By Rosemary K. Otzman
About 30 people filled up all the chairs set out in the district library meeting room on Aug. 12, some present to tell the district library board why they voted against the library proposals in the August primary election.
John Delaney started the comments by stating, “We don’t know who damaged your sign … which is a felony … but it’s despicable and disrespectful … That was terrible and I hope they catch whoever did that.”
Then library board president Mary Jane Dawson read a statement on the background of the district library and ended by saying, “The board did all the district library agreement asked them to do.”
She said the proposals failed and people make the final decision.
“This board has to regroup quickly and come up with something more acceptable to the community,” Dawson said.
“I go to the Romulus gym every day,” said board member John Juriga, saying people talk to him there and tell him the big issue is finance.
“If it costs a lot, maybe it’s too big,” Juriga said.
He said in the new issue of the AARP magazine there was an article on how seniors in Michigan are really afraid of what’s going on in Michigan with finances.
Juriga suggested the library have a survey on what people really feel the library should entail, and what would be nice, if possible, so the people can take ownership.
Board member Joe Monte said most people think a new library is needed, but he’s on a fixed income, too. He reminded them it took three times for the high school millage to pass.
“People feel they are not a part of the process. Maybe we didn’t do a good enough job,” Monte said.
“Maybe people in far reaches of the community didn’t know the details of the millage, the size, the location,” he said.
“There were people who didn’t know,” he said referring to his time spent promoting the library proposals. “We have a local newspaper and not everyone reads the local newspaper.”
Monte supported Juriga’s idea of a survey. “People have to feel they have a say.”
Board secretary Joy Cichewicz said she is from Sumpter Township, “And, Sumpter Township turned it down 5 to 1.”
She said maybe Sumpter doesn’t want library services at all. Maybe they want the status quo, she said.
She said under the district library agreement they are required to give $200,000 to create a Sumpter library.
“Maybe we could put a few books in a room and call it a library,” Cichewicz said.
Treasurer Elaine Gutierrez, who is not running for reelection in November, said as a real estate profession, she said they have to handle the two biggest objects: the site and the size.
“And, until we handle those objections we can’t proceed,” she said.
She said people have said told her they want a smaller library in the present general library location.
“Nothing has changed in their minds.
Gutierrez said. “We are not listening to the people. Have a survey. We’ve got to listen to the people.”
Board member Kris Brasil, who also is not running for reelection, said people talk to her and tell her it was the site that was the problem. She agreed with having a survey.
“I don’t want Sumpter to feel they are being excluded,” Brasil said. “If Sumpter felt, 5-1, there was an issue, we have to find out what Sumpter wants.
“People in this area turned down any taxes,” Brasil continued. “I was laid off from the school district and it has to be medium ground.
Board member Michael Boelter said the vote came in “a little shorter than we thought” and the problem is getting the vote out.
“I talked to people who didn’t know the library was on the ballot. We have to do a better job to get the information to everyone.
“I’m proud all the information we put out was correct. We didn’t scare anyone. We’ll just have to try it again,” Boelter said.
Deputy Library Director Mary Jo Suchy thanked everyone for their efforts. She said she doesn’t think anyone disagrees that they need to move forward.
She said people who came into the library were sick when they heard the proposals failed. She said she is gratified the people see the value of having a library.
Mr. Howell, who lives across Belleville Road from the proposed library site, said the information held up a $50,000 valued home which would cost $200 a year in new library taxes, but he owns a more expensive home and two businesses.
“I’m looking at $1,000 a year in new taxes, not $200,” he said. “I voted no.”
Cichewicz asked him what level of tax he would pay and Howell said he would pay $200 “in a moment,” but not $800 to $1,000.
Joe Lasecki of Van Buren Township said the land area the present library is built on could be used for a new library, with the closing of Fourth Street and the entrance to the library at the present city parking lot.
He said a basement could be put in and there would be all kinds of office space, reading rooms, “whatever you’d like right on this footprint at less than half the cost.”
He urged them to keep it downtown.
“I voted no,” he said. “And, people didn’t know? Forty-two percent vote is a lot, with Oakland and Macomb voters coming in at 7%.”
He said they could avoid what happened. They wanted the biggest and best and the voters said they aren’t going to pay that.
“I know you don’t want to redo what’s here,” Lasecki said, adding if they eliminate the parking lot on the side, they can double or triple the size. He said people can use the city parking lot and park on all the streets around the library.
Monte said the city and the township have requirements for parking.
Delaney said if they want to build on the present building they would have to close it for a year. Delaney said he spent 45 minutes talking to the library attorney John Day and went to every precinct in the library district three times on election day, a total of 54 trips.
“Sumpter Township? What they want is to be heard,” Delaney said. “They were the ones who started this off with passing a library millage first.
“Taxation without representation is tyranny. We fought that war,” Delaney said.
Delaney said the size of the proposed library was too big and maybe they could build something smaller with the idea of building onto the library as the taxes increase. He said Canton did that.
He said the grandiose size didn’t go. He said it took Canton a total of 10 years to build their library.
“You tried to get it all done at one time,” Delaney said, adding, “Building on this [present] footprint can be done, but you have to be creative.”
He said he voted no for the DNR site.
Monte asked Delaney what he thought about the DNR location and Delaney responded that the DNR site is a jewel, but it needed to be cut down. He said there was wrong information out in the community on the fishing piers. The information wasn’t pushed right, he said.
“To say you have to hurry up and get to the voters is wrong,” Delaney said. “They’re not ready for you … not in November or February.”
A woman in the front row accused Delaney of beating up the board.
Delaney said five and a half months ago he told the board publicly that it needs a safety net if its first plan fails, but he didn’t want to rehash what was said in February.
He said the community does need a library but that location and that footprint is the problem.
Dawson tapped her gavel and said he had only limited time to speak.
Delaney continued, saying they need to get something creatively done. And, as for Sumpter Township, “They’ve been heard and ignored.”
He said the timing of the vote was the worst part of the whole thing since people are worried about their finances and health care and social security.
When asked when construction on Sumpter’s library would start, Dawson said construction would start in Sumpter when construction started on the main library, which is in the library agreement.
“It is to bring the community together … not one brother fighting against another brother,” Dawson said.
Mary Ban of Sumpter said two building adjoining the library property went up for sale and another one next door is also up for sale.
“Maybe God’s plan could be used,” Ban said, noting those could be used for parking, no matter what the city wants.
She reminded them that the Grace Baptist Church property was offered, too.
“Many did not know of the vote,” Ban said, adding, “All said it was a bad location, bad location, not just us.”
Cichewicz asked what location Ban would like and Ban said her favorite site was Elwell School, but the school board tore that down.
Ban said many seniors did not like the library coming into the Sumpter Community Center since they had a problem with the library using their space.
When Cichewicz pushed Ban for a new Sumpter site, Ban said he thought of the medical building that could be used as office space and build on for books. Although the building was sold to Joe Nasser, Ban said he would find a buyer.
Ban said the medical building is not as pretty, but people in Sumpter like the “practicability.”
Dawson said there was mold in that building.
Architect Dan Whisler said he developed sketches for that building. He said Sumpter Township had to provide the building according to the district library agreement.
“I think the community answered,” said Phil Miller, who had just joined the meeting after his Rotary Club meeting across the street.
Michele Montour said the election was an education. She said her preference would be the DNR site, but maybe something smaller.
She said when people come into town they see Hayward’s and Lakeview which do not reflect the community.
“The lake is beautiful and then … Lakeview,” she said, adding the new library would be good as a welcome to the city.
“I think we’ve made more progress tonight than any other time and we should have more of this,” said David Wilson. He said the time has been drawn out, but that’s the way the system works.
“There is a strong disagreement here,” pointed out Cichewicz.
“Not everyone will agree,” Brasil said. “That’s part of the democratic process. We’re hearing from the people we’ve never heard from.”
Lasecki said once you get past the DNR site visitors go two blocks then have four blocks of empty buildings. Maybe they should destroy them and put something in there.
“That’s up to the city and the DDA and the planning commission,” Dawson replied.
Lasecki said the library isn’t trying to enhance the area and putting in a beautiful building doesn’t entice the people to go past it to the city. Moving the library would provide the downtown with another empty building.
He suggested increasing the length of the bond, but Cichewicz said the longer you go the more it costs.
“How about lowering the taxes?” Lasecki asked. “Before 20 years is up, I’ll be in the ground.”
A young mother, who did not identify herself, said she had two young children and said an investment in the Belleville community would effect it for many years down the line.
“The community is not going to grow unless we invest in it, she said. “The site isn’t as important as the investment.”
Ban said moving the library from downtown Belleville would be the death of downtown Belleville.
Monte said the DNR site was the least expensive because it was vacant and if they got other property they would have to buy it and tear something down.
Ban said the present site is costing too much especially for senior citizens and those with children in school. She said going to the grocery store is becoming overwhelming in cost.
“If you keep it here, people might be more supportive,” Ban said.
Dawson questioned the idea that moving the library out would be the death of Belleville. She said the library has been here all along and businesses were closing.
Juriga said the library wanted to buy Grace Baptist Church, which was appraised at $845,000 and they wanted $2.5 million.
Miller said that wasn’t the question asked of Pastor White. Miller said White explained at a library meeting that the $2.5 million was what it would cost the congregation to move into a new facility.
Delaney pointed out that nowadays black mold is not hard to deal with on the cheap, regarding the medical center.
Wilson said the library was on a champagne budget, but this community is on a beer budget. He suggested before the next library meeting that people make a list of what is absolutely needed in a library and then add what would be pleasant to have. And, he said, a cost is needed.
Lasecki said he has 18 books in the eReader he is holding. He said everything is going electronic.
“If you build something on a champagne budget, what’s the value when there’s no champagne?” he asked.
Monte said that eBooks have plateaued and people are going back to books.
Lasecki predicted it would all be electronic in 20 years.
Miller said this plan was resoundingly defeated in two out of three communities.
“The few of us here tonight do not represent the thousands who defeated the proposals,” Miller said.
He said with the DNR site there are is going to be a larger parking lot, larger physical plant. With the Grace Baptist site all the infrastructure is in place.
Miller said on Thursday in the summer hundreds of people come out to Horizon Park. The church doesn’t own the water front, but enjoys it and the library could have that, too, without the expense of the shoreline.
“I represent the opposition,” Miller said. “This community needs a new library, but not this site.”
He suggested the library board cool out for a little while and come up with a better plan, doing a real thorough study.
Monte said there is a variety of opinions and some didn’t realize there was a library question on the election.
“Shame on the professionals for leading us down the primrose path and not tell how to let the people know,” Miller said.
He said this is one of the easiest defeats in his experience with politics and the library board should be embarrassed.
Rick Dawson, husband of the library president, stood up, glowering in front of Miller, confronting him.
When members of the audience asked chairwoman Dawson to take control of the meeting, she hammered her gavel and Rick sat down.
After more discussion, School Board Treasurer Sherry Frazier joined the discussion, as a Realtor, saying the new high school helped property values in the community.
She said the democratic way is to go to the polls. She said she is disappointed the proposals failed.
She there are not too many people who are not supporting the library and supporters need to put their heads together.
She said Canton library regularly surveys its users and hires someone to do it.
“We need to have a complimentary state of the art library,” Frazier said, asking the board to vote in favor of going back to the drawing board.
After more discussion and a five-minute break, Dawson read a letter thanking the library board for all its efforts from James B. Lenze, reportedly the library’s webmaster.
By Rosemary K. Otzman