Southern Priorities

That’s the Three Rivers Regional Library in Southeast Georgia where the Altamaha”>, the Satilla and the St. Mary’s Rivers meander. It’s an ancient, primitive region where human imprints tend to disappear, but I’ve learned something new. It never occurred to me before that budget cuts are seen as an opportunity by bureaucrats to get rid of the public.

It’s not unusual for appointed public officials, when the money gets tight, to start slashing popular programs to get the public riled up. Considering citizen volunteers as competition to remove never occurred to me. But that’s what seems to be happening down on St. Simons Island, where the Altamaha and the Satilla meet the Atlantic Ocean.

Credit: theunquietlibrarian on Flickr.com

Budget cuts have been announced and library services are under attack. So the call went out for some free labor:

  • Speak out on behalf of the Library at the next Board of Education Meeting. (6 PM on June 22 @ the Board of Education in Brunswick, GA)
  • Speak out on behalf of the Library at the next City Commission Meeting. (6 PM on June 30 @ the Old City Hall Building on Newcastle St)
  • Write a letter to the editor and send it to a local print or online publication.
  • Call a local radio or TV station and share a story about how your library made a difference in your life or the life of someone you know.

But, for some reason, though libraries are a county function, not only are the county functionaries never mentioned, but the identities of the trustees they appoint are nowhere to be found. They are, however, referenced in a press release (pdf) from Three Rivers announcing that a reliable funding source is to be discontinued.

Date: January 20, 2011
Subject: St. Simons Island Public Library Fundraising

The Three Rivers Regional Library System (The System), Glynn County Libraries Board of Trustees (The Board) and the St. Simons Island Library League (The League) jointly announce to the public an important change in fundraising operations for the St. Simons Island Public Library (The Library).

Effective immediately, by mutual agreement of The Board, and the League, it is announced that The League will cease all fundraising operations and all previously donated funds and all assets will be given to The Library. Responsibility for fundraising is transferred to The System for increased efficiency and effectiveness.

The trouble is that, while the press release was signed by representatives of the named entities, there was no mutual agreement. The President of the Library League was called to a meeting, told to sign on the dotted line and then to go away. In response to Ms. Palmer’s objection to being coerced into an agreement, which the League had never even discussed, she was threatened with a referral to the IRS. At least, that’s what she reported to her membership on March 8, after it became clear that The System was not about to act in good faith. Because, although the initial press release, which had been prepared by The System, provided the ostensible excuse that the League leaders would be allowed to “pursue other philanthropic and civic interests,” by March 3, that had turned into “numerous acts of impropriety” by The League, the major one being, as far as anyone knows, the insistence that the grants from the League be used for acquisitions, rather than operations.

The new press release was also a bit of a re-write of TRRLS machinations:

On January 20, 2011 TRRLS and The Board entered into an agreement with the St. Simons Library League (The League) which provided for the transfer of fundraising operations to TRRLS, the cessation of operations by The League, recognition of the responsibilities of all parties and the transfer to The Library of all funds and assets previously donated by the public. This agreement was entered into in good faith and executed by representatives of TRRLS, The Board and The League.

Since its execution, The League has been unwilling to adhere to the terms of the agreement. TRRLS and The Board have engaged legal counsel in an attempt to reach an accord with The League. With a negotiated settlement not possible; funds and assets donated by the public for the operation of The Library remain in the custody and control of The League. The League has stated an intention to divert funds and assets to another organization.

To ensure application to library operations the public should make all future donations to The Library by sending or delivering checks or money orders made payable to “The St. Simons Island Public Library.”

The result was that over a hundred angry citizens turned out to a meeting on March 8th, called by Ms. Palmer and other members of The League board, wanting to know why their good efforts had been so summarily dismissed.

Good people are often surprised when they are attacked with trumped up charges by people who are keen to extend their power. Ms. Kean, the TRRLS Director, whose power point presentation is reported to have befuddled the various Trustees into unanimity, seems intent on increasing the TRRLS’ extent, even as the services shrink. Who knew that a budget crisis is an empire builder?

The original justification for absorbing the St. Simons Library into the System was the opportunity to access the Public Information Network for Electronic Services (PINES).

PINES creates a statewide “borderless library” that provides equal access to information for all Georgians. Georgians with a PINES library card have access to materials beyond what is available on their local shelves and enjoy the benefits of a shared collection of 9.6 million books and other materials that can be delivered to their home library free of charge.

That is, the 23% of Georgians who have PINES cards have equal access.

If you would like to learn more about PINES, visit the PINES homepage at the Georgia Public Library Service web site or download this PINES brochure.

Due to recent budget cuts, the Three Rivers Regional Library System has discontinued participation in Georgia Download Destination and can no longer offer downloadable audiobooks.

But, TRRLS had funds to hire lawyers and forced The League to spend $5000 on legal advice, as well. Don’t know if this shoddy endeavor qualifies as another deprivation under cover of law. But, it doesn’t seem right for public servants to be so high-handed.

Since its execution, the League has been unwilling…” Indeed.

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Monica Smith

Monica Smith writes Hannah's Blog. Born in Germany, she came to the United States as a child, living first in California, then after an interval in Chile, in New York. Married to a retired professor at the University of Florida, where she lived for 17 years, she moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1993 and now divides her time between Georgia and New Hampshire. (New Hampshire, she says, is always interesting during a presidential election.) She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren. Ms. Smith says she "learned long ago that I am not a good team player when I got hired at the Library of Congress, fresh out of college with a degree in political science and proficiency in four foreign languages, to 'edit' library cards and informed my supervisor that if she was going to insist I punch the clock exactly on time, my productivity was going to fall from being the highest to being the same as everyone else's. The supervisor opted to assign me to another building where there was no time-clock. After I had the first of our three children, I decided a paycheck wasn't worth the hassle."