Mayor rejects bill on library closings Council sought hearings before branch shutdowns

July 10, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore library patrons will not receive advance warning about branch closings after Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that he won't sign a bill requiring public hearings on the shutdowns.

The legislation, sponsored by Councilman Martin O'Malley of the 3rd District, was passed last month by the council and would have required the Enoch Pratt Free Library to justify branch closings through public forums.

The bill was created after the library closed two of its 28 branches -- in Charles Village and Morrell Park -- last summer.

Schmoke said yesterday that he will follow the recommendation of library director Carla Hayden and pocket veto the council measure by not signing it. Schmoke has until next Wednesday to sign the bill and meet a 30-day deadline or the measure does not become law.

Pratt officials oppose the measure, fearing that it would politicize the operation of the library, Schmoke said.

The council could effectively hold library funding hostage by delaying approval in reaction to branch closing announcements, officials said.

"We want to try to remove it from as much politics as we can," Schmoke said.

Library supporters, accompanied by 3rd District Councilman Robert Curran, made one last pitch to persuade Schmoke to support the bill during Wednesday's Board of Estimates meeting.

The push for the bill grew out of complaints from Charles Village residents last summer when the branch at 2521 St. Paul St. was closed. Community members have since been working to reopen the facility.

Odette Ramos of Charles Village told the mayor Wednesday that library patrons upset about the branch closing want to make sure other supporters throughout the city don't experience surprise closings.

"Branch libraries in the city are precious, and we want to keep it that way," Ramos said. "Even if they aren't big users, patrons don't want to see their branches closed."

O'Malley added yesterday, "That's exactly why we introduced the bill, so that branch closings wouldn't be arbitrary and capricious like the way they did it in the past."

Curran told Schmoke that if he vetoes the measure, the council will attempt to reintroduce a new version of the bill in the fall. Fears of council retribution over branch closings is unwarranted, Curran said.

"Nobody is going to veto funding to the Pratt," he said.

In a related matter, Schmoke signed a bill Wednesday afternoon allowing the library to borrow $3 million for its operations.

Pub Date: 7/10/98

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