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VOL. 123 | NO. 56 | Thursday, March 20, 2008

Herenton Wants To Close Nine Buildings

By Bill Dries

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DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT: "I don't need to hear from any council members about their districts," Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton told the City Council Tuesday as he announced the proposed closings of five libraries and four community centers. -- Photo By Bill Dries

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton knows his proposal to close five libraries and four community centers on the first of July won't be popular with some citizens.

That has rarely been a barrier before in his 16, going on 17, years in office.

Herenton told City Council members Tuesday that he doesn't want to hear from them about the political fallout expected from voters in their districts.

"I don't need to hear from any council members about their districts. I don't need to hear that. I'm looking at a city," he said. "Some of these libraries are in the ghetto. Some of them are on Poplar. ... They ain't going to like them. But they are the right decisions."

As if on cue, council member Joe Brown began complaining about the closings in the super district he represents. Brown complained about parts of the city becoming a "modern-day Babylon" and the need for the facilities to battle crime and young Memphians he claims are becoming "hunters."

"We cannot be all things to all people," Herenton replied. "As far as we are concerned these facilities are going to be closed."

Herenton also said his budget proposal to come some time next month will include more difficult decisions about cutting and combining city services and facilities that he didn't specify.


And that's his final answer

The administration plans to find other uses for the nine buildings involved in the closings. All were recommended for closing in a $600,000 efficiency study the city commissioned.

Two of the libraries are within four miles of the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library at 3030 Poplar Ave. The plan to close the city's original public library, Downtown's Cossitt Library, also doubles as a next move in long-term administration plans to change the face of the city's riverfront.

The library sits on a prime piece of riverfront real estate. It also sits on land originally set aside at the city's founding as a public promenade now watched over by heirs of the city's founders.

Herenton also prepared for the coming budget season by defending the fifth-term shuffle of his administration, denying cronyism was involved in the moves.

"They would not be in those positions if I didn't think that they could do this job. ... There is no friendship, no loyalty ratio that supersedes confidence and the ability to do the job," he said. "I don't work around managers or directors. ... If I find that they're not on the same page with me and what I want to get done, they ain't in the book."

Herenton also reminded the council of the sudden departure of past division directors and other appointees who didn't meet his expectations. Herenton's decision to announce at a 1994 press conference the firing of his first police director, Melvin Burgess, as Burgess himself was told of the decision, is the best-known example. Herman Morris Jr. wasn't a division director, but as head of Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division, was appointed by Herenton. And he stood a few feet away in 1994 as Herenton ripped his leadership of the utility.

This week, Herenton repeated part of what he said then: "If I have to get into your business, I've got the wrong person. That's how we manage it here."


One for the books

Herenton specifically defended his appointment of Keenon McCloy to head the Memphis Library System.

McCloy, the former Public Services and Neighborhoods Division director, has been with the administration since day one in 1992. Herenton tapped her in November to replace library director Judith Drescher. Drescher resigned and has not commented on her departure.

Herenton hadn't commented until Tuesday despite a vocal protest from some library employees and patrons who argue the head of the library system should be someone who has a college degree in library services. Drescher does. McCloy doesn't.

"We have a good library system. But I want it to be better. ... It's not as efficient as I think it can get. ... What we had in the library system, to be honest with you, was a culture of excellence centered around the Central Library. But in some of the other libraries there was neglect," he said as he took a swipe at Drescher for a lack of racial diversity in the upper ranks of library management.

"They had a little culture of career people there. They all looked alike. I don't need to tell you how they looked," he said. "They had no respect for diversity. The diversity they had was fragmented. Certain people at the top - certain at the bottom."

Proposed For Closing July 1:

  • Cossitt Library, 33 S. Front St., the city’s first public library when it opened in 1893.
  • Highland Library, 460 S. Highland St., the city’s first branch library when it opened in 1951; within two miles of the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.
  • Poplar-White Station Library, 5094 Poplar Ave.; within four miles of the Central Library.
  • Gaston Library, 1040 S. Third St.
  • Levi Library, 3676 U.S. 61 South
  • Greenlaw Community Center, 190 Mill Ave.
  • Hamilton Community Center, 1363 East Person Ave.
  • Simon/Boyd Magnolia Community Center, 2130 Wabash Ave.
  • Bethel-Labelle Community Center, 2698 Larose Ave.
RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 0 133 1,342
MORTGAGES 0 131 1,047
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 20 39 190
BUILDING PERMITS 0 305 3,056
BANKRUPTCIES 17 135 753
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 53 329
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0