Library contracts bring end to dispute
The Ridgeland Library will return to normal operating hours on Sep. 7 following a contract resolution between the city and Madison County Library Board.
MCLS Director Tonja Johnson said Tuesday that individual contracts have been signed with all the concerned municipalities in the library system.
“Canton, the city of Madison and Flora all signed their stand-alone contracts last week,” Johnson said. “The city of Ridgeland had a special called meeting last night and signed their contract.”
The MCLS announced on Aug. 17, that the Ridgeland library would have limited hours starting Aug. 20 which included eliminating Saturday operations. On Aug. 23, the system announced that the library would resume regular operations as of Sept. 7.
Johnson said they received the third quarter payment in the amount of $27,500 on Tuesday and expect the fourth quarter payment to be approved by the board at the next meeting. The total contracted agreement between the city and MCLS is about $110,000.
Despite a lack of a valid contract, Ridgeland, which owns and maintains the building the library is housed in, has invested in the facility including a roofing project that cost more than $50,000 and selected a new member to the library board.
The MCLS has also asked for additional funds for the upcoming fiscal year in the amount of about $5,000. The Fiscal Year 2023 budget will be considered for approval at a future city board meeting.
At the first city board meeting in August, board members relayed to Jonhson a number of complaints they had received or observed including rude or indifferent treatment by staff and a lack of programs at the Ridgeland Branch.
“It takes zero funding to be nice,” Alderman-at-Large D.I. Smith said.
Ward 6 Alderman Wesley Hamlin said that his wife regularly takes their children to the Madison branch for children’s programs and noted that he would like to see a similar program implemented in Ridgeland.
Johnson told Hamlin that the Ridgeland branch does have some children’s programs but is currently unable to host a similar amount as other branches because they have an open position for a children’s librarian.
She said the ongoing funding dispute has put the position in jeopardy and that they could not fill the position in good faith until that was resolved and the library received funding from the city.
City Clerk Paula Tierce confirmed that the contract was approved by the city board at a special meeting held on Monday, Aug. 22. The item passed with a 6-1 vote with Ward 3 Alderman Kevin Holder casting the lone dissenting vote.
Ridgeland Mayor Gene F. McGee was not available for immediate comment but said in a statement before Monday’s meeting the city was working with the MCLS to resolve the issue and that a stand-alone contract would be acceptable.
“The City of Ridgeland is not opposed to a stand-alone contract with MCLS as long as it is deemed legal and binding by attorneys from all entities,” McGee said.
McGee described a stand-alone contract as “a sudden change of direction” from the MCLS and that the city had recently learned of the decision on Aug. 10.
The city entered into a new contract with the MCLS after discovering the 2009 contract was not valid. The 2022 contract was approved by the city board on April 11 and signed by McGee on April 12.
The expectation, McGee said, was that the April 2022 contract would be approved by the other participants in the MCLS which are the county Board of Supervisors and the cities of Flora, Canton, Madison and Ridgeland.
In early July, McGee said the city’s lawyers received an email from the MCLS lawyer, Robert Sanders, stating that it was “certain” not all entities would sign the 2022 contract and that “informal planning for the closure of the branch has already begun.”
Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins-Butler said she did not know why it took the contract more than three months to be presented to her board but said that any issues were between the city of Ridgeland and the MCLS.
“The city of Madison was content with the contract we had,” Hawkins-Butler said.
She went on to say the city was happy with signing an individual contract.
“Separate contracts are fine with us,” she said. “We have not had any problems. Individual contracts are much better because if there is an issue between one city and the library system it does not drag the other cities into it.”
The controversy erupted in January over a prominent display of LBGTQ+ books including “The Queer Bible” after Ridgeland citizens became upset. City officials then discovered that a new contract had not been approved between the city and the library system since 2009.
In the meantime, Friends of The Ridgeland Library raised more than $110,000 online from LGBTQ+ supporters. As of March ,about half of those funds had been disbursed.