Residents contend they weren’t asked about new library location

City could purchase library, operate it, Dooley rep says

By Gloria Lloyd

Tesson Ferry Branch Library patrons attending a meeting organized against the branch’s new location last week voiced concerns that they were not consulted on the new site, and said they would have rejected it outright if the library had asked what they thought.

“You’d have to be half-nuts to pick that property,” one library patron said during the meeting. “And these are the people in charge of the library?”

Under its official list of pros and cons for new sites, obtained by Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors Secretary Ed Ryan through a Missouri Open Meetings and Records Act request, library officials listed the pros of their chosen Gravois and Musick site: It is close to Grant’s Trail and soccer fields, no demolition is required and owner McBride Berra will build 170 homes in a luxury subdivision next door.

“There’s homes built all over this area already,” Ryan said at Friday afternoon’s meeting at the existing Tesson Ferry Branch Library. “There’s people ready to use this library — and they’ve proved that they do.”

Of the 25 sites considered, one is in downtown Kirkwood and one is the former Crestwood Plaza mall, but several are within a mile of the Tesson Ferry Library.

Prospective sites nearby included Concord Bowl and a transmission repair shop near the Schnucks on Lindbergh that was discounted because of “rumored sinkholes.” Ryan said the Missouri Department of Natural Resources told him there are no sinkholes on that site either.

In interviews leading up to the 2012 tax-increase vote, then-Executive Director Charles Pace and Tesson Ferry Library Assistant Branch Manager Gina Sheridan told the Call that public meetings would be held throughout the site-selection process so that library patrons could give input and learn about the designs for the new Tesson Ferry site.

Pace also told the Call that a study would be conducted to find the new site. He resigned from the library for unexplained reasons last summer, replaced by then-Assistant Director Kristen Sorth, who was promoted by the board from interim director to the permanent position in November.

In contrast to Pace’s and Sheridan’s predictions to the Call, the first time most residents, library patrons or local public officials heard about the new site was late last July, when the library filed its intent to rezone the corner of Gravois and Musick with the county Planning Commission.

At the time, library Communications Manager Jennifer McBride, who is not related to the McBrides of McBride Berra, told the Call that the library was still searching to find the best site for the library.

However, at last week’s meeting, Green Park Mayor Bob Reinagel outlined how, separately, four Green Park officials made presentations last fall to the library to assist in finding a new site, but all were rebuffed by the library’s Board of Trustees.

“It was like preaching to someone who is listening to you — and you’re a little gnat, and they don’t want to pay attention to you,” he told the crowd of roughly 100 library users.

When Reinagel approached the library board, President Lynn Beckwith, who is also the president of the state-appointed school board overseeing the Riverview Gardens School District, told him that the library board does not respond directly to citizens but would get back to him.

Reinagel received a response six weeks later not from the board, but from Sorth.

“She pretty much said, ‘We appreciate your concern, but we reviewed 25 properties, and we’re not going to build in Green Park,’” he said. “That’s it. Answered.”

The five-member board is appointed by County Executive Charlie Dooley and approved by the County Council, and the other local elected officials present agreed that the library board has not been interested in hearing the concerns of local residents and elected officials on the Tesson Ferry location.

“‘We respond to nobody,’ they say,” Ryan said of the library board.

“They totally ignored us,” Green Park Ward 1 Alderman Carol Hamilton agreed.

“We should have a say in how our tax dollars are spent,” said Green Park Ward 1 Alderman Tony Pousosa, who is running for the Republican nomination for county executive in August. “And the fact that they wouldn’t talk to us as a municipality speaks volumes. Because if they’re not going to speak to us elected officials, they’re definitely not going to speak to you.”

Although some of the residents who went to the library meeting said they think the new library is a done deal and there is no hope in opposing it, the officials conducting the meeting said they still hope to explore their options, announcing a goal of collecting 10,000 signatures against the new library and delivering them to Dooley.

Meeting organizers invited Dooley and 6th District County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, but the only county representative who attended was Jonathan Boesch, Dooley’s south county liaison.

“Mr. Boesch, if we delivered 10,000 people’s signatures to Charlie Dooley, would he just push them over into a trash can?” Ryan asked. “Or would he see these people are standing up for themselves?”

Boesch said the library is a separate entity from county government, even though Dooley appoints its board, and he said the library was “very forthright” in its intentions before the tax-rate increase.

He suggested that Green Park purchase the library and continue to operate it.

“So you’re talking about everyone who uses this library, we get our own library?” Reinagel asked. “So that almost sounds like you’re proposing what Oakville and the other people want to do and segregate?

“That almost seems like you want us to form our own area out here.”

Officials at the meeting said they would check with attorneys about potential class-action lawsuits. A citizen could also sue the library or try to get an injunction.

“While you’re out trying to get signatures, they’re going to build the damn library,” said Fred Hoehn, a former Green Park Ward 2 alderman who led the effort to incorporate the city. “You’ve got to stop it, and the only way to stop it is go through the legal means to stop it. That’s what you have to do. And that’s going to cost money. And they have a lot of it.”

Hamilton, however, said she believes that residents will be heard if they speak out through a petition and solicited volunteers from the crowd to collect signatures at the library and area grocery stores over the next few weeks. One supporter has already promised to deliver a thousand signatures from her neighbors.

“I don’t want you to lay down in front of the bulldozers or anything … but attack these people with signatures from the masses and let them know, ‘We’re done,’” Hamilton said. “We want a new library also. We want it right here.”