Board moves forward with land purchase for Northside library

Library building with flag in front
Photo by Travis Gauthier

This story was first reported by Louisiana Illuminator and republished with permission.

There was no chaos at the Lafayette Library Board of Control meeting Monday evening. 

The lack of excitement, which has come to be the standard at board meetings, came at the first meeting after embattled former Board President Robert Judge resigned from his position. While still a member of the board, Judge was out of the control seat. 

Without any shoutingarrestsillegal executive sessions or alleged First Amendment violations, the board, acting under the direction of Interim President James Thomas, conducted its business quietly and efficiently, voting to approve the purchase of land for a new library in a socioeconomically disadvantaged part of the parish that had been on hold for five years. 

“The entire time that Robert Judge… held that gavel, he used it… punitively,” said Lynette Mejia, an anti-censorship advocate who regularly attends board meetings. “To have someone at the helm who actually used it the way it was intended, to run the meeting smoothly, to give everyone their say, was just a breath of fresh air.” 

All the usual trimmings of Judge’s presidency were absent. An agenda item for an invocation was replaced with one for a moment of silence. Police, who Judge has been accused of using to intimidate speakers, were sequestered in a back corner, rather than flanking the board. Also missing were signs displaying local laws on disturbing the peace.

Several people sitting in rows yell at an individual not pictured
 Members of the audience at a Lafayette Library Board of Control react after Board President Robert Judge projected censored images of sex acts for the public to view at its Feb. 15, 2023, meeting. (Photo by Travis Gauthier for Louisiana Illuminator)

The public comment period, which previously devolved into shouting, went by with little incident. As president, Judge often cut off public commenters he viewed as out of line or speaking on topics not relevant to the agenda. 

Mejia is hopeful the board will continue to use principles of good governance. 

For his part, Judge mostly fell in line. Twice, he raised a point of order when a member of the audience made a comment as he was speaking. Thomas asked the crowd to remain quiet outside of the public comment period, and the meeting went on. 

After a little over an hour of discussion, including public comment, the board unanimously approved the purchase of the land. The parish originally set aside the money for the library in 2019.

Due to supply chain issues created by the pandemic, the board is moving forward with a plan for a smaller library than could have been built if the process had been initiated earlier. Because of internal conflicts and other budgetary concerns, the process has been bogged down, prompting the Lafayette Parish Council to order the board to take action

Judge has at various points advocated for leasing a space for a northeast regional library instead of building one or leasing a temporary space while the library is being built. Citizens and board members alike have rejected the idea, pointing to the budgetary constraints. 

The board will meet again next Monday, Thomas said, and will vote on a new president.