It’s the town’s bus, but the Library Committee is driving

Rockport leaders approve two library referendums; next stop, voting booth

Posted:  Monday, August 11, 2014 - 9:45pm
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ROCKPORT — Voting 5 to 0, Rockport leaders agreed on the wording of two referendums that concern the future of the Rockport Public Library, and their placement on the Nov. 4 warrant. The Library Committee has also endorsed the new referendums. Now it will be up to the citizens to indicate what direction they want their library to move — either toward new quarters on the former Rockport Elementary School site, or to stay put in a renovated space.

The referendums, however, are nonbinding. Their placement on the warrant is to establish public preference and present the Library Committee with a direction to follow. The actual work on fleshing out the library’s future will come after the vote.

The new referendums read:

“Do you agree that the town of Rockport should develop a plan for a new library, taking into account community input on design and budget?”

“Do you agree that the town of Rockport should primarily consider the RES site as a location for a new library, provided the current ballfields are preserved?”

The Rockport Select Board decided on these referendums at its Aug. 11 regularly scheduled meeting. The discussion had been continued from the Aug. 5 public hearing, when selectmen voted 3 to 2 not to approve a request from the Library Committee to place its proposed nonbinding referendum on the November ballot.

The original referendum — “Do you agree that the town of Rockport should develop a plan for a new library on the RES site, provided that the current ball fields are preserved and pending community input on design and budget?” — had been crafted by the Rockport Library Committee, an elected board of five citizens.

Read: Rockport leaders want a rewrite on library referendum before placing on November ballot

The committee’s chairman Kathleen Meil had asked the Rockport Select Board July 14 to place it on the warrant, saying, “the Library Committee respectfully requests that all Rockport voters have the opportunity to vote for or against developing a plan for a new library on a portion of the RES site, adjacent to the ball fields, this November.”

The Library Committee had said it needed public input from a broad range of townspeople before it could consider how to move forward with either pursuing plans for a new library at the RES site, expanding at the existing site, or considering something else entirely.

Three of the selectmen, however, said Aug. 5 that they did not like the wording of the referendum, and wanted to expand its language to reflect alternative options for the future of the library.

On Aug. 11, Selectman Ken McKinley distributed the proposed new referendums to the board, saying that with the help of Selectman Charlton Ames, they had crafted new language.

The Library Committee met just before the Select Board meeting, and according to Committee Chairman Kathleen Meil, voted 3 to 1 to endorse the new referendums. 

The selectmen agreed that the new language met the expectations of the community for a wider range of options on the warrant.

Planning for the library’s future has become a contentious issue in a town whose population is approximately 3,300, and whose residents are passionate about their public facility.

Some citizens have adamantly supported a proposal to build a larger new library on the RES site on West Street, while others just as adamantly advocate that it remain in its current location on the corner of Russell Ave. and Union Street.

After McKinley handed out the referendums, Selectman Geoffrey Parker said, “I think we might have two winners.”

But he questioned to need to include mention of the ballfields.

McKinley replied: “There is sentiment out there that no matter what we do, the ballfields need to be preserved.”

The wording, he said, does not preclude moving the ballfields.

Selectman Ames said he was encouraged by the referendums and illustrated an analogy.

There is a bus, he said, which the Library Committee is driving. The Select Board is in the front seat, “and we own the bus. We can lean over and say, ‘maybe you shouldn’t drive so fast.’”

But, he said, the Library Committee is driving.

“If there is a wreck, that would be terrible,” he said. “We are all on the bus. It is incumbent that we work together. I look forward to the process and learning together.”

Selectman Tracy Murphy said she agreed with the new language.

“I think this gets us in the direction we need to go,” she said. “I’m OK with it.”