Seven Philadelphia residents and the city's white-collar municipal union filed a lawsuit yesterday seeking to prevent Mayor Nutter from permanently closing 11 public libraries by Jan. 1.
The suit, filed seeking class-action status, rests on a 20-year-old city ordinance stating that "no city-owned facility shall be closed" without the approval of City Council. Nutter has not sought Council's approval for the library closings, which he ordered as part of the city's response to the budget crisis.
City Solicitor Shelly Smith, who was given a copy of the lawsuit last week before it was filed, said then that the ordinance in question is unlawful and that it conflicts with the City Charter.
No City Council members are plaintiffs, but the Philadelphia residents (library users all) who filed the complaint have other powerful allies.
AFSCME District Council 47, which represents municipal white- collar workers including library staff, is co-plaintiff. The Black Clergy of Philadelphia is not a plaintiff, but is supporting the lawsuit. The lead lawyer for the plaintiffs is veteran community services lawyer Irv Ackelsberg.
The 28-page complaint marshals a host of arguments against closing the libraries and attacks the city's rationale for selecting the 11 branches that are to be shut down.
Much of the suit focuses on the direct impact to the plaintiffs, who include Tanya Westbrook of the Logan section.
A single mother with two school-age sons, Westbrook accompanied Ackelsberg to City Hall to file the lawsuit. She said that she and her children have relied on the Logan branch both for schoolwork and in her own attempts to find a new job.
Westbrook said it was the neighborhood's "greatest asset." She said it saddened her to hear that any libraries would be closing.
"It was even more disheartening to see, 'Oh, my God, they're closing our library.' It was so personal," Westbrook said.