County can’t override library closure decision

Troy Duffy of St. Andrews West reads a book on the front lawn of the United Counties building on Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 as protestors walk along the sidewalk. Around 75 people were at the county building to share their displeasure with the closing of three branches. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

SD&G – Unless the SD&G Library Board reconsiders, the United Counties has no authority to overturn the board’s decision.

That assessment from CAO Tim Simpson was shared with county council Monday, after he sought a legal opinion on the library issue.

The municipality has been told it has no jurisdiction to overturn the library board’s decision and the Ontario Ombudsman would also have no jurisdiction in the case, Simpson said.

The Monday meeting saw the council chambers packed with over 75 opponents to the closure plan for the Morewood, Dalkeith and St. Andrews West branches.

Outside the building prior to the meeting, one of those was Nicole Duffy of St. Andrews West, whose sons, Troy and Owen, were reading from a collection of books spread on the front lawn of the county building, while people with placards paced up and down the street.

“I’m saddened by it (the impending closure). They’re a lot of children that really look forward to this. The school, for one, they visit weekly, so my children come home with books, which I get to read to them at bedtime. It’s great to expand their imagination,” Duffy said.

Duffy said the library is also a community gathering with over 400 children a month coming through the St. Andrews West branch.

She said the library is also about access to services. “I’ve seen people who rent DVDs for educational purposes for our history. My children are not out causing mischief…they’re reading books,” Duffy said.

Inside, councillors heard presentations from four residents: Brenda Noble and Leo Lehtiniemi representing the Dalkeith branch, Cal Martin for the St. Andrews West branch and Laurie Rae for the Morewood branch.

Lehtiniemi asked for a “stay of execution” to examine the numbers of people using the branches.

Martin said he was “shocked and dismayed” and told councillors if they supported the closures then they “cannot support in good faith, the process” the library board used to arrive at its decision.

Rae said her region felt betrayed by the SD&G Library Board.

Library board chairman Bill McGimpsey gave no indication to the audience whether the board would reconsider the decision to close the three branches, which is expected to happen by the Labour Day weekend.

McGimpsey maintained that the board did go the public with a strategic plan in 2012 to get community feedback.

“I really support a lot of what was said today, you might be surprised,” McGimpsey said, ”but a library isn’t just about the amount of books that go out.”

“A big spike, 30 per cent spike, on 44 users is 12 users…it’s not enough to keep these facilities to continue to operate,” McGimpsey said frankly. “Particularly when people say they are going into adjacent municipalities to do business anyway.”

But McGimpsey did bear the brunt of criticism from his municipal counterparts, especially from warden and North Glengarry Deputy Mayor Jamie MacDonald, who left his warden’s chair to address council.

“The process of closing libraries has been a joke,” MacDonald said. He said the library board needs to have a plan and wondered what would stop the board from “cherry picking” other branches to close.

“We need to save the (library) branches from our library chair,” MacDonald said, in a shot across the bow of McGimpsey.

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