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The Benning Library Lawsuit: A Victory for Ward 7 ANC Commissioners - But How Will the City Respond?
Forwarded by the DC Statehood Green Party
For immediate release:
Monday, January 7, 2008
For more information:
Rick Tingling-Clemmons 202-397-2277
Jane Zara 202-483-9303
On December 20, 2007, Superior Court ordered defendants of the Benning Library lawsuit, Tingling-Clemmons et al v. Fenty et al, to comply with the Advisory Commission Act, D.C. Code §§ 1-207.38, 1-309.10 and the Real Property Disposition Economic Analysis Amendment Act, D.C. Code § 10-801 with respect to the process of planning a new library for the Benning community. Defendants include, among others, Mayor Adrian Fenty, DCPL Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper, and President of the DC Public Library Board of Trustees, John Hill.
The Advisory Commission Act requires the Mayor and relevant government entities to give great weight to the issues and concerns raised by the initiating Commission, with "explicit reference to each of the Commission's issues and concerns" in writing. The affected ANC expressed its concerns about the treatment of the Benning Library, consistent with the requirement of the ANC Act, but the Mayor never responded, although required by law.
According to the ANC Act, "The issues and concerns raised in the recommendations of the Commission shall be given great weight during the deliberations by the government entity… "Each Commission may initiate its own proposal for District government action. The District government entity to which the proposal is made shall acknowledge the proposal in writing to the initiating Commission within 10 days of receipt of the proposal and shall issue a status report to the initiating Commission within 60 days of receipt."
Plaintiffs, which include several ANC Commissioners from Ward 7, have sued because their library was boarded up for over three years, then torn down, despite their thwarted efforts to engage the Mayor and DCPL entities in substantive discussions about the needs of the community.
Pleased about the Court order requiring compliance, Ward 7 ANC Commissioner and co-plaintiff in the lawsuit, Dorothy Douglas stated, "We were wondering up until now why these laws were on the books, if the Mayor and responsible parties simply ignore them or refuse to comply with them."
The Real Property Disposition Economic Analysis Amendment Act requires the Mayor to describe the manner in which economic factors are weighted and evaluated, including estimates of the monetary benefits and costs to the District that will result from the change in the disposition of real property. "The Mayor shall take any steps necessary to ensure continuous community input in the disposition of any real property - which shall include, for property located within the corporate boundaries of the District, providing notice to any affected Advisory Neighborhood Commission of the final terms and conditions … prior to the disposition of the property."
Plaintiffs and concerned citizens throughout the city wonder why these libraries were torn down when the city faces one of the worst adult illiteracy and school drop-out problems in the country. Plaintiffs are fighting to expand library and literacy services in their community, amidst growing mistrust in the community that the libraries will ever be restored.
"There is a culture of fiscal irresponsibility propagated by those responsible for instituting literacy services in our city, as evidenced by the behavior of Ginnie Cooper, John Hill and the Library Trustees. How can anyone ignore the effects of neglect now so apparent here in DC? We are trying to find out why over $3 million dollars was spent on unnecessary trips by city officials and failed architectural plans - with no benefit and no accountability to the community. Our needs are not being addressed, and those responsible appear to have very little accountability for their actions thus far. Where unemployment and homelessness are extremely high among families with children, many see the steps taken by the library trustees as disingenuous. And residents view the events as class war," explained Rick Tingling-Clemmons, also a Ward 7 ANC Commissioner and plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Interim services were provided to the Benning community after the filing of this lawsuit. Superior Court issued an Order requiring the city to keep the interim services open for the duration of the lawsuit, a pyrrhic victory for plaintiffs, since the interim services fail to meet the growing needs of the community.
"Our victories are hard won, and we are showing other residents that we can fight for what is rightfully ours, and demand compliance with the laws. That seems to be the only way to get the city to wake up to the real needs of the community," said Betty Diggs of Community to Save Our Libraries, C-SOL, another plaintiff.
The next hearing for the Benning Library lawsuit is scheduled for February 15, 2008, at 9:30 am in Courtroom 316, DC Superior Court, 500 Indiana Ave., NW.
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