ALBANY, Ga. -- The Dougherty County Commission voted to place one of its own, District 2 Commissioner John Hayes, on the county's Library Board of Trustees, ousting long-time board member Gene Black in the process.
The vote came in a special called meeting Monday morning, moments after the commission grilled interim Library Director Mary Antoine on the closing of two library branches in the county.
"Looking at your budget of more than $2 million, the cost to operate the two closed branches (Southside and Westtown) was about one-sixth of your total cost," District 5 Commissioner Gloria Gaines said after Antoine gave an annual report on the library system. "If you combined the patrons of those two libraries, it comes to more than one-sixth of the number of patrons served by our library system. My question is was the cost per-patron considered when the decision was made to close these two branches?"
When District 6 Commissioner Jack Stone suggested one or both of the branches could be opened later, Gaines said, "Later is now."
Stone responded, "We don't have the funding now. Are you going to give them the money to open those two branches?"
"I'm looking at the numbers, Jack," Gaines replied. "I'm just saying we could have split the baby differently to keep those branches open. Perhaps instead of full service at the Central and Westside branches, we could have taken some (funding) from those branches to keep the others open."
Antoine told the commission closing the two branches had saved the county library system $300,000. She said it would take an additional $500,000 to re-open them. She also said the Central branch had visits from 128,758 patrons during the last fiscal year, while the Southside branch had around 33,000.
"I see (closing the branches) as a situation of pay now or pay later," District 3 Commissioner Muarlean Edwards said. "By not having libraries to serve the population that needs them most, we're increasing the chances that they'll end up as part of the jail population."
Asked about the possibility of keeping the library branches open for 37 1/2 hours a week, Antoine said the system had looked into the possibility and was told it would lose state funding if it did so.
Tasked at the special called meeting with filling two expiring terms on the board, the commission appointed Hayes and re-appointed James Hill. Gaines asked if the commission could consider increasing the number on the Library Board to eight so that Hill and Black could both be reappointed, but Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard pointed out that commissioners had decided not to increase the size of the board at last week's meeting.
John Burr and Betty de Vane Hatcher had also sought appointment to the Library Board, but neither was nominated for consideration.
In another key appointment decided during the called meeting, the commission re-appointed Lamar Reese to the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County and named Dr. Michael Laslie to replace Dr. John Inman Jr. on that authority. Inman had served the maximum two five-year terms. Emily Jean McAfee had sought appointment to the board but was not nominated.
Bruce Gunnels and Joe Watkins were re-appointed to their positions on the Tax Assessors Board, while Commodore Conyers was approved for another term on the Voter Registration and Elections Board.