Pratt made cuts because of court loss, residents say Library spokeswoman denies allegations

September 03, 1997|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Charles Village activists accused the Enoch Pratt Free Library yesterday of ordering cutbacks in the system in retaliation for the community's victory in court that kept their neighborhood branch open.

Last weekend, Pratt officials said they would reduce the hours at the nearby Waverly library because a judge had ordered Thursday that the St. Paul Street branch, in Charles Village, remain open temporarily. Pratt officials planned to close the library Saturday because of budget cuts.

"This is a political tactic to divide the community and cause contention," said Judith Hart-McLean, co-chair of the Friends of the St. Paul Street Branch, which filed suit against the Pratt board last week.

Library officials denied the allegations yesterday.

"We were not trying to divide anybody," said Averil Kadis, library spokeswoman. "Why would we? It is not in our interest to divide DTC library communities."

The St. Paul Street group sent a letter to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday asking him to "help us find monetary ways to keep the library open." It also asked Del. Howard P. Rawlings to help.

Rawlings said he understood that the branch had to close because of budget cuts and that he didn't think reduced hours at Waverly were retaliatory.

"I just take the library at its word that this was the most appropriate decision," he said. "The thing that I would tell the people is what I'm doing is to plan for the closing of the library and do everything in our power to find alternative uses for that site."

Schmoke had no immediate reaction to the letter.

Charles Village residents said they would continue to fight in court to keep the library open.

"At stake here is whether governing bodies can do things like close libraries without proper procedures and discussions that go along with good government," said Sharon L. Guida, attorney for the Friends of the St. Paul Street Branch.

The group, among other legal issues, alleges that the Pratt decided to close their library without proper public comment.

On Sept. 11, a Baltimore judge will rule on whether to extend the injunction against the Pratt to keep the branch open. Further hearings would be needed to resolve the larger issues of whether the Pratt violated state law in its decision to close the branch.

Pratt officials have filed an appeal with the state Court of Special Appeals. As of late yesterday, the court had not told Pratt officials whether it would take the case.

The struggle over the closing began last month when Pratt Director Carla Hayden announced that to cover a $1 million shortfall, two branches would close.

Morrell Park in Southwest Baltimore and St. Paul Street were the branches.

Morrell Park library patrons did not fight the decision in court. That branch closed Saturday.

Pub Date: 9/03/97

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