City Administrator Howard Partington told the Great Bend City Council Monday night that he was ready to get over recent misstatements made by Great Bend Public Library Director Harry Willems regarding the library’s budget.
“In the spirit of the season, lets just move forward and do what’s best for the city,” he said.
He was referring to comments by Willems to his library board Dec. 5 that the GBPL was facing a $40,000 cut in city funding. Willems said this “cut” threatened the library’s state funding and was forcing a staff reduction and a smaller-than-planned raise for library personnel.
The information was covered in a Great Bend Tribune article that appeared on the front page of its Sunday, Dec. 18 issue. This followed coverage of the above-mentioned library board meeting.
However, Willems remarks were based on faulty information, Partington said. The facility’s budget was remaining the same and, in fact, was going up a little to keep it eligible for a State Library Grant.
Partington walked the council through the budget requests and paperwork that showed this. He also said the library received all the funding Willems had requested.
But, it was an email from Willems to Partington, Mayor Mike Allison and council members that softened Partington’s tone.
“I would like to express my apology for conveying bad and incomplete information to my board members and the local press at our board meeting last Monday,” Willems said in the email. “As I expressed in our meeting I did not have the documents that I needed to corroborate the city budget publication (from October) that I based my conclusions on.”
Willems said these documents are usually located on the Kansas Office of Administration website. “The Great Bend City budget has not been published here (as of Monday) with all the documents that I need to make an accurate assessment.”
Decisions for spending in 2017 need to be ratified by the library board before the new year begins so he said he waited until the Dec. 12 meeting to present his findings and look at options for a reduced budget.
“The GBPL staff, board and administration are grateful to the City of Great Bend for the support given to the library,” he said. “We will continue to make an impact on the education community, and serve the needs of all citizens of our city.”
Councilman Wayne Henneke urged all agencies that receive city funding to call city staff members if they have questions. This can prevent everyone from looking bad.
However, some on the council were less forgiving.
“I don’t agree,” Councilman Brock McPherson said of moving past the comments. “It’s three strikes and you're out. Why are we condoning this?”
He got nods of approval from Councilman Dana Dawson and others.
“His board is the one who hires him and I appoint the board,” Allison said. “It’s on me.”
“I think his apology sucks,” McPherson said, adding he wanted to know what could be done now.
Allison assured McPherson the matter would be discussed again. “I understand your frustration.”
Dawson wondered what other cities the size of Great Bend give to their libraries. Locally, it seems like “quite a chunk” compared to other city-funding entities.