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Teresa Elberson, director of Lafayette Parish Public Libraries, is pictured Thursday, August 11, 2016, at the downtown main library branch in Lafayette, La.

Teresa Elberson, director of the Lafayette Parish public library system, retired suddenly Friday, days after library board members criticized the selection of speakers they dubbed too "far left" for a book discussion on the history of voting rights.

A native of Springfield, Missouri, Elberson moved to Lafayette in 1982 and worked for the library system for more than 38 years. She was appointed director in July 2016 when longtime director Sona Dombourian retired.

"Ms. Elberson did a great job of continuing the construction of libraries that started with boards going back to the early 2000s," Andrew Duhon, a former library board member and former board president, said Saturday. "She led us through a tumultuous time. She's now earned a well-deserved retirement."

The tumult continues. At a Jan. 25 meeting, the library board of control rejected a $2,700 grant from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities because, some said, the speakers were too "far left" and would not provide a balanced discussion of a book about the history of voting rights.

They also chastised Elberson for not following their order to hire two speakers who would provide "opposing perspectives" on the subject of voting rights.

The grant would have paid the library to buy copies of two books on the history of voting rights and for discussion facilitators, including Theodore Foster, an assistant professor of African American history at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Library board Vice President Hilda Edmond, appointed by Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory, said Monday he advised her he did not support accepting the grant.

Board members said they are concerned about the library system's image with conservative voters, who make up much of the parish's voting population. Voters in 2018 rejected a request to renew one of three property taxes used to fund the libraries, cutting revenue by about $3 million a year.

The library system took additional financial hits when the former City-Parish Council in September 2019 did not roll forward one of the two remaining property taxes, reducing revenue by $300,000 a year.

Another big financial hit came in October 2019 when, with support of the City-Parish Council and former Mayor-President Joel Robideaux, voters opted to transfer $8 million of the library's savings to drainage and roads.

With property values down in 2020, the Parish Council had the option by law of increasing the library property tax millages to generate the same amount of money as the previous year. They refused, reducing library revenue by another $750,000 a year.

The library system has about  $7 million in savings remaining, but has had to dip into that savings. Another property tax is up for renewal in the next year.


Email Claire Taylor at ctaylor@theadvocate.com.