Activists tell Senate panel change is necessary at Pratt

Supporters of bill want less power for director, board `to be accountable'

March 14, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Proponents of a measure that would radically restructure the Enoch Pratt Free Library's board of trustees told a state Senate committee yesterday that the current arrangement gives the library system's director too much power.

Several Baltimore residents, all of whom lamented the recent closing of five city library branches, told the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee that the proposed changes would make the board more accountable.

The legislation introduced by Sen. Ralph M. Hughes, a West Baltimore Democrat, would change state law to abolish the library's 120-year-old system of appointing the trustees from within and instead set up an external nominating committee. It also would require the library to maintain the current number of branches at 21 and seek more geographical and social diversity on the governing board.

"The board has been self-perpetuating for 120 years," said Jane Shipley, an activist with Save Libraries/Save Lives. "We need it to be accountable, with term limits."

Carla D. Hayden, the library's director, was in Phoenix and could not attend the hearing, but John Sondheim, a library official, testified against the measure.

He argued that when the library system was founded by Enoch Pratt in 1882, the structure of the board was designed to shield its members from political pressure.

Sen. Michael J. Collins, a Baltimore County Democrat, told Sondheim he was concerned about the library's leadership being "unresponsive" to the community over last year's closures. Referring to supporters of the bill, he said, "Don't be dismissive of these folks."

The city Senate delegation is expected to discuss the bill today. "I see very little ... support for it," said Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, the East Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the delegation.

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