Southside Branch Library at 2114 Habersham Road is one of two Dougherty County libraries which closed due to budget funding cuts.
ALBANY, Ga. — Guy Craft, whose 50 years of library experience made him a natural fit as chairman of the Dougherty County Library Board of Trustees, stepped down from that position Tuesday citing the stress brought on by recent controversy swirling around the library system.
In his resignation letter to Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard, Craft wrote: "This letter comes to you as my resignation from the (position of) Chairman of the Board of the Dougherty County Public Library System and the Board itself. It is with the deepest regret that I submit this letter, and it has been my pleasure to serve this community on the Library Board. I wish the best for the library and the community. This resignation is effective immediately."
Craft had served as chairman of the Library Board for the past three years and had been a board member for the last four. Before retiring, he worked 20 years in the library at Albany State University, seven with Atlanta's six-college University Center, two as dean of learning resources at Chicago State University and four as interim vice president at Savannah State College.
The 83-year-old said the public should know he's not running from a fight with the County Commission.
"First of all, I only have good feelings about my time on the Library Board," he said. "It was a high honor for me to serve on the board and a higher honor to serve as chairman. But I have some health concerns and thought it best to step down while I'm still relatively healthy.
"There's been so much stress surrounding the county's library system since (the board) decided to close two branches (Southside and Westtown), and my wife convinced me I don't need that kind of stress. (Late Library Director) Ashley's (Moore) sudden death (at age 36 of an apparent heart attack) devastated me, and with my own health concerns the stress just was not bearable."
Sinyard, who is out of the county on business, told The Herald Tuesday evening Craft had served the community well.
"Dr. Craft has been an incredible community volunteer," Sinyard said after being notified of Craft's resignation. "We've been blessed that he served on the Board of Trustees of the library. He's a good man, and we're going to miss his service."
Craft said County Commissioner John Hayes' "attack on me" during a commission meeting after the board announced plans to close two "underperforming" library branches in mostly black neighborhoods and Commissioner Gloria Gaines' grilling of interim Library Director Mary Antoine Monday helped hasten his decision to resign. He also denounced the commission's decision to place Hayes on the Library Board, ousting long-time member Gene Black.
He responded Tuesday to the commissioners' public comments and to an article in a newspaper popular in the black community that "vilified me."
"(Because of the comments) there were people calling Ashley's house at 2 in the morning calling her a bigot and a racist," Craft said of the late director, who died Sept. 17. "I told her to tell those people to call me, and a few of them did, but I was able to take it a little better than she did.
"We made our decision (on the closures) based solely on the numbers. We did what we had to do. We tried everything: cutting hours, cutting people. But when we crunched the numbers, it was close the two library branches or sometime this spring our system would be completely out of money."
Craft said commissioners should have been aware of the money crunch facing the library system.
"They've cut almost a million dollars from the system since 2009, and the state cut another 3 percent in funding this year," he said. "Meanwhile, everything has gone up: the acquisition of new data and materials, insurance, retirement. Frankly, we were lucky to keep three branches open.
"If the commission had all these concerns (about branches closing), why didn't they give us enough funding to keep them open?"
Craft also said the board has been criticized for using $5 million in special sales tax funds to renovate the downtown Central Library branch rather than spend some of the funds to keep the other branches open.
"We can't do that," he said. "State law allows us to use SPLOST funds only for the projects that were approved by voters."
Craft said he's stepping completely away from the library system, but a part of his heart will remain.
"I really don't plan to do anything else with the library system," he said. "But if they need my consultation, they know they can call on me, free of charge."