “With that said, it may not be popular with the public, but it’s what I felt was the right thing for the majority of the people I represent not just my district, but all the people of Lake County.

“I personally did not see any wrongdoing, of any illegal activity that would jeopardize the public’s trust. She did make an unpopular decision.”

Prince clarified that the issue before the board was a matter of public confidence in Watts, not a referendum on the decisions of the board.

“The only issue that should be decided is whether that person’s actions undermined the public’s confidence — not whether the library should be closed, or whether they should open a museum,” Prince said. “… I think it’s a pretty foregone conclusion that the library system could not continue to operate under the existing financial structure.”

Former Library Board President Ben Coleman, who helped organize the petition drive, was pleased by the vote.

“We’re very happy about it,” he said. “All we ask is that people remain accountable to the citizens that they serve. The public was not pleased with the action that Miss Watts took.”



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