Moving forward: New library officially in works in Loganville

by stephen milligan - the walton tribune

The Loganville City Council approved the intergovernmental agreement for a new city library, but not before one last round of complaints assaulted the plan from a vocal minority of aggrieved citizens.

The council, which has been planning a replacement building for the O’Kelly Memorial Library for the past 18 months, formally approved the IGA Monday night at its work session, after the Azalea Library System approved the agreement and one night before the Walton County Board of Commissioners did the same during its November meeting.

The approval passed 5-1, with only councilwoman Melanie Long* voting against the agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, the city will contribute $1.5 million to the project, which will begin construction in downtown Loganville after a plan is approved for the layout of the building. The library system will contribute $3 million, while the WCBOC has approved $1.2 million.

The council was set to vote on the issue, which has been discussed in open council sessions multiple times over the last year, without hearing visitor comments, scheduled for later in the meeting. Vocal protests led the council to decide to open a public comment session on the matter after city attorney Paul Rosenthal said the council could choose to hear comments if they so decided.

Multiple citizens assaulted the plan, suggesting the city had not done enough to publicize the issue or allowed enough public input on the proposal. Joyce Davis presented a petition she said she’d gathered asking the council to send out mailers to every citizen, suggesting multiple newspaper stories and online information wasn’t enough.

“I asked a lot of people I know if they knew about the library, and they said no,” Davis said.

Patti Wolfe, who on Tuesday night was elected to the council, suggested the IGA contained outdated information and might not be legally valid.

“Paul (Rosenthal), you said all this had been taken care of,” Wolfe said. “Well, I have a lot of concerns about this, still.”

Melinda Johns echoed the idea that the city had done too little to promote the library issue.

“Citizens were not aware this library was happening,” Johns said.

Cathy Swanson suggested the council was rushing into a vote to ensure it was finalized before the election possibly changed the numbers of those for the project on the city council.

“Why tonight?” Swanson said. “Why are we doing this right before the election? We trust you to make the right decisions. Yet we repeatedly ask for information on this and repeatedly don’t get it.”

Not everyone was opposed to the library, however.

Shannon Singleton spoke in favor of the library project and criticized any popular movement that opposed to making the library easier to access and more up to date for patrons.

“A library is important to a community,” Singleton said. “I don’t understand all this sentiment against building a new library. It’s like the library is the devil. Well, I love the library and I’m glad the council wants to give us a new one.”

Councilwoman Anne Huntsinger also chose to speak before the vote, criticizing what she decried as radical attacks from a Facebook group she described as a hate group.

“I got an email calling me a dirty politician,” Huntsinger said, saying she was outraged at the fervency of the anti-library movement. “We’ve done our due diligence to make sure our citizens knew what was going on.”

Huntsinger said she remained a strong supporter of the library plan moments before making the motion to approve the IGA.

“It’s no secret I have fought for this library for 18 months,” Huntsinger said. “I’m not advocating for something bad. This is the right thing to do.”

Mayor Skip Baliles also commented on the matter, registering his own surprise at how divisive the library matter had become.

“At one time, I thought this library project could help bring the city together,” Baliles said. “Well, I was
wrong.”

The city and the library system have chosen an architect for the project and will approve a design for the planned 15,000 sq. ft. building in the near future.

* Please note the correction. It was Councilwoman Melanie Long who voted against the measure, NOT Councilwoman Linda Dodd.

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