Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Suit filed to halt library closings

Mayor Nutter may have his mind made up about closing library branches, but it won't happen without another fight - this time in court.

Mayor Nutter may have his mind made up about closing library branches, but it won't happen without another fight - this time in court.

Yesterday, a team of lawyers, city employees and members of the AFL-CIO filed a civil lawsuit against Mayor Nutter, the city and the Free Library in response to the city's attempt to close library branches.

The suit, filed in civil court, claims that the city planned all along to close down library branches and is using the budget crisis as an excuse, according to the suit.

That claim is based on a Dec. 18 article in the Chestnut Hill Local in which Siobhan Reardon, head of the libraries, was quoted as saying that branch closures were five years in the making.

In a phone interview with the Daily News yesterday, Reardon adamantly rebutted the claim.

"When I talked about going back five years, when I started in September, I went back to 2003 and noticed a seriously deteriorating system," she said, alluding to the time frame in the article.

"It [the library system] was seriously underfunded. The situation got progressively worse.

"The disastrous economic crisis is the straw that broke the camel's back."

Irv Ackelsburg, a Center City lawyer and one of the plaintiffs in the suit, was unmoved by her explanation.

"We'll hear the truth when we go to court," he said.

"You don't need me to tell you what an impact [the closures will] have on the Philadelphia community.

"The lawsuit speaks for itself. This was a lawsuit that was crying to be filed."

Nutter plans to close 11 of the 54 city libraries by year's end as part of an extensive cost-cutting effort to meet a budget gap of at least $1 billion over the next five years.

The suit also alleges that the mayor violated a city code that prohibits the closure and abandonment of city buildings without approval of City Council.

Almost a month ago, Council passed a nonbinding resolution calling for hearings to debate the Nutter administration's proposal.

The hearings have yet to be scheduled by Council President Anna Verna.

The lawsuit also claims that Reardon was not aware that most public schools in the city don't house libraries.

Of the claim, she said: "If you're asking me if I knew school for school if they had libraries, then no.

"Most of the high schools have libraries, but as you go down to the elementary schools, it's a different situation."

Although the lawsuit is the first to be filed against Nutter for his sweeping proposed cuts - which also include the closing of 68 pools and five fire-engine and two ladder companies - he has met vocal opposition during a series of town hall meetings held by the administration recently.

A hearing is scheduled for civil court Monday at 10 a.m. in City Hall Room 426. *