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Wheaton officials clash over Friday library closures
By Robert Sanchez | Daily Herald Staff

Wheaton City Council members are voicing their displeasure over a controversial decision to close the Wheaton Public Library on Fridays.

 

Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

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Published: 6/9/2010 12:01 AM

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City council members are doing more than criticizing Wheaton Public Library officials' decision to close the facility on Fridays.

They are vowing to do everything in their power to force the library board to abandon the cost-cutting move.

"We need to address this - and address this quickly - because our wishes are not being implemented," Councilman Howard Levine said. "This is a situation that cannot stand."

Library officials made no secret they were considering the Friday closures to make up for the loss of $300,000 in property tax revenue the city withheld to deal with its own budgetary problems.

When Wheaton adopted a budget that cut the funding, the library board approved the closure plan, which took effect last Friday.

"It was not a unanimous vote," library board President Colleen McLaughlin said, "so it certainly was a tough decision to make."

Because the library cut $300,000 in spending in 2009, further cuts had to involve staffing, McLaughlin said. As a result, the library's full- and part-time employees have had their pay reduced by 10 percent and must take 26 furlough days this year.

The Friday closures are tied to the furlough days because the library board doesn't want the 124,518-square-foot facility operating without proper staffing.

"We made a decision to be fully operational when we are open," McLaughlin said.

The library already is closed Sundays during the summer.

Mayor Michael Gresk said the library should reduce hours throughout the week and not close on Fridays.

Gresk said the library has a responsibility to provide its core service of lending books and other materials.

"To close on a Friday, I think, is ludicrous," Gresk said. "It would be like saying public works is not going to plow snow on Thursdays in December."

Councilman John Prendiville said he and others urged library officials to make cuts without closing on Fridays. He's now calling for a special meeting to discuss possible action to make the library board comply.

Because library board members are appointed by the mayor and approved by the council, Gresk could appoint some new trustees when three of the nine seats come up for reappointment.

McLaughlin said she believes the council "has overstepped its boundaries for even suggesting it would be appropriate to replace these dedicated volunteers."

"Just because the city controls the money does not mean the council can or should dictate library policy or second guess the decisions of the library board," she said.