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OPINION

Library A Historical Model for County-City Teamwork

Alice Echo News Journal

Prior to being elected to the Alice City Council I had the privilege of serving as a board member of the public library and president of the Friends of the Public Libraries of Alice and Jim Wells County.

Throughout the years I noted the confusion and incomplete information available regarding the organization and financial structure of the library system.

In all probability, the factors of time, combined with transitions or changeovers  of elected  and appointed officials, contributed to the loss of history and  an understanding  and continuity of the library administration .

In past few weeks I have spent time searching archives for various information and documentation..  What was discovered provides a clearer picture of the library's financial operation and, especially, the interconnected relationship between city and county entities  regarding operational structure and process.

My emphasis today is to better clarify the lost historical and obviously forgotten past partnership between the city and county with the library's development.

In 1935, members of the Alice Business and Professional Women's Club (BPW).

The original Alice Public Library was started in 1932 and was maintained in a small upper room at the courthouse provided by the county and staffed by volunteers one day a week.

In 1937, the city donated a lot next to the then city hall site  and the BPW club was involved in raising funds for the construction of a library building.which cost approximately $7,500. In December 1940, the BPW club deeded the library to the City of Alice to be used as a free public library.

Going into the 60s, plans were getting underway for a larger and more updated library facility.

What transpired during this time period was a period of strong inter-entity cooperation and partnership involving the county  city and school district.

In 1965-66, negotiations began that saw the Jim Wells County Commissioner's Court grant authority to the Jim Wells County Library Board to begin negotiations with the school district for the donation of a half block of school land where Strickland School stood. The city of Alice agreed to raze the property for the school district and to provide them with a place to relocate several special education classrooms.

The County Commissioners and Alice City Council both agreed to each contribute $50,000 towards the project. The city's portion came from using part of a recently passed bond issue by Alice voters. The city further agreed to use some $5,000 in bond funds to restore a county courtroom that the library had previously used there.

This high level of community, entity, and taxpayer support enabled the county and city to convince the federal government to gradually present the project with more than $104,000 in federal funds. Eventually both the county and city added another $16,000 total towards construction costs,besides a $10,000 gift from the Mullen Foundation for the new Alice library that was opened and dedicated in 1967.

Gradually, over the years , other branches were established in Orange Grove and Premont.

Questions surround the governance of the library system.. Documents reveal that there was a formation of a Jim Wells County Public Libraries board that was very active with making policy and other recommendations to the County .

All three libraries became part of this system under the umbrella of a county board.

It is apparent that over the years, for whatever reasons, the roles of the county commissioners and oversight of a county based board diminished and city government  role and presence became more active or dominant. The assumption has consequently been made that the library board was of city origin and primarily city based.

Probably over time various documents have been varied in interpretation and application by local officials and evolved into the current status.

It does leave open the possibility of revising the system towards more joint operation between  city and county entities to increase available library resources, which would appear to be the original intent and direction of founding officials and representatives.

This cooperative teamwork had impacts not just locally, but was recognized as far away as Washington, DC.

In 1967 ,the City of Alice, in conjunction with Jim Wells County, became one of 10 cities nationwide to be designated recipient of a covered national Urban Development Intergovernmental Award  presented to Mayor Lucien Flournoy and County Judge T.L. Hartville by U. S. Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.

These entities were being recognized for their cooperative ventures that were an outgrowth of a $34,000 Master Plan the city, county, and school district had shared the cost of to enhance community improvement. Among the  projects the entities were credited for included library ,law enforcement, parks, and street maintenance and repair.The city and county worked closely together on a street paving  program in Alice.

This type of mutual assistance during the 60s is a useful guide, and clearly points to the potential opportunities and benefits that could be achieved if such teamwork were to be revisited and revived for the benefit of community progress. That is a most worthy objective.

- Ron Burke, Alice CIty Councilman