Tom Menino’s mission to shutter perfectly good neighborhood libraries took another unfortunate turn this week. The mayor’s office — in collaboration with his appointees at the Boston Public Library — orchestrated a farce of a meeting at Carney Hospital on Monday evening in which they gathered “stakeholders” to discuss how they might “transition services” once Menino shutters the Richmond Street branch.
Menino’s aides deliberately avoided any outreach to many of the community’s key leaders— including the highly organized and respected merchants’ association and state elected officials — and tried to keep details of the meeting under wraps. Menino’s people went so far as to stage the meeting at the Carney— not at the still-open public branch itself — in hopes of deflecting attention away from their actions and controlling the environment.
Thankfully, members of the community who were contacted by the mayor’s office of neighborhood services, quickly identified this meeting for what it was: an attempted end-run around the growing opposition to Menino’s scheme. They alerted their neighbors and the neighborhood press, who were also shut out of their so-called “outreach efforts.” Opponents of the closing packed the Carney board room to tell the BPL officials what they should have known from day one: There is no point in planning for a shut-down that this community fully intends to stop.
To their credit, the BPL subordinates sent into this meeting (Menino, BPL president Amy Ryan, and members of the mayor’s hand-picked board of trustees were all no-shows) listened politely as one person after another stood up and – just as politely — told them that no such “task force” should even exist. They are completely on target.
Dave Vieira, chairman of the City-Wide Friends of the BPL, was also in attendance and spoke out eloquently about the need for the library system to halt its march to closings. “We need a period of transition,” Vieria told the BPL officials. “We can’t just pull something away that’s been an integral part of communities for years and years and years. That’s what this is about.”
It’s time for Mayor Menino and Amy Ryan to huddle up and chart a course away from this fiasco. Menino should immediately rescind his budget recommendation that called for the closings of four branch libraries, including Lower Mills, and announce a year-long moratorium on any closings, anywhere in the BPL system. Short of simply plugging the BPL budget gap with city reserve funds, Menino has the authority to override the BPL board of trustees and implement an austerity plan that could include scaled back hours across the city’s branches (a viable alternative that trustees and Menino shunned in March) along with a furlough program aimed at keeping BPL employees intact.
During the year-long period that follows, Menino and Ryan should then personally convene a series of meetings across the city — held at the individual branch libraries themselves — at which they should jointly lay out their vision for the future of the BPL system and outline their proposed course of action with appropriate community input. Out of this process should come a master plan for how the city can partner with private corporations and non-profits to provide for continuity of services — and improved public access — in impacted villages.
Menino has the power and the responsibility to put the brakes on this botched process today. Residents in Dorchester and across the city should demand that he do it. In the meantime, residents should continue to resist any efforts by BPL designees dispatched from the mayor’s office to pacify this community. If the mayor wants to discuss this with the people of Lower Mills going forward, he should come out and do it himself. If closing our library is a political priority for this mayor, he needs to step out from behind his appointees and spokespeople and explain it to the people who elected him. The people of this neighborhood deserve at least that from their elected leader.