Night of the living dead

Monday night’s Town Council meeting took on the tone of a horror movie – complete with zombies — about the time the debate on the library expansion bonds reached the how-do-we-pay-for-it phase.

The zombies — the gray-haired contingent that has gathered at every council meeting where the library expansion has been discussed — clustered in the first two rows of the council chamber seats and remained intent on one thing – getting that library renovation, and no one or nothing would stand in their way. They sniffed and grumbled and snarled as the council debated. I half expected them to rise from their seats and start shambling arthritically toward the council dais growling “Books!”

They want the library expansion so desperately that they are oblivious to the town’s large fiscal problems. Maybe their memories of what libraries used to be are clouding their judgment. They think libraries are those 20th-century warehouses for books. They seem content to ignore the town debt or obligations that would put the town in a real fiscal bind – no borrowing for at least five years after the bonds are approved – as long as they get that damned expansion. God help us if an emergency strikes – guess we can all go read a book until the crisis passes.

What they want is a nice pretty building that shows this community values books. But that’s all their version of a library will be. The designs for the library expansion are almost 10 years old. A lot has happened in library use and philosophy since the design was submitted, not to mention new technology, RFID, Kindle or any other library innovation that is reshaping the way people use these spaces. The plain fact is that time has passed this renovation project by. But as Sally Greene voiced at the meeting, “We’ve paid for the design, so let’s build it.”

While most of the council members seemed intimidated by the elderly bookworms, Laurin Easthom and Matt Czajkowski stood up and voiced reservations about such an expensive project when town funding is stretched so thin.

But the zombies will get their library – you could see that a majority of the council members can’t wait to spend that bond money, regardless of the precarious fiscal state in which it will leave the town. I guess they figure you can’t argue with zombies.
–Don Evans

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15 Comments

  1. Bill

     /  March 24, 2010

    What a classic liberal story- I want mine, I don’t care about the cost!

  2. Mark Marcoplos

     /  March 24, 2010

    That’s Reagonomics baby!

  3. Brandon Rector

     /  March 24, 2010

    You ought to try stating your case without personally insulting Library supporters. It would lend credibility to your argument.

  4. melissa

     /  March 24, 2010

    Don Evans is spewing forth hatred and bias. It is unacceptable to stereotype the supporters of the Library as gray-haired zombies who think of libraries as 20th century warehouses for books. Poor Mr. Evans. He must not realize that his photo shows he has gray hair and poses in front of a shelf full of books – intent upon using a backdrop of those (useless) books to lend credibility to his arguments and his sadly mistaken insights. Perhaps he is just getting forgetful? Don Evans would do a big service to himself to learn a bit more about the gray-haired zombies. A few of them are professors at UNC-CH and are among the country’s leaders in teaching and research at a premiere public university. Ah yes, Mr. Evans, they are educators and they endorse books – but they own and use kindles, blackberry’s and they actually teach young people about innovative technologies. Imagine that! Some one with gray hair having talent and knowledge to share with young people!! Other zombies present included an honored Carolina Tar Heel Basketball head coach, non-profit executive directors, professional science researchers at Duke, IT employees at Carolina, communications specialists from the health sector, young mothers of school age children and parents of college students who respect the value of libraries in the educational process. These same zombies volunteer and donate to the Family Domestic Crisis Center, the Orange County Literacy Council, Ronald McDonald House, SECU Family House, the Lineberger Cancer Center, ARC, Habitat for Humanity, many interfaith social services, Meals on Wheels, the Public School Foundation, and many more of the 600 or so non-profits in Orange County that depend on volunteers who care. Yes, these people – let’s leave the derogatory term of zombies in the graveyard – are alive and well because they share and give back to their community. And yes, they absolutely do care that our community has a public library that thrives and grows with time. Many non-profits come to the Town Council and tell their stories. These stories are compelling, especially when a testimonial is offered by a program participant. It is time for our Libary to tell its story too. Nearly 1,000,000 (one million) items will be lent this year to people who need and want them. Hundreds of programs will be offered to children and adults touching many thousands of people and teaching them new computer skills, how to write resumes, how to start a small business, where to find funds for their non-profits, how to get important health information, and providing them with email and online access if they do not have computers at home. Visit the Chapel Hill Public Library website and find that you can download audio books from a consortia to your home computers, MP3 players or to your IPOD. Learn about the cutting edge technologies only available through your public library. Library supporters deserve the highest respect and regard and not the derision you so gleefully present. These are the people who believe you have a right to know, which translates into a right to use a library with total privacy as you choose what you want to learn and when you want to learn it. They believe in the principles of intellectual freedom and the importance of tamping down censorship so that many different views are represented in our library materials. Why do they do it? Why bother to fight the good fight – for the the future of our public library? Because for generations Americans have been comitted to the importance of the “people’s university” as demonstrated in the opening of the first public library in America – the Boston Public Library. The idea is that we people in a free country – in a democratic union – may have equal access to learning and with it the dream of prospering and providing for our children. We all realize that no public library is free to operate but that the word free (as in the Philadelphia Free Library) means that all individuals have free access to their public library despite race, gender, and age so that as free people they may experience personally and privately the power and the joy of learning. I wonder, Don Evans, have you ever visited the New York Public Library? There, in the majestic entrance to this public place of learning, you will find row upon row of names engraved on the marble walls – names of iconic Americans who believed in the value of the public library and invested their treasure to build and protect them. Names like Carnegie. So, let me end by saying your attacks on the library supporters are shameful and ill-suited in a community that prides itself on the value of education and learning. Your voice unfortunately is tainted by ignorance and your arguments are without foundation. The voters in Chapel Hill said yes to a library expansion in 2003. The Town staff recognize the need to move forward now with conditions favorable for the cost of bond issue and for construction savings. The Mayor suggested he needed an “up or down” vote on the issue on March 22 and this was communicated to the community. Monday’s Council meeting (March 22) therefore was expected to have an unusual importance. (Circumstances changed and the Town Manager announced that evening that an “up or down” vote is not required until late May. ) The people of Chapel Hill use the present library more than any other public library is used per capita in North Carolina. It has been many months and now years since the bond was approved for library expansion. The time to honor the voice of the people on this bond issue has come. Victory comes to those with staying power. The library supporters stayed and sat in the front rows of council chambers so they could capture all of the conversation and discussion to take place. They sat for nearly four hours and waited for the agenda item to arrive. They spoke of their willingness to help the Council trim and then keep down the operational costs of an expanded library to limit or lift the burden of any tax. They stayed until very late in the evening. And they – and those who will succeed them in the years to come – will continue to stay and say “we support our public library and its mission” in the Town of Chapel Hill.

  5. Barbara Moran

     /  March 24, 2010

    Dear Mr. Evans,
    I notice that on the “About ” section of your website, you state: “We reserve the right to delete comments that don’t further that debate or that stray from the path of civility.” Perhaps I am overly sensitive, but I think that your post has insulted all of the library supporters who came to the Council Meeting on Monday night. I think that most people would agree that calling others, zombies, is not acting in a civil manner. I doubt that you want to have your opinions refuted by facts, but let me assure you that those “elderly bookworms” who you state “think libraries are those 20th-century warehouses for books” are well aware of the potential of modern libraries and are up-to-date on ebooks, RFIDS, a host of other modern library technologies. However, they realize for a library to continue to serve a growing community, the library will need additional space to provide these new services and continue the ones that are being so heavily used today.
    I realize that you are not open to have your opinions changed but I hope that you will be more civil in your future postings. I don’t have grey hair yet but my parents always taught me to respect my elders. I don’t know your age, however, if you have been an editor for 30 years you will fairly soon be among the senior citizens that you wrote about in such a derisive manner. When you too start “start shambling arthritically ” perhaps you will have a different outlook.
    Barbara Moran

  6. Don, while I agree that some folks that are lobbying hard for the Library are blinded to other concerns, I also think many have bought into the message that Mark and other Council members are sending “we can have our cake and eat it – NOW!”.

    I’ve been watching our Town Council and Town budget for over 9 years now and I can tell you – offering the world without considering the consequences is a politically “smart” thing to do. It’s worked in the past because of the incredible wealth of this community, the constantly expanding revenues, the (formerly) relatively deep reserves and the (formerly) relatively untapped Town credit line.

    Of course, today’s fiscal situation is quite different.

    What has troubled me, continues to trouble me, is not only that the majority of this Council has shown little foresight in budgeting (and, for a few, in other areas as well). This inability to grasp coming change is a serious problem.

    Kudos to Laurin, Matt and others that have tried to anticipate current and future needs but, as it appears from the reporting, they continue to be the minority voice.

    Finally, what bugs me the most about the ongoing “debate” is how unnecessary it could’ve been.

    Sure, the SCOPE of the current economic downturn (“the great recession” – an elegant piece of propaganda) was not something I could expect the old guard Council to anticipate but many economic indicators showed as early as 2002 that Chapel Hill couldn’t sustain the relatively high rates of expenditures through 2005-2010.

    With the passage of 3 bond referendums, the Town’s Op Center going wildly over budget, the inequitable balance between commercial/residential property taxes, meeting the demands of newly approved (and anticipated) developments, increases in the property tax rate outrunning income increases (housing bubbled, income levels historically declined), the Lot #5 boondoggle, rising healthcare costs and retirement obligations, etc. the old-guard Council had every reason to expect that 2005-2012 was going to require a sea change in how the Town budgets.

    I’m irked, to put it mildly, that the old-guard Council ignored my and other folks calls for fiscal responsibility over the last 7-8 years have put the community in such a bind.

    The old-guard Council can claim that they didn’t personally anticipate the problem but they can’t claim that they weren’t warned or offered an alternative path.

    As far as the Library, I started lobbying the Town to prepare for this day in 2004.

    I ran on this issue 3 times. If the Town had done what many of citizens do everyday – set aside a little cash, so to speak, to meet a future need – from buying school supplies to a new car – we would be prepared – even in these miserable economic times – to take on the new Library/greenway debt. I and others, pushed for greater citizen oversight/advice in the budget process to inject a bit of alternative perspective – which – once again – was rejected (including by Gene Pease, who led the closest thing to a budget board several years ago).

    Preparing, though, is not the strong suit of the old-guard. Accepting advice that is contrary to a “spend now, pay later ethic” is not what the old guard has done or will do. And the old-guard’s Lot #5 vanity project, an extra-curricular expenditure of significant impact, isn’t on the table.

    The Town’s credit card is maxed, the reserve cupboard relatively bare, the fiscal demands to provide core services escalating, new obligatory demands like complying with the Jordan Lake rules or funding retirement obligations on the horizon, etc.

    When either the Library supporters are disappointed or the Town increases taxes and/or forgoes expenditures on higher priority items to the disappoint of its taxpayers, the blame won’t be on the economic downturn, the County (an easy target) or any other external factor – it will lie completely with those on the Council that haven’t and continue not to budget with the future in mind.

  7. Terri Buckner

     /  March 24, 2010

    While I agree with those who are expressing their concerns about the fiscal impact of proceeding on with the library expansion, I don’t see any value whatsoever in referring to library supports as zombies. Civil discourse in this community is at an all time low. For the “alternative journalists” to stoop to this level of insults is a new all-time low.

  8. Joyce

     /  March 24, 2010

    Who is Don Evans and why does he have to insult some of the leaders in this community? Does he insult everyone who holds a different view on community affairs? The way I understand it the town wanted input on this subject and the supporters of library had every right to voice their concerns. Does Don Evans have a problem with that? Seems as if he does. I do not see that there is anything to gain by this type of discourse. I don’t understand why funds that are used on art projects in Chapel Hill can’t be diverted to cover some of the library expansion debt. How many people will benefit from the public library and how many benefit from an art project? Weight them. In my house, if I need money for one thing to be covered, I may shift funds around a little bit. From my viewpoint, it seems as if council members have been shortsighted in many areas. The bond was passed specifically for the library expansion and it is time to do it.

  9. Bill

     /  March 24, 2010

    Such humorless liberals, even after the passage of Health Care For Everyone.

    Wowza!

  10. Don Evans

     /  March 24, 2010

    Terri

    I’m not referring to all library supporters as zombies, just the ones who show up at the meetings and act out when they don’t get their way. The mutterings, glaring at council members and belligerence is quite distressing from our elders. Talk about the decline of civil discourse — discourse also applies to how we listen to the views of others.

  11. Terri Buckner

     /  March 25, 2010

    Don,

    When you were writing for the “real” press, would you have used this kind of exaggeration? I don’t think so. Why use it now? Because you have no editor or because writing on the web doesn’t feel the same as writing in print? When you talked to the community journalism students last week, did you tell them that writing online is less about reporting on happenings and more about using visual imagery to represent their personal opinions?

  12. Bill

     /  March 25, 2010

    Geez, Don- you should get your OWN website where you can say WHATEVER you want.

    Without getting such scoldings from the local progressives, you know?

    It is so hilarious to read all the ranting library backers. So defensive. I think you actually have the zombie part right. I will paraphrase a t shirt I saw recently:

    What do we want? LIBRARY
    When do we want it? LIBRARY

    LOL

  13. I half expected them to rise from their seats and start shambling arthritically toward the council dais growling “Books!”

    Great line.

  14. Interesting tidbit reported yesterday:

    There’s more data coming in on the extent to which low income Americans depend on public institutions for broadband. A new report released by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation says that 44 percent of those living below the poverty level access e-mail and the Web via their local public library. And nearly a third of Americans over 14 used library Internet services in 2009. That’s about 77 million people.

    http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2010/03/almost-half-of-poor-americans-go-to-the-library-for-internet.ars

  15. Steve

     /  March 27, 2010

    Don, you’re not marching in lock-step with the empowered elite. That’s one demerit for you, comrade citizen.

    Now, you’ve called them a pejorative name. That’s two demerits plus a ‘watch’ notice, comrade. We must keep decorum, and your attempts to use facts about our public finances to justify your actions are unwelcome.

    Keep this up … and you’re going to be looking at a re-education session or two. Four legs good, two legs bad.

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