Bill to cut library panel's clout dropped Council move seen as fence mending HARFORD COUNTY


In an apparent fence-mending move, the Harford County Council withdrew a bill last week that would have stripped the library trustees of power to close branches.

The measure had been introduced by four council members, a majority, at the height of a controversy over the short-lived plans to close the Highland branch in Street.

Library officials had planned to close the small branch in the Highland Community Center this spring as a budget-cutting move, but community members, including council President Jeffrey Wilson, objected.

Mr. Wilson led council members Philip Barker, Susan Heselton and Barry Glassman in introducing a bill Feb. 9 to prevent the Library Board of Trustees from closing any branch without council approval.

Less than two weeks later, the trustees approved a compromise with the Highland Community Association to keep the limited-service branch open at least a year.

The compromise came after County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann promised to add $15,000 to the fiscal 1994 budget for the library, and the community agreed to provide volunteers to staff it. The county's smallest branch is in the Highland Commons, a former school that also houses a senior center, post office, nursery school and food pantry.

"I came to the conclusion that we should put our trust and faith in these people," Mr. Barker said of the board after the bill's withdrawal.

He said he withdrew his support for the bill after a long conversation with two trustees -- Chairman Bruce G. Berkey and Mary Patricia Massarelli -- who offered a strong argument against legislating more control over the voluntary board.

"They are very knowledgeable and experienced people, and I came to the conclusion that I rather agreed with their thoughts about what they should have the authority to do."

Library trustees applauded the council's decision to kill the bill.

"This board by law is supposed to be free of political interference," said Dennis Pelletier. "I personally feel that it was used as a club to get the Highland decision, and now that they got it, they can withdraw it."

The withdrawal Tuesday came in the wake of the council's vote (( the previous week to remove Joanne S. Parrott, R-District B, as the council liaison to the library board.

In that meeting, council members voted, 5-1, to replace Mrs. Parrott with Mrs. Heselton, R-District A, as the ex-officio, nonvoting board member. Mrs. Parrott had spent four years on the board, which has seven voting members.

Mrs. Parrott accused Mr. Wilson of "masterminding" her ouster in retaliation for her critical remarks about him in his home community of Highland at the trustees meeting there Feb. 18.

At that meeting, the board voted to keep Highland open. After the vote, Mrs. Parrott read a personal statement apologizing to the trustees for the council president's actions over the proposed closing.

Mr. Wilson had written letters to Philip A. Place, library director, and Mr. Berkey, trustees president, threatening a financial backlash if they closed Highland.

But Mr. Wilson accused Mrs. Parrott of failing to express the council's view on the board.

"She wasn't helping to interpret the council's opinion on the library, and she has prevented other council members from making contributions," he said after her removal.

"It is OK for the president to express his views, but I guess this is not afforded me," Mrs. Parrott told council members as she cast the only dissenting vote on her removal.

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