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Library Board Listens To Public Comment, Gives No Feedback

Bill Rinehart
Library trustees didn't immediately respond to comments from the public at a community conversation about library facilities.

Trustees of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County are being criticized for the format of a public hearing Monday night. It was billed as a community conversation about the library's facilities plan and what the future holds for the main branch.

Several people accused the trustees of trying to control the conversation and being disrespectful.

Dewey Estep was unimpressed with the format of the meeting.

"It was very clear from the start that they were trying to frame the conversation in a way that would be positive to them," he says. "The fact that they gave us a thinking assignment at the beginning made it very clear that they didn't want to hear what we had to say."

Estep says the trustees, through a moderator, tried to control the topics.

"That's not how the stewards of public space and money should work. They should respond to us," he says.

The facilities plan includes looking at repurposing the north building of the main branch. The library has researched the value of the property and considered both selling it or finding other uses. A 3CDC study is due this month.

The plans have been met with criticism.

Beth Fowler is concerned about the loss of public space. She's also concerned that because the trustees aren't elected, they don't have to accept public input.

"I don't feel that I was heard. The board has no interaction with us here and has not had any interaction with the public regarding the sale of the north building. It's really hard to feel, as a patron and a taxpayer, that the trustees are paying any attention to us," Fowler says.

Hamilton County Commission President Todd Portune arrived late and sat in the back. He says commissioners have tried to pressure trustees to be more responsive.

"What you want to do in a public hearing is remove any barriers between yourself and the public that you serve." Portune says that didn't happen at the meeting. "As a consequence, I think there were a lot of people who left here tonight even more concerned than they ever were before and perhaps less trustful of the board than they might have been had board members been willing to speak directly to the public."

Portune says he encouraged the library's director and board members to have more public hearings, but with more interaction with the public.

Trustees declined to comment after the meeting.