Opinion: Why I’m A NO Vote On The Jones


Jones Library. Photo: wilkipedia.org

As someone who has a great fondness and gratitude for time spent working toward Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in the quiet sanctuary offered by our public library, I generally support a renovation to the Jones.  Also, as a mother who brought my daughter and many of her friends to the Jones for many years, to read and take out books, to play and meet other children, I know first hand what an important gathering place the Jones is in our town.  Preserving it as an open place for children to gather, meet and learn is a high priority for me.

At the same time, I have deep concerns about this proposed renovation, and have ultimately decided to vote no.  For the record, I sit on the Human Rights Commission.  But, since I feel reasonably assured that this matter will not come before the Commission, I feel free to offer a public statement, which I make solely as an individual, and in no way speak for the full Commission, or any of the other Commissioners.

There are many issues at stake with this proposal, all important to consider deeply.  

First and foremost, what has me most troubled about this proposed Jones Library renovation, is that not a single BIPOC representative was at the table or consulted in the planning stage.  The proposal was drafted, considered and voted on by an almost exclusively white resident base.  This is not only unfortunate.  It is the very definition of white supremacy. For a town that claims to be progressive, to consider issues of social justice, this is completely unacceptable.  How will we move forward as an anti-racist community, if all voices are not heard, respected and included? As I am not someone who believes that “the ends justify the means,” a beautiful renovation in the end, will not in my opinion, be worth the harm that this lack of inclusion causes.  

I also do not understand why the budget for the library is so difficult to find, so that ordinary residents know what they are saying yes or no to? I do not understand why Town Council has not made more of an effort to hear and publicly address concerns that would cause residents to vote no, especially because of budgetary reasons?   If questions were answered, and concerns alleviated, I, and likely many others, might have been persuaded to vote yes. 

As I understand it, the current budget allows for an expansion of a user base from approximately 19,000 annual users to over 55,000 users.  This, in my opinion, denies basic reality.  We are living in 2021.  People are not thronging back in droves to public libraries no matter how much we may want them to.  People are by and large doing their research online, at night, at the kitchen table, on their cell phones, at their office computers, etc.  I am a fan of public libraries, and I wish 55,000 users would come to the Jones annually.  But I do not agree with allocating so many millions of dollars to support such a pie-in-the-sky endeavor.  Ok, maybe 25,000 or 30,000 users, but not 55,000.

As to the suggestion that the multicultural center suggested by the CSWG could possibly be housed at the newly renovated Jones, I just do not believe this was the intention when the CSWG recommended a safe space for BIPOC residents to gather and organize in, that the physical location would be controlled or under the auspices of a building (and trust) managed almost exclusively by white residents.   

Further, I do not understand why the Jones is owned by an independent body, “The Trustees,” but town taxpayers are voting on and will be funding this project?  It is not believable to me that the cost after state grants and private funders will amount to nearly $15 million, but our property taxes will not go up.  Further, having been married to a contractor for over 20 years, I have almost never seen a construction project come in on budget.  And I don’t believe that is going to start now, after Covid, when the cost of building materials has skyrocketed, if you can get them at all.  Why is no one talking about this aspect of the cost?  And contingencies?  If the project exceeds the allotted budget, which it almost certainly will, who is going to pay for that?  It is not believable that our taxes will not go up which risks making Amherst even less affordable for all but the upper middle class.

I also do not understand why, with all the deferred maintenance, our town is starting with the library? Not the schools, fire station, roads or sidewalks?  I also do not understand why our town’s library budget is so much higher than what other towns have been able to renovate their public libraries for. 

Finally, with regard to the issue of the Special Collections section, which, I agree, is very concerning that historical documents in this collection have been or will potentially be ruined because they cannot be preserved in a building that does such a poor job at climate control.  Why are these documents even still in the Jones?  Why have they not been moved to museums?  Or placed on loan to other libraries, until the Jones can actually be renovated in a manner that is truly acceptable to the community – the whole community?

These are not just “political talking points,” as one candidate for Town Council stated in response to my original Facebook post.  I think we as taxpayers and residents in as “representative democracy” deserve to know the answers to these questions.  I hope the Town Council and or Town Manager will be offering answers before election day.  Sadly, I never see answers to these concerns, I only see “obstructionist”, “divisive”, and “anti-progress” labels put on the “no” voters.”  In the absence of answers, I will be voting no.

Deb Neubauer is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and resident of Amherst

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4 thoughts on “Opinion: Why I’m A NO Vote On The Jones

  1. Hi Deb —

    Just to clarify: In response to your original post, I did not say your points were “political talking points.” I said, “These are really great questions and I appreciate you asking them. I’ve received a lot of very helpful information with respect to similar questions from Library Trustee Alex Lefebvre. Unfortunately the political sound bites do not include the very important nuanced information we need to make a sound decision, and there is also a lot of mis-information circulating. I would encourage you to reach out to her and get your questions answered.” My intention was to be helpful to you, as you were considering your decision.

    Also, you said: “not a single BIPOC representative was at the table or consulted in the planning stage.” I also heard it asserted at the library forum this week, and I’m genuinely unclear what facts there are to substantiate that claim? I read every piece of resident feedback on the building project, all publicly available on the library’s website, and was not able to determine anything about the identity of the person offering the feedback, unless they identified something themself. Are you meaning to say the library was not actively using a racial equity lens when they started the process in 2015? I think that’s true and the library is working hard to change that in the planning for the next phase of development. That’s where I see a very valuable opportunity in front of us, to use the state money to serve our community more inclusively and equitably.

    The Town took a big step when it passed a resolution to end structural racism and achieve racial equity last year, and there are many ways we can begin to make changes now. For example, the Town does not collect racial data when they collect feedback, but I think there is a strong case to start. Creating a system by which we can collect, analyze, and use data through a racial equity lens is a concrete way for us to move toward our goal of being an anti-racist community. I wonder what role the Human Rights Commission, the Community Safety and Social Justice Committee, the Board of Health, and the African Heritage Reparations Committee (and maybe others) can play to ensure we are engaging the community equitably?

    Also important to note: Town forums are mostly all public (with the exception of smaller focused groups) and advertised through multiple channels. (In the case of the library, because it has a physical location that people visit, there was a survey available on site, in addition to the other feedback collection measures.) If these measures aren’t working, we need to develop more innovative and authentic ways of reaching people. I think the COVID ambassadors program was one really effective strategy and, as a Councilor, I will advocate for more strategies like it.

    One final note: I’ve spoken with many residents of African Heritage this year working on reparations. I’ve heard from and met with Black residents from all corners of our community, and there is still so much outreach work that needs to be done to genuinely understand the needs and priorities of Black people in our community. In my conversations I have learned that African Heritage People represent a diverse array of backgrounds and political attitudes, and no individual person or group represent all Black people in the community. I worry that we risk further marginalizing BIPOC if we stop listening when we hear the most vocal/active voices, or when we use BIPOC — even when we have good intentions — to fit our narrative. The only solution in my mind is to work really hard to create an environment that truly opens to and welcomes all voices, and to reach beyond our immediate circle ( including social media) to listen and learn. I’m committed to that process as a town councilor (and resident) and if the library building project is approved, I will work in collaboration with fellow councilors and library trustees to honor and uphold the Town resolution to end structural racism and the recent inclusion/anti-racism motion approved by the library trustees.

  2. I would like to make a clarification after receiving a note from Art in which he shared his disappointment with my last comment. My statement about marginalization of voices was in relationship to my earlier comments about the Town collecting community feedback (in general) and was not meant to diminish or dismiss the voice of any community member working to advocate for or against the library. The point of bringing awareness to the issue of marginalization is to hold us all (especially those of us in positions of power or with platforms to be heard) accountable to our entire community, which is diverse in so many ways. Also, asserting that not a single BIPOC was at the table or consulted in the planning stage of the library, without knowing the identities of people who responded to surveys and listening sessions (or who provided feedback and advice to trustees and staff otherwise), is in effect erasing the voices of BIPOC who may have participated in the process. That is not OK. This is not to be conflated with the fact that the library wasn’t actively using a racial equity lens when they started the process, (though there were conversations about how to achieve the public purpose of a library) which I acknowledged needs to change if we are to uphold our racial justice/equity resolutions and meet our goal of being an anti-racist community.

  3. Michele-I have only recently become aware of you and was, though I do not live in the district in which you are a candidate for TC, impressed by your statements and presentation of them via the live forum several Sunday nights passed.
    I write only to question your statement above that “ I read every piece of resident feedback on the building project, all publicly available on the library’s website”. I find it naive, at best, for you to infer that all resident feedback about the building project would be listed by the Library’s on its web-site. As someone who sent an email with questions about the plan within days of the Director’s first presentation at Town Meeting (I was present as a TM member) and attended a number of the initial “public” discussions afterwards, I doubt that. I assure you that there were others like me who quickly stepped up with concerns. Some of us were rudely treated and our concerns dismissed by the Director and a particular Trustee. If indeed you have read everything available, then surely you should note that not until recently was the topic of inclusivity and social justice even mentioned by the Library Director and its Trustees. Hmmm.

  4. Hi Rita —

    Thanks for your comment and kind words about my candidate statements and presentation. I have read through all of the community feedback that has been made public on the Jones’ website (https://www.joneslibrary.org/buildingproject) and I make no claims about other feedback that may have been offered in writing or verbally. Within the feedback I refer to, there is a diversity of opinion and suggestion, including plenty of concern. The point I raised was about data collection practices — in that the Town does not ask for identifying information when it collects community feedback. Going forward, I think it would benefit us to collect this data (optionally) so we can measure our community outreach efforts more effectively. I agree the library made public statements with respect to inclusivity and social justice only recently, but I also know from talking with library Staff and Trustees, that discussions about inclusivity and social justice have been happening at the library for a long time. (I might argue that the library was ahead of any other Town department with respect to these topics, and can personally offer that while working on research reports for reparations, the library was an invaluable resource and immensely supportive of the work. ) The recent motion by the Jones Trustees is a good first step — and now officially on record — regardless of the outcome of the project vote. I want to support the library in honoring and upholding their stated commitment, because from my perspective, that is the only way for us to make progress.

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