Tonight Columbus Council is to vote on $6 million in expenditures recommended by the library board charged with overseeing the construction of the city's new public library on Macon Road.
The measure is controversial because critics claim voters were promised a park in the 1999 campaign for a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) to build the library. The $6 million list council is to consider includes $611,000 more than previously recommended for library landscaping, but it does not include a park.
If council approves the $6 million request, it will be the last of the library SPLOST money.
A local group known as the Education Park Coalition believes $3 million in 1999 SPLOST funds should be devoted to building a park at the library. The library board maintains that its mission is to build a library, not a park, and it believes the final list of purchases it's now recommending to council are reasonable and within the board's discretion.
Last week council voted 5-4 to approve this final library needs list — falling one vote short of the six needed to make a majority of the 10-member council and decide the issue.
If six or more councilors vote to approve the list tonight, then the library board may proceed with those purchases. If council splits in a 5-5 tie, Mayor Jim Wetherington is expected to break that tie by voting to approve the needs list.
Once the list is approved, councilors expect the Muscogee school board in writing to tell them that it deems the library project complete.
If council concurs, then a new process is set in motion:
The city council is overseeing the library project because it collects and manages city sales tax funds, therefore it owns the 37 acres of Macon Road library land purchased with that money. Once the library project is complete, the city is to turn that land over to the school board, which owns and operates the library. The council and the school board have agreed that after the land is transferred, they will swap individual parcels of property. The city will give the school district the city-owned land now occupied by a Firestone auto shop in front of the library, plus two parcels of Veterans Parkway property adjacent to the Mildred Terry Library, which the school district plans to expand. In return, the school district will give the city 6 acres of property near the library. There the city plans to build a swimming pool and a service center where residents can buy car tags and conduct other city business.
If council rejects the needs list tonight, then the proposal goes back to the library board for reconsideration. The board will meet again on June 28.
Today the Ledger-Enquirer surveyed councilors to ask how they would vote on the library needs list.
Here is what they said:
Jerry "Pops" Barnes, District 1 May 29 vote: AGAINST the library board needs list Intended vote: Barnes could not be reached Tuesday.
Glenn Davis, District 2 May 29 vote: AGAINST the library board needs list Intended vote: AGAINST the needs list "My vote is not a vote against the needs list. My vote is allow the democratic process to continue, and I know there's one more step and one more opportunity for compromise." Davis wants the board to reconsider the list and he hopes to see a park, or a least a "gateway" to a future park, something he said his constituents want.
Julius Hunter Jr., District 3 May 29 vote: FOR the library board needs list Intended vote: FOR the library board needs list "I'm ready to go forward with what they've given us." With regards to the use of the rest of the property: "I think that the proper form for that decision is going to lie ultimately with the library board and the school board, not with the city council."
Evelyn Turner Pugh, District 4 May 29 vote: FOR the library board needs list Intended vote: Will not say "I will not make a judgment until I see what's before me."
Mike Baker, District 5 May 29 vote: FOR the library board's needs list. Intended vote: FOR the needs list. "I think the issue of the remainder of the property is a completely different issue than completing the library and completing the needs list."
Gary Allen, District 6 May 29 vote: AGAINST the library needs list. Intended vote: Depends on the options offered by Councilor Wayne Anthony. "I think there is supposed to be an amendment offered. If there is no amendment offered, I will vote the same as I did last week."
Mimi Woodson, District 7 May 29 vote: AGAINST the library needs list Intended vote: Woodson could not be reached Tuesday.
C.E. "Red" McDaniel, District 8 May 29 vote: McDaniel was absent. Intended vote: McDaniel could not be reached Tuesday.
Wayne Anthony, citywide councilor, Post 9 May 29 vote: FOR the library needs list. Intended vote: Depends on options. "I'm going to make a couple of proposals, and depending on how my colleagues agree or disagree with those ideas will determine how I vote." He declined to outline what he'll propose to the other councilors, saying, "I need to get to them first."
Skip Henderson, citywide councilor, Post 10 May 29 vote: FOR the library needs list Intended vote: FOR the needs list. "Our city attorney tells us this vote is purely about whether or not these requests are reasonable and legal uses of SPLOST money, and he says they are. . . . Frankly, it's kind of a paradoxical situation, because I completely agree with the Park Coalition: I think we need to really try to enhance the area with greenspace, but I just don't think this is the battlefield to hash that out."