Oh, what joy Denise Jordan, chief of staff to Mayor Domenic Sarno, must feel every time she logs on to her email and finds a message waiting from City Councilor Tim Rooke.
Rooke’s messages to the mayor’s office typically have what might called a persistent quality—or nagging, or pain in the ass, depending on your perspective. Consider the email he sent to Jordan and City Solicitor Ed Pikula on Monday, asking—yet again—just what, exactly, the administration is planning to do about restoring full library service to Mason Square.
That neighborhood lost its beautiful branch library (beautified, in large part, thanks to Springfield taxpayers) back in 2003, when the Springfield Library & Museums Association arranged a clandestine deal to sell the building to the Urban League. In 2007, Rooke and former City Councilor Mo Jones began calling for the city to take back the building by eminent domain. While Urban League President Henry Thomas has said he’ll fight a taking, a secretive deal struck at the time of the sale, and uncovered last year, seems to have smoothed the path for the city to claim the building. That agreement, which involved the Attorney General, says the Urban League can be paid no more than its 2003 purchase price (plus a percentage added to reflect the increase in the Consumer Price Index) for the building. The Urban League bought the building for $700,000, which just 18 months earlier had undergone a $1.2 million renovation; $575,000 of that cost was funded by the city.
The City Council has signaled its support of an eminent domain taking, as has the Springfield Library Foundation, which controls the trust fund that would be used to pay the Urban League for the building. But that momentum slowed at City Hall, where Sarno—who previously had indicated his discomfort with a taking—said he needed to evaluate the cost of the plan, including getting an appraisal of the site.
After several months of waiting for a reply, Rooke is now turning up the heat again, writing in his email: “I was wondering where we stood on the process of the appraisals, survey of land and the request to the City Council to seek eminent domain? I had requested a timeline back on or about March 5 and I never received one.” Rooke also asked Jordan to provide a timeline from the mayor for his plans, noting that he hopes to get the library matter resolved by the beginning of the new school year.
Rooke’s first response, from Jordan, was not promising; the chief of staff assured Rooke she would get the information he requested by the start of school. “Enjoy the day,” Jordan added in her sign-off.
That prompted a follow-up email from Rooke pointing out that he didn’t just want a timeline by then—he wanted a resolution. “Have a pleasant day,” he wished Jordan in return.
More promising was Pikula’s response. The city attorney told Rooke that the Law Department received an appraisal on the Urban League site last week, which he will now present it to the mayor, City Council and Library Department. Pikula also said he’d be meeting with the Library Foundation’s attorney—Jack Egan, a local eminent domain expert—and expected the group to vote to release the funds needed for the taking at its next meeting, in early August.
Rooke told the Advocate that the appraisal found the property to be worth $800,000—considerably less, he notes, than the $950,000 Sarno has proposed last year to pay for Muhammad’s Mosque #13, where he’d suggested siting a new library. An architect’s study of the mosque showed it would have cost the city about $3 million more to do necessary renovations to make it into a library—raising the total cost to $4.1 million. The Urban League building, by contrast, will require few if any renovations, as it was—after all—built specifically to be used as a library.