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The Say-Town Lowdown

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Ever since we broke the news that the San Antonio Public Library Board of Trustees was quaking under spectacular pressure from City glitterati who wanted to change the name of the 37-year-old Oakwell branch to honor the late velvet gentleman Robert L. B. Tobin, our attention has focused on the library board's cautiousness, on impassioned attacks from the Friends of Oakwell Library who opposed the idea, and on the chicanery of influential Rasputins who worked behind the scenes to circumvent the citizen board's role as sole naming authority.

The exhausting months-long uproar is just the kind of storytime San Antonio watchdogs would enjoy before a siesta: an angry Library Board resignation; charges of unseemly politicking; and an attempt to thwart the guardians of our 22-branch library system led by the San Antonio Public Library Foundation's Dennis Martinez, who, sources say, wrongly and most likely wittingly bollixed up the whole process when he advised the Tobin Endowment's co-trustee J. Bruce Bugg to sidestep the stewards and go straight to the Mayor if he wanted Oakwell renamed. Bugg did.

After deliberating over the unprecedented renaming of an existing library, after combative public hearings spiced with personal attacks on, of all people, the deceased philanthropist Tobin, only two actions have been taken: 1. Bugg gave $100,000 to the Library Foundation and, with exquisitely rosy cheeks and a self-conscious earnestness his fellow SMU-graduate Laura Bush also possesses, announced at a September 27 meeting that the money would go toward Oakwell upgrades regardless of the renaming decision; and 2. the board put off its decision 'til January, by which time they'd develop some policy for this kind of predicament.

Which leads us to one conclusion: The Library Board works!

How's that?

In a world where boards are secretive, incompetent, and in some cases downright dirty (the Hewlett-Packard leak and scandalous investigations come to mind), it's good to see a group of citizens appointed by elected officials have the temerity not to jump just because First Lady Linda Hardberger, husband Phil, former mayor Lila Cockrell, state senator Jeff Wentworth, former First Lady Tracy Wolff, et. al. ask them to.

Let's be frank. The name change stems from Bugg, and is more a reflection of his management of the endowment than its namesake's wishes, much in the same way Disney once bore the stamp of Michael Eisner's personality and reflected little of Uncle Walt's sensibilities (a new Walt Disney biography says he enjoyed the company of many right-wing anti-Semites, but insists he wasn't racist, despite years of speculation that Uncle Walt would not have seen Eisner, a Jew, as part of the winning "Disney formula").

But back to the above-named local stars: the pro-name-change speakers bureau featured folks close to Tobin, who died in 2000. Still, most of them in recent years have had a very public romance with Bugg.

* Bugg and his wife Alethea hosted a recent campaign fundraiser for Senator Wentworth in their home.

* Bugg and his wife Alethea have contributed $3,000 to Mayor Hardberger's campaign coffers since 2005, and Lady Hardberger is a director for the Tobin Foundation for Theatre Arts (whose operating budget is paid by the endowment).

* Lady Wolff is the president of the Hidalgo Foundation; the Endowment's 2004 IRS reports say it donated $67,000 to Hidalgo.

* Lila Cockrell is the president of the San Antonio Parks Foundation, also an Endowment beneficiary.

* In training-camp negotiations, Bugg has represented the Dallas Cowboys, the Mayor's favorite summertime Astrodome tenants.

No wonder Phil penned a letter strongly encouraging the library board approve the renaming. Which might happen. And not just because the boardmember who resigned was replaced by the pro-Tobin Louis Agnese III (who also has a close professional relationship with the Bugg-led endowment through his law firm: The conflict of interest will keep Agnese from voting on the issue).

There's enough counterweight against the renaming, i.e. boardmember Enedina Vasquez, who stirred up debate so fiercely at the September meeting that the board tried to move the meeting into a closed executive session (but even Attorney General Greg Abbott fights for Texas's Open Meetings Act); instead, the audience was treated that night to the library board's "culture of open dissent" - a quality most successful boards have, according to a professor at the Yale School of Management.

And because the Library Board didn't immediately submit to artificial pressures for the sake of consensus before they were ready, let's expect a well-reasoned outcome.

It's this kind of stewardship that landed the SA Public Library the nation's highest honor for community service last week (the 2006 National Award for Museum and Library Service). It's the kind of thoughtful guidance that makes you wish an apolitical, independent citizen panel could be put in charge of San Antonio land development, too.

 


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