Councilwoman Carolyn Siemann said she would not support any library option that did not first go to public referendum.
Councilwoman Carolyn Siemann said she would not support any library option that did not first go to public referendum.
May 13, 2014

Carroll City Council members deadlocked Monday night with a 3-3 vote for setting a public hearing on a proposed lease for a new public library at the Carroll Depot Business Center.

The vote effectively sends the long-running No. 1 priority at city hall back to a brainstorming stage as elected officials offered no follow-up motions on other ideas for improving library services.

"If we are not going to move ahead with the option that is before you, there probably will not be much of an option moving forward," said Mayor Adam Schweers. "Ultimately, I would need to have four council members walk into my office and state that they want to move forward with a library, specifically with the details."

Schweers, who developed the lease or lease-to-own plan with Badding Construction president Nick Badding, did not exercise his authority to cast the deciding vote on a motion to set a public hearing on the idea. After the meeting, Schweers told the Daily Times Herald, he believed the 3-3 vote would not change, and that it was fruitless to take the proposal further as a resolution to actually enter a lease requires four council votes.

Council members Michael Kots, Clay Haley and Jerry Fleshner voted to set a public hearing on the lease option. Council members Dr. Eric Jensen, Carolyn Siemann and Tom Tait voted against the public hearing - which would have been the next stage in the process of moving toward a lease arrangement.

Haley expressed frustration with the apparent impasse on the library.

"I've got nothing better to bring to the table," Haley said. "I don't know what else to bring. What do we do going forward? What's the next plan? Or is there a next plan?"

Haley said the city may need to remove improving the library as a priority and move on to other issues where consensus is possible.

Because of the way the lease option was structured, Iowa law would have prevented a full public referendum on the plan - a fact that Siemann said is not digestible for much of the community that is demanding direct democracy on the controversial matter of what to do with library services.

"The line in the sand for me is a public vote," Siemann said. "And that is the line I will never cross."

Siemann said a council vote to establish a lease would have created a "credibility gap" between the Farner Government Building and the citizens of Carroll.

What's more, she said a mail survey from the city's consultant, Himmel & Wilson, clearly showed the public wants to see the library remain where it is.

That said, Siemann said she was open to new input.

"Maybe there's some other idea out there that would float," Siemann said.

And she raised the possibility that the answer, in the digital age, may not be to expand the library at all.

Siemann related a conversation between a friend and that friend's granddaughter who is completing her master's degree in library science.

"She (the library science student) made the comment that your library may be too big," Siemann said.

The current Carroll Public Library is 10,400-square-feet.

Bill Wilson, a partner with Himmel & Wilson, said as a library scientist he'd recommend moving to the lease option. But as a political and polling analyst, his assessment is that the most public support would be for an addition to the current library. A 3,000-square-foot addition, roughly in the price range Siemann said would be palatable to Carroll voters, would cost $2.7 million, according to a city analysis.

Based on 10,000 population, and using comparisons with other Iowa cities, a 24,200-square-foot library would fall at the 75th percentile. Using a population of 12,200 (which takes into account some area towns and unincorporated area) a goal of hitting the 75th percentile would be a 30,000-square-foot library, according to Himmel & Wilson's analysis.

Schweers said calls for remodeling the library - or even reducing the size - are coming from people who aren't regular patrons.

"I'm not going to build a library for people who don't use the library," Schweers said.

The city began working to modernize the library in 2001 following a study of all municipal facilities.

At Monday's regular council meeting, former Councilmen Jeff Scharfenkamp, Phil Phillips, Mike Eifler and Myron Johnson spoke in favor of the lease option with Badding as did C.J. Niles, a former economic-development leader in Carroll.

"It's time to move forward and finally put this behind us," Eifler said.

Scharfenkamp said he reviewed a number of options and determined that the lease with Badding for 23,000 square feet made the most financial sense.

"The taxpayers in this town will never get a better deal on a library," Scharfenkamp said.

For his part, Councilman Tom Tait said he would lead an effort to determine what sort of facility would stand the best chance of clearing the 60-percent super-majority needed for passage of a bond-issue referendum. He said a bond issue of $2 million to $2.5 million is a likely target.

"I want to see a collection of people put this together," Tait said.