Southside Branch Library at 2114 Habersham Road is one of two Dougherty County libraries which closed due to budget funding cuts.
ALBANY, Ga. — The closure of two Albany library branches had Dougherty County commissioners sparring with public Library Board members Monday, leading County Commissioner John Hayes to call for board Chairman Guy Craft’s resignation.
“Here’s my conclusion,” Hayes said. “We need to find someone who can chair that board successfully.”
“You can find any chairman you like,” Craft responded.
“Maybe we should,” Hayes replied.
Earlier in the meeting, Craft took exception to comments made by Hayes, who has publicly expressed concern over the fact that commissioners learned of the library closures through media reports after the Library Board had already made its decision, leaving them all but helpless to do anything to stop the closures or even explain them to angry constituents.
“I take umbrage with one of your commissioners calling me and accusing me of concealing anything,” Craft said.
Library Board officials said the closures were determined by factors including under-utilization and health insurance cost increases, not because of the facilities’ locations. The board is dealing with a $121,000 budget shortfall.
Craft repeatedly told commissioners Monday that if they wanted to give the Library Board more money, they’d be able to reopen the two closed libraries.
The board decided last month to close the Southside and Westtown libraries, leaving Dougherty County with three branches — Central, Northwest and Tallulah Massey. Board members have attributed the closures to an increase in the state-run health care plan, increasing utility costs and reduced funding from the Dougherty County Commission and the state of Georgia.
That decision sparked outrage, particularly among minority groups that contend the libraries that served the people who needed access to educational materials the most were the ones that were shuttered. It’s a contention that Craft rebuked during the meeting.
"We crunched the numbers. ... Westtown and Southside were getting 16 percent of the services, leaving 84 percent to the other libraries," he said. "This has nothing to do with what neighborhood they were in."
Later in the meeting, in response to a question from the commission table, Craft said the "disadvantaged population" served by the libraries weren't a consideration by board members when the decision was made.
"We didn't consider that; we focused on utilization and costs, but we could if you'd like us to," Craft said.
County Commissioner Jack Stone suggested opening the two closed libraries for three hours each day after school so that children in those neighborhoods would at least have access to the materials to help with homework or research papers, possibly even using volunteers rather than paid library professionals to help man the structures during that time.
Craft said the County Commission should provide adequate funding to operate the libraries, not keep them partially open as babysitting services.
"Either you fund the library entirely or not," Craft said. "We aren't here to babysit."
Before the end of the meeting, Hayes apologized for letting the tone of the conversation escalate but said that someone has to stand up for the people who will now be at a disadvantage through the loss of the libraries.
"From time to time, we're going to have issues come before this commission that raise our dander and things can get emotional ... but someone has to guard the gate for our children," Hayes said.