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Citizens file for public hearing on proposed Carnegie Library leases
Pittsburgh, Dec. 6: Today, a group of Pittsburgh citizens filed a petition with the Pittsburgh City Clerk requesting a public hearing on the legislation regarding the proposed leases of Carnegie Library buildings within the City.
Bill 1141, which proposes the lease arrangements, was presented to Pittsburgh City Council on November 25th. This bill received an affirmative recommendation when considered in the Council's Committee on General Services, Technology, and the Arts on December 4th.
Prior to discussion during the December 4the meeting, the bill was amended to include an option for the sale and transfer of the City-owned library buildings, at any time during the lease term, to Carnegie Library for a purchase price of $100 per building.
The citizens who filed today are asking for a public hearing before the final vote on Bill 1141, currently scheduled for Tuesday, December 10th. The City Home Rule Charter requires petitions for public hearings on proposed legislation be submitted within three days of the bill's introduction. A petition filed, within this time limit, stays the final vote until after the public hearing.
Since the Wednesday amendment to the bill substantively changed the originally introduced bill, and since the petitioners' concerns are specifically about the changes to the bill, the petitioners contend their request complies with the Charter's three-day requirement. The petitioners expect City Council to recognize that Bill 1141 is, in essence, new legislation and falls under the three-day requirement. Hence, the petitioners expect City Council to delay the final vote, from December 10th until after a public hearing can be held.
Of primary concern to many of the petitioners is not only that the library system can purchase the public property for a token amount, but that, as the City is also required to provide "good and marketable titles," Carnegie Library is free to dispose of the properties by selling them to anyone, including real estate speculators who could demolish the building(s) and put-up practically anything they want.
Carnegie Library has previously indicated a desire to get rid of at least four of the original, historic branches: West End, Hazelwood, Lawrenceville, and Mount Washington. This raises serious concerns of architectural preservation and possible reductions of library service, without adequate public input. As public property now, full public review is required by statute, prior to any major change.
Andrew Carnegie, who invented the neighborhood branch library system here in Pittsburgh and donated ten branch library buildings to the City, specifically intended that the buildings would be owned by the public and not by a private library board. He strongly believed that the libraries would flourish only if the community, through their elected representatives, took an active role in providing for the library operation, and, to ensure that, that they be municipally-owned properties. Out of the 2,811 library buildings donated around the world, he only allowed five to be set-up as separately-held properties.
Citizens will be organizing and collecting additional petition signatures (to be added to those already submitted) over the weekend at several locations around the City. Those who are concerned about this issue can also visit the Internet web site:
Information on e-mailing Pittsburgh City Council members, regarding this issue, will be posted on this web site.
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