Library debate turns angry and ugly

Patricia Spinks with "We the People"
Patricia Spinks with "We the People"
Board of Supervisors' President Marlin Ladner
Board of Supervisors' President Marlin Ladner

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Tempers flared at Monday's Harrison County supervisors meeting during a discussion about the Gulfport Library.

The board of supervisors president exchanged angry words with a vocal member of a citizens group that's fighting to save the storm damaged library.

That emotional outburst is the latest chapter in this ongoing controversy.

Things got angry and ugly, quickly. A member of "We the People" tried to engage supervisors in discussion. But the board president made it clear: This was not the time for debate.

"Number 19. Discuss proposal for Gulfport library, damaged during Hurricane Katrina," said board president Marlin Ladner, as he called the agenda item.

It began quietly. Supervisors were asked by FEMA to respond to a survey.

"The survey was requested and is part of the 106 section and the only way the board can answer the survey is through their minutes," said county administrator Pam Ulrich.

"Some of the questions or some of the statements made in the narrative portion of the handout was not backed up by statute. And is inappropriate at this time," said Patricia Spinks, a member of the citizens group, "We the People."

Several members of that group attended the board meeting. Spinks tried several times to speak out.

But the input was not welcome or appreciated.

"Listen, this is a board discussion. This is a board discussion in reference to our response to the 106 thing. This is not a discussion with the audience," warned board President Marlin Ladner.

"You said we would have discussion. When I spoke earlier, you said you would," Spinks replied.

"No maam! I was referring.... let me make something clear, then we're going to continue this without any more public discussion. That was in reference to the public forum, one, two and three," said a visibly angry Ladner.

"This was just a minute ago," Spinks said.

"No, I didn't," the board president replied.

"May I just make one comment please?" said Spinks.

"No maam," said Ladner sternly.

"This is inappropriate and probably illegal," Spinks responded.

Soon, the exchange grew even more tense.

"I will tell you now, that you will not discuss this in the audience. If I have to get the sheriff's department to remove you, I will," said the board president.

"Oh great! What kind of government is this?" said Spinks, clearly frustrated.

Things calmed down and board discussion continued, but not uninterrupted.

"It's the building. It doesn't have to be used as a library," said Ulrich.

"You can't make that legal decision," Spinks said aloud.

"I am telling you, you are not to respond!" said Ladner.

Spinks replied, "Oh please! Go away. Go away," directing her gestures toward the board president.

"This is a governmental meeting. You have no right to interfere with this meeting!" said a stern faced Ladner.

One member of the citizens group had a final word.

"I'm just a little disappointed in you. I expected more character and better behavior from the professionals I elected when we're dealing with the public," said Eric Cox.

The library issue will be discussed on February 26th. That's the next FEMA meeting in the ongoing federal review regarding the historic status of the building.