Letter: Speak out for open government and libraries

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I was surprised to see that Mountain Xpress hasn’t published any follow-up coverage since posting Buncombe County’s press release about the closure of the Swannanoa Library on Feb.13. I hope your reporters are working on a much fuller account of what’s happening here, because the story is about a lot more than a small library branch with a building in need of repairs. The process should concern every resident of Buncombe County.

The more I learn about how the library closure decision was made, the more urgent I believe it becomes to stand up and speak out for open government and open libraries. I say libraries, plural, because if the Buncombe commissioners allow this library closure to happen to Swannanoa, it can happen to any community that county management decides isn’t worth investing in.

Oakley, Black Mountain and every unincorporated community with a small library branch should be especially concerned.

Recall that the county commissioners unanimously passed a measure in November of 2021 directing county management not to close smaller branches, including Oakley, Black Mountain and Swannanoa — as had been proposed in a new systemwide plan being floated. The intent of the commissioners’ action in response to public outcry was clear: “We should give some predictability and clarity to these neighborhoods that have been really concerned about the potential closure of their libraries,” said board Chair Brownie Newman at the time.

But now, here we are, with the county manager’s office abruptly announcing the apparently unilateral decision to close Swannanoa’s branch, while Newman and our commissioners stand aside.

Decisions this consequential must be debated in public, with all the stakeholders involved — especially county residents, who, let’s remember, sit at the top of the county’s organizational chart. That’s not what happened here.

This decision wasn’t deliberated; it was simply delivered.

It was handed down by county management and presented as a done deal, without the possibility of the library’s closure being mentioned to the community, the building’s nonprofit owner and possibly even the county’s own Library Advisory Board.

Did our commissioners vote for this closure? We don’t know! So far, they have provided conflicting answers when they are not ducking the question altogether.

Let’s stand up and speak out to remind our commissioners that we must have open government — and open libraries.

— Matt Barker

Editor’s note: See Xpress’ coverage of the latest development on this issue in the article “Swannanoa Library to Remain Open Amid Community Outcry.”



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