Forest Home Library Selection Raises Questions

By Robert Miranda 

Editor’s Commentary

Part 2 of 2 part series

Editor’s note: This is part 2 of a 2 part series. Last week we ended part 1 of this commentary asking “Why did Alderman Jose G. Perez clam up and not speak a word of support for the Cesar E. Chavez proposal, when before this meeting, he told the community he was all for the library being placed on Cesar E. Chavez Drive?” Attempts to reach Alderman Perez to comment on this matter failed because Perez did not respond to my repeated emails to his office asking him for an interview. Also, Perez ignored answering questions I forwarded to him. So, the series continues.

Part 2.

Alderman Perez, according to sources, was sent an email from Ernesto Villarreal, asking that Perez read a statement on behalf of the Villarreal El Rey network; Perez did neither read the statement nor spoke in support of it at this meeting.

Why didn’t Alderman Jose G. Perez speak at the library’s Building & Development Committee at the Forest Home Library on Tuesday, December 2, in support of placing the Forest Home library at the S. Cesar E. Chavez Drive location?

Sources told me that before the December 2meeting; Perez indicated total support for the Cesar E. Chavez Library proposal submitted by Capital/Journey House.  The Spanish Journal asked the alderman three times via email for an interview regarding this matter. Alderman Perez did not respond. Questions were sent via email to Perez office, Perez did not respond to the questions.

As I stated before, Milwaukee Public Library (MPL) did a survey asking for community input regarding the two competing proposals. MPL provided the Spanish Journal with an internet link to the survey results. The results of the survey showed that the Cesar E. Chaves proposal received 83.9% of the community support over the Gorman proposal which received 16.1%.

Why would the Milwaukee Public Library refuse to uphold the community’s overwhelming support for placing the Forest Home Library on S. Cesar E. Chavez Drive?

When asked about community support for the Cesar E. Chavez Drive proposal, John Gurda, President of the Milwaukee Public Library Board, (who during the December 2and December 9 meetings appointed himself as a member of the Library Building & Development Committee to ensure quorum) stated that the Hill Building had support from Jorge Franco and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.  But that support from the HCCW CEO did not come about until after theDecember 2 and December 9 meetings.

The Spanish Journal obtained minutes of the Library Building & Development Committee meetings held on December 2, 2014, at the Forest Home Library, and on December 9, 2014. at the Mill Road Library. Jorge Franco does not appear in the minutes of either meeting as a presenter or speaker. Further, the minutes revealed that, after theDecember 2 meeting, the committee decided to put off making a decision on the matter, asking instead for more proposal details from each of the competing parties.

It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that Jorge Franco of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce all of a sudden appeared as a representative of the Hispanic community, going on record to support the Mitchell St. Hill Building proposal.

Why did Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO Jorge Franco all of a sudden mysteriously appear to support the proposal to put the library on Mitchell St., going against the majority of residents in the area?

Attempts to make contact with Franco to speak on this matter met with silence.

A service map provided by the director of the Milwaukee Public Library shows that the Chavez plan does appear to benefit more residents west of Cesar E. Chavez Drive than the Hill Building location does for residents east of 9th and Mitchell.

Clearly the Cesar E. Chavez proposal would be the biggest benefit to the community, providing cultural benefits to the area.

In addition, the library being placed at this location would have been an anchor to creating what could be Milwaukee’s Latino downtown, helping to cement the Latino community footprint in Milwaukee.

The Chavez proposal fits perfectly with the aims of the “South Side Plan” adopted by the city in 2009, which calls for the City of Milwaukee to support establishing the Cesar E. Chavez Drive area into a “cultural, arts and entertainment district that would promote Hispanic and other ethnic group businesses and cultural facilities within a concentrated area”. This includes a mixture of arts, entertainment venues, retailers, restaurants, museums, cultural attractions, office space, and public squares to enhance the Cesar E. Chavez district.

Since the community backed this proposal overwhelmingly, and it was supported by community leaders, why didn’t the city follow its own “South side plan” for this area and go with what the community supported?

And, again, why didn’t Alderman Jose G. Perez speak in support of the library being placed at the Cesar E. Chavez Drive site during the meeting of the Library Building Committee held on December 2 at the Forest Home Library?

These questions were not addressed, but responses did raise concerns regarding the Cesar E. Chavez Drive library proposal having financial uncertainties.

Such argument flies in the face of one of Wisconsin’s most successful Latino developers.  Ernesto Villarreal and his El Rey network have, over the years, proven themselves to be one of the most successful Latino investors/developers in Milwaukee. To question the fiscal sustainability of their proposal is to ignore their success and commitment to this community as one of its biggest Latino investors.

The manner in which the Forest Home library selection process was conducted should be reviewed.

Questions regarding why Milwaukee Public Library requested public input, then ignored it when overwhelmingly the public supported Cesar E. Chavez Drive to be the site of the new public library, are concerns that need to be answered.

These concerns clearly point to a process that was at best suspect, and at worst, fixed.

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