Library board OKs residency requirement

Trustees must live in city, but not directors

ACORN won't drop suit

October 18, 2001|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

The Enoch Pratt Free Library's board of trustees voted yesterday to require its members to live in Baltimore, a tactic designed to derail a lawsuit challenging its authority to close neighborhood branches.

For years, the trustees' policy required members to live in Baltimore at the time of their appointment, but allowed them to move outside of the city, provided they stayed within the state. A July letter of advice from the state attorney general's office, however, said the library trustees legally must live within the city.

Noting that letter, a lawsuit filed in Baltimore Circuit Court by community activists in late August sought to block the closure of five library branches, charging that the board of trustees lacked the legal authority to close them because some members lived outside the city.

Library Director Carla D. Hayden declined to comment on the legal implications of yesterday's board meeting. But library spokeswoman Mona M. Rock said: "That's why the board took this action, to avoid unnecessary litigation."

The 27-member board also voted yesterday to formally approve Hayden's decision to close the five branches - Hollins-Payson, Dundalk, Gardenville, Fells Point and Pimlico - on Sept. 1.

Despite the board's approval of a residency requirement, plaintiffs in the lawsuit - including the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) - declared yesterday that they have no intention of dropping the case. They maintain their goal is a more diverse library board across racial, geographic and economic lines.

"This is a victory in moving toward a representative board, and the lawsuit will go forward," said plaintiff Glenn T. Scott.

But, he added: "The board of directors is still not representative of citizens." Library officials conceded that the new city residency requirement will not extend to the 23-member board of directors, a second panel that meets monthly and is generally more active than the board of trustees. The board of trustees, some of whose members are also on the board of directors, provides fiscal oversight, but meets once a year.

"We'll continue this, since the most difficult part remains," said David B. Goldstein, lawyer for the ACORN plaintiffs.

Margot "Peggy" Heller, who was elected president of the board of directors yesterday, called the new residency requirement "a decision to move the library forward in the strongest manner."

Heller, a Baltimore County resident, was affected by the new policy and recently resigned from the board of trustees. At least six other trustees resigned yesterday, library officials said.

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