A proposal to dissolve and terminate the Woodstock Public Library District went down in resounding defeat Tuesday, giving trustees and staff a feeling as if a big weight had been lifted from their shoulders.
The excitement was clear in Provisions at the Woodstock Golf Club when trustees, supporters and every library employee cheered as results came in from all the polling places. The unofficial result is 2067 No and 1142 Yes. Absentees still have to be counted, but those ballots are less than the margin.
“We library trustees are very grateful that the community wants the Woodstock Public Library District to continue,” library board President Dorothea Marcus said. “We thank Woodstock voters for their confidence in us, the library’s staff and its devoted volunteers…And now we’re thrilled to be able to return to work, to making the best library for the people of Woodstock by acting responsibly, thoughtfully and with vision.”
The board will hold a special meeting Thursday, November 8 at 7 p.m. to discuss the next steps in the library building plan. “And we invite everyone to join us, as always, to share ideas,” Marcus said. “This entire referendum was divisive and we must come together and heal as a community. Nevertheless, it’s a happy day for democracy in our town.”
Director Jessica Kerr sad she wants input from the other side.
“I want to hear from everybody who voted ‘Yes’ and who felt like they haven’t been hear because they’re part of our community and part of our library and part of the library system.”
John Ludwig of Citizens for a Better Library, the group that petitioned to get the referendum on the ballot, said the voice of the “Yes” vote is still important.
“Thirty-six percent of the voters were prepared to change the leadership at the library,” he said. “The trustees are going to have to interpret the vote, so they’ve got a job to do.”
The referendum to dissolve and terminate the library district was brought to voters as an answer to what Citizens for a Better Library argued was the board’s ignoring a survey in which 71 percent of respondents wanted something other than completely new construction of the library.
However, trustees and library supporters counter the survey was flawed and there was no clear consensus. When the options excluding all-new construction are broken down, 29 percent favored renovation with a small addition, 16 percent favored renovation with a large addition, 11 percent favored only repairing what is necessary, 6 percent chose a separate building on the north side and 6 percent chose a renovation with no addition. A choice of “other” accounted for the remaining 3 percent.
As those who followed on social media can attest, the campaign got very ugly, with smearing and name-calling people wouldn’t engage in face-to-face. A Facebook page promoting a “Yes” vote appeared that looked like official town communications. Town Supervisor Bill McKenna immediately disavowed any connection. Ludwig said nobody from Citizens for a Better Library was responsible. More recently, “Vote Yes” fliers attached to mailboxes caused a stir. It is illegal to place anything in or on a mailbox without postage. There were also accusations of “Vote Yes” signs being placed on lawns without permission. The “vote no” camp insisted all of its signs were placed with permission.
With all that behind the community, trustees can now return to working on plans for a new library building including awarding of a contract to one of the three finalist architects. In its set of guidelines, the board required concepts for a 15,000-square-foot library, something they are open to paring down based on public input.
With the referendum’s defeat, funding for library operations will remain as it is now, with the main source coming from taxes collected by the town on behalf of the special library district. Attempts at a similar referendum are blocked by a four-year moratorium.
The town’s 4580 registered voters will continue to elect trustees each year when they decide on the budget. Trustees’ terms are five years, but they are staggered, so at least two or three are up for election every year.
Some trustees, volunteers and members of the Woodstock’s Library Matters committee — the “Vote No” folks — have pledged make an example of responsible campaigning by removing their yard signs.
In other town races
The library wasn’t the only local matter on the ballot. Woodstockers also re-elected Councilman Reggie Earls and Judge Jason Lesko to their first official terms, both without opposition.
The Town Board appointed Earls to replace Jay Wenk, who succumbed to cancer last spring. Earls will now serve the remaining year of Wenk’s term. Then, the seat will be up for a full four-year term. Lesko was appointed to replace Frank Engel, who retired in 2017. He will fill the remaining year on the term before that seat is also up for a full four years.