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Fall-out from Urban League deal continues

Date: 11/18/2008

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD While City Solicitor Edward Pikula prepares his opinion on whether or not the city should pursue eminent domain to re-establish a library in Mason Square, there was fallout from recent statements made by Mayor Domenic Sarno.

Sarno told Reminder Publications that he was "aggravated and frustrated" by the revelation of an agreement between the Attorney General's office and the Urban League that changed the discussion on where a new library should go. He also questioned whether or not former Mayor Charles Ryan knew about the document during his administration.

The agreement stipulates that if the Urban League were to sell the property the most it could get for it would be $700,000 plus about $100,000 more to match the Consumer Price Index. John Egan, the attorney for the Library Foundation, which controls the trust funds for the Mason Square Library, believes the document establishes a value for the property.

Ryan heads the foundation and is in favor of exploring eminent domain. Sarno had announced earlier this year that he had negotiated a sale price on Mohammad's Mosque as a site for a new library. An assessment of the property by architect Stephen Jablonski set an estimate of $4 million to buy and renovate the building.

Sarno asserted that since taking office earlier this year, there had been several telephone conversations with former City Councilor Morris Jones in which Jones said that Ryan "had some paperwork from the attorney general that was going to blow [the issue] out of the water."

Jones called Reminder Publications last week to dispute that statement, which he described as "erroneous." He said that he had no knowledge of the agreement and that he has not had any conversations about the document with the mayor or his staff.

Jones said that restoring a full-service branch library to Mason Square was a "moral issue" and that was his focus in his advocacy.

Ryan also reacted to Sarno's remarks and said, "If I had known if there were this kind of documents when I was mayor I would have got the documents and acted on them."

"If the mayor has anything to say to me he should say it face to face," Ryan said. "I still want to work with them [the Sarno Administration]. We've got to get the focus back on the ball."