Sparks fly over Martindale library
By LPR Staff
Leftover fireworks are in ample supply in Martindale.
Explosions, large and small, punctuated the regular business meeting of the Martindale City Council on Tuesday evening as the embattled Council weighed the pros and cons of pulling taxpayer support from the Martindale Community Library.
ibrary, a volunteer project originally housed at a neighborhood church, has been a hot topic over the last months, as Martindale officials struggle to balance a shoestring budget. By necessity, according to Mayor Randy Bunker and Mayor Pro Tem Ernest Painter, support for the Library wound up on the chopping block.
“Four of the five councilmembers at the time told me they never intended for the Library to become a city department,” said Painter, who has been acting as the city’s administrator since his appointment as Mayor Pro Tem in March. “When [funding] was approved in the budget, our attorney tells us that made the Library a city department.”
Bunker offered an added concern over a recent request by the Friends of the Library for the withdrawal of funds from the City of Martindale’s bank accounts for donations previously earmarked for the Library. When the partnership began, the City took the Library’s accounting under the umbrella of the City of Martindale, leaving the Friends of the Library at the city’s mercy as donations came in to support the project.
“We don’t have any idea where that money is going or how it’s being spent,” he said. “All I know is that I’m getting asked to sign checks, and I sign them, but we don’t know how that money is being spent.”
According to Friends of the Library, including former Martindale Mayor Loraine Harrison, those funds should not be subject to City oversight.
“That money was always for the Friends,” she said Wednesday morning. “That money was donations, not city funds.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, Harrison called the Library “one of the best things that has ever happened to Martindale,” and expressed disappointment that certain members of the council “don’t see that.”
Harrison and others who addressed the Council during the “Public Comments” section of the meeting attempted to share their views as the Councilmembers at the dais engaged in their discussion, to be reminded several times by Bunker that cross talk should be kept to a minimum, and that discussion should be amongst the councilmembers. However, that conversation, too, seemed difficult to come by, as councilmembers on both sides of the debate interrupted one another, dodged each other’s questions and largely ignored Bunker’s attempts to gavel them into silence.
Two items on Tuesday’s agenda added the spark for what became a powder keg. One was the proposal transfer the remaining funds in the budget allocated to the library back into the administration department and declaring the library no longer a city department. The other was to terminate the lease of the current council chambers at 411 Main St., where the library is currently housed.
The items sparked discontent throughout the community, based on earlier promises from Bunker and the Council that “the Library will always have a home,” and that “we’re going to keep paying the bills and utilities, just like in the original agreement.”
The original purpose of the agreement, supporters said, was to offer the Library the municipal support required to achieve accreditation from the State of Texas. That accreditation would allow for additional services, including interlibrary loans and cooperative databases through the state’s University Systems. However, opponents to the city’s support for the Library suggest it was never the taxpayers’ responsibility to help the Library grow.
“Maybe we’ve hurt the library, because you haven’t been encouraged to get out there and do fundraisers, because you had the City support,” Painter said. “It’s time for [the Friends of the Library] to take the ball and roll with it.”
He did, however, bring forth a resolution suggesting that the computers and equipment currently owned by the City and at use in the library should be deemed “surplus property,” and donated to the Martindale Community Library for future use.
An offer from Carlton Carl, the owner of the current space, to rent the property at a loss for $150 a month for the next fiscal year, appeared to fall on deaf ears as the council pushed forward with their intention to relinquish the space at 411 Main, and move council meetings back to the City Hall property, a proposition that Councilmember Lisa Shell Allan met with discontent.
“If we have an offer to have meeting space for free [at Three Rivers Church], why would we not do that, instead of…?”
Her query was cut short by banter from her colleagues, including newly-sworn Councilmember Robert Purcell, who noted any renovation work at City Hall to accommodate council meetings would likely be performed by members of the council, at little to no cost to the City coffers.
Tempers swelled as the conversation continued, with Shell Allan suggesting such a vote should not be taken in the absence of Councilmember Robert Deviney, whose family obligations kept him from attending Tuesday’s fiery meeting. Referencing concerns of City Attorney Mark Taylor, who expressed concern that the ordinance was written referencing an attachment that “didn’t make sense,” Shell Allan suggested her colleagues take more time to review the ordinance, in order to understand fully the implications of their vote. Her suggestion was met by resistance that many in the gallery found shocking, if not insulting.
“If you would get your head out of the clouds and pay attention to things at City Hall, then you would know,” Bunker said.
As a member of the gallery called out, “that’s insulting,” Bunker doubled down.
“I think it’s insulting that someone doesn’t get involved with City Hall, and then wants to call herself a councilmember,” he said. “I think that’s insulting.”
A stunned Shell Allan voted against the measure that cut ties between the City and the Library, a vote she lost 3-1; the rest of the Council moved immediately into the next agenda item, to terminate the lease in the current Council Chambers, effective Sept. 30, 2016.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Mayor,” she said. “My head is still spinning. What was the motion?”
“You need to pay attention,” Painter snapped. “We’re taking a vote.”
Shell Allan voted alongside her colleagues, noting, “my voice doesn’t matter, anyway.”
While some members of the gallery were pleased with the decision of the Council to sever ties with the Martindale Community Library, most seemed shocked at and disturbed by outbursts they had just witnessed.
With a tap of the gavel, the City of Martindale cut ties with the Martindale Community Library, to the chagrin of many community members, and to the apparent delight of at least some of the Council, including Councilmember David Aguilar, who upon pressure admitted, “the bottom line is that we don’t want the library.”