Hancock County

The fight for control of libraries in Hancock County is not over yet

The Bay St. Louis Public Library is the largest in the Hancock County Library System but the city also provides most of the system’s budget.
The Bay St. Louis Public Library is the largest in the Hancock County Library System but the city also provides most of the system’s budget. Sun Herald File

The Hancock County Library System will take its fight against a county-led reorganization of the library board to the two cities that help pay for the library system.

The county Board of Supervisors unanimously voted for a new agreement that would cut Bay St. Louis’ representation in half, from two to one, and give the county a 3-2 advantage over Bay and Waveland on the library system Board of Trustees.

“I knew they were going to pass it,” said Library System Executive Director Courtney Thomas. “I hoped they would listen to reason but they did not.

“The step now is to let the city of Waveland and the city of Bay St. Louis know that just because the county passed it does not mean that they have to. They’re equal partners in this library system. They need to stand up to the Board of Supervisors and say, ‘This is not what’s in the best interests of the city of Bay St. Louis or the city of Waveland.’”

Bay St. Louis could vote on the agreement as early as Tuesday but Waveland doesn’t have a regular meeting until Aug. 16.

The library issue that has been simmering for months finally reached a full boil before the supervisors approved the services agreement that would replace one that has been in place since 1991. Diamondhead already has opted out of the library system. Besides the city branches, the system has branches in Pearlington and Kiln.

“This thing got blown out of proportion, and let me tell you why,” said District 1 Supervisor David Yarborough as Thomas was trying to explain her opposition to the new agreement. “You’ve got people working for you who get on the phone and they don’t speak the truth. I’m frankly tired of it.”

Yarborough declined to publicly name who he was talking about.

“They’re on your payroll and they’re going to hear from me,” he said.

Thomas and Yarborough eventually agreed that it would take the library, county and cities working together to find a plan that would hold costs down while keeping the library branches open. Thomas said she would support updating the current agreement.

But she reiterated her criticism that the county was creating an entirely new library system to replace the award-winning library system the county already has.

“You have a functioning library system that is thriving,” she said. “What sense does it make to create a new one?”

Supervisors President Blaine LaFontaine said the people, not the agreement, determine how well the library performs.

“The award-winning system is (composed) of your leadership, your staff and all the people who are members of the system,” he said. “All these things we’re discussing, I don’t think jeopardize that system.”

But Thomas said the new agreement would take power to determine spending from the Board of Trustees by requiring it to report revenue it obtained from outside sources such as grants and have that amount subtracted from the budget.

“State law says the Board of Trustees determines that,” she said. She said an opinion obtained by supervisors from the Attorney General’s Office supported her view.

“It says that can’t be modified by an interlocal (agreement).”

Then an argument erupted between Thomas and board attorney Gary Yarborough over the East Hancock County branch in Diamondhead that closed in 2015 then reopened last year.

That argument ended when Yarborough said, “It’s our meeting, ma’am” and LaFontaine declared, “The discussion is over.”

Then he called for the vote.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton