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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

6 to 0 Birmingham City Commission votes to put Baldwin Library on the May Balllot

 Was it a surprise ?  

"A complete Surprise," one Library Board member said after witnessing the vote.

The Vote came  two months, two weeks, and two days after the City Commission's last library vote on November 25th 2013.  The out come last fall  was  was 6 to 1 in favor of placing  the bond issue on the May ballot. 

But the margin seemed closer than that.For the first time since it's introduction in December of 2011 the plan was criticized as being too expensive, not needed, requiring a lengthy analysis with the City's other needs, and even rushed.

There was talk of  derailing the 6 to 1  vote at the City's Future Planning Session on February 1st. Didn't happen.  At Mayor  Moore explained  that the Planning Session was intended hear plans for the future not resolve issues past or current issues.

That left the February 10th Commission meeting where ballot language of the Library millage would be determined, as the last opportunity to throw the switch and send the bond issue to Nowheresville.

The issue had also morphed in the 78 days between  the November vote and February 10th.  In November the sole dissenting vote came from a commissioner who believed the plan should be put on the shelf for future consideration. In February no one was against the Library Millage per se. It was just too soon and a November election might be better.

The Eccentric Newspaper  while remaining  editorially neutral, ran approximately an equal number of Opinion /Editorials (often called Op Eds) and Letters to the Editor with advocates advocating both sides.

Downtown  Birmingham Bloomfield Magazine in January wrote, "Balance library against other needs." 
In February that became  a shrill "Keep Library off May ballot."

Library Director  Doug Koschik  wrote the City Commissioners  (in a letter published  here and  in the City's agenda package for Long Range Planning Session) as to what the costs would be if Library approval were pushed back to November. At the February 10th City Commission meeting a $500,000 penalty was consensus figure. 

In addition to countless E-mails, The Commissioners also received  a mutually signed letter from library board members and supporters which was published here and in the meeting  agenda package. The  letter concentrated on need and refuted contentions of a rush to judgement.

On  Monday February 10th, those who like to keep score, noticed that Commissioner Hoff was absent. That meant that a 4 to 3 vote either way impossible. Conventional wisdom might have then opted for a  Dilgard, Rinschler,and Moore, Yes vote. Sherman and McDaniels voting  No; Leaving  Nickita  the  deciding vote that would either deadlock or tip the scales. 

The mood of the meeting somewhat jovial among 
commissioners and even in the audience. Public Comment was partaken by a half dozen or so residents who were opposed to a May library vote. While the almost universal rules of Public Comment allow the residents to speak and be heard, they don't normally allow the public to debate with commission. Mayor Moore  however allowed the latitude, answering questions, and explaining the Joint Library Board's  thinking on the matter.  Sometimes he and speakers "had to agree to disagree."

The  vote was taken, left to right from the audience perspective which meant Nakita was first. He said the issue was one of a May or November vote and he saw no reason to wait. Sherman was next and expressed concern  that enough people would turn out to vote and vote for for the right reason.  

Rinschler, perhaps the most astute politician of the group assured him the people would oblige. "Hey we are the talk of the town. Front Page above the fold " he said referring to Sunday's Eccentric article highlighting the Monday Commission meeting.  His point being that library millage issue has the people's attention and will hold it for the next 85 days until  the May 6th election. ""Whoever shows up to vote will be informed," Rinschler added.

Sherman voiced a few more concerns before casting the second affirmative vote. Dilgard, Moore, Rinschler, and true to his public pronouncement as quoted in the Sunday Eccentric  McDaniel voted  yes.  Six to Zero with one absence.

A newspaper reporter looking for a magic bullet to explain it all was  ut of luck.

Library Director Doug Koschik ventured, "plans for the project are ready to go. The Joint Committee had done it's homework. There is need to delay."

Not with an extra half million in cost savings. Other scenarios had been suggested at public comment. Like  what if the City loaned the Library a half million from the General fund and if the  millage issue got turned down in the November election the library could pay it back or something. All such suggested, were considered and eventually rejected.Some sooner. Some later. Tapping the general fund for a loan to the library went sooner.

The new and improved Baldwin Library  emerged  two years ago at the Long Range Planning Session chaired by then Mayor Nickita. It grew up and matured under Mayor Dilgard. It was put on the ballot by the commission of Mayor Moore. Moore and Rischler, and Former Mayor Hoff  served on the Joint Library Board. 

At every step of the way, February 2012 to 2014. the Birmingham City Commission  of which Commissioners Sherman and McDaniel were members has advanced the Baldwin Library's  makeover to the next level. 

The well vetted and documented accession upward is done. The Baldwin Library  must now be approved by the highest authority, the people. It will indeed be the talk of the town, between now and May 6th.

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