November 17, 2010 in City

Political opposites align for sake of at-risk library

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Chadez
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They disagree on many – perhaps most – of the major issues of the day, but Louise Chadez and Cindy Zapotocky are united on at least one: They strongly oppose the proposed closure of Spokane’s East Side Library.

Chadez, a liberal Democrat who ran unsuccessfully this year for state Legislature, and Zapotocky, the conservative chairwoman of the Spokane County Republican Party, were among about 15 people who testified against the possible closure during a Spokane Public Library Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday.

“This is one of the first times that east and west are on the same page,” Chadez said before the meeting.

Other political opposites who testified included city critic and conservative radio talk show host George McGrath and longtime prominent Democrat Tom Westbrook.

The library board, facing a deficit of nearly a half-million dollars, is considering closing the East Side Library, which would save about $150,000 a year. Library officials say East Side was chosen because it has the lowest number of visits and items checked out among the system’s six branches. They also say that some of the library’s services could be taken over by East Central Community Center, which could use the building for a public computer lab.

But those who spoke said closing East Side would hurt the community in the long run by cutting off a line of support to a poor neighborhood.

Kris Gladeau, the school librarian at Grant Elementary, said the school dropout rate is higher in the East Central neighborhood than in many other parts of the city.

“That might be a critical tipping point in our community if we do close this library,” she said.

Zapotocky said she had coffee with Chadez recently after hearing Chadez speak out against the closure.

“I called her up and I said, ‘I want to help,’ ” she said. “I just love libraries. My parents didn’t buy books. We went to the library.”

After public testimony, City Councilman Richard Rush, who is the council’s liaison to the library board, criticized McGrath and Zapotocky for speaking out against branch closure while usually opposing tax increases.

But Zapotocky said in a city general fund budget of around $160 million, it’s hard to believe that $150,000 couldn’t be found to keep the branch open. She also suggested that efforts to increase volunteerism at libraries and fundraising could also help.

“What I’m looking at is budget priorities,” Zapotocky said. “Because there’s a lot of money out there.”

After the meeting Rush said he’s hopeful that the outcome of union contract negotiations could ease the budget crunch and keep all six branches open. He noted the city has other painful budget decisions ahead, including the possible closure of a fire station and the elimination of more than 30 police jobs.

“We can easily fill a room this size with people that think that’s just as foolish as closing a library branch,” Rush said.

Rush also said if a branch closure is necessary he doesn’t believe East Side should be chosen because of the “demographics of the neighborhood.” Some who testified said the Indian Trail site should be a candidate for closure.

Gretchen McDevitt, a longtime Republican, said political leaders weren’t thinking enough about solutions.

“We should be talking about how to save it, not if we save it,” she said.

At the end of the meeting, Westbrook sought out Zapotocky to shake her hand.

“I love it when Republicans and Democrats can get together for the same thing,” he told her.

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