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2008-01-17

Lamar Smith, ‘Have money will travel’

By Judith Pannebaker

In the style of an old-time politician, District 21 United States Representative Lamar Smith happily brought home the bacon to his book-loving constituents last week.

On Wednesday, Jan. 9, he met with directors and representatives from the three Bandera County community libraries and symbolically presented them with $195,000 - courtesy of Uncle Sam.

The funds were included in the annual appropriations bill that recently passed the House of Representatives and was signed by President George W. Bush.

“This is an example of one of the ‘good’ earmarks that can be included in appropriations bills,” Smith told the more than 35 people who gathered at the Bandera County Public Library for the event. “Bad earmarks - the ones you usually hear about - are tacked on in the dark of night and only benefit a few people.
However, this type of earmark helps constituents and is used for the public good,” he explained.

The funds were granted to the Bandera County Public Library, Medina Community Library and Lakehills Community Library.

Bandera County libraries rely on donations, grants and funding from the commissioners court to operate facilities and provide library services to county residents.

In his introduction of Smith, County Judge Richard Evans said he and the congressman had worked on obtaining this money for a year. “A good library system is the basis of a good country,”
Evans said. “It allows people to learn about history and hopefully not make the same mistakes as were made in the past.”

In turn, Smith expressed surprise at the amount of the allotted funds. “We did really well this year. Normally, we receive only a fraction of what we requested, but this time, we got more money than expected.” The $195,000, he said, would be used to purchase equipment and books.

During the Thursday, Jan. 10, meeting of the commissioners court, Evans added the funds could not be used for capital improvement or salaries. He indicated representatives to the county federated library system would meet to determine how to distribute the largesse. Loy Ed Alanis of the Lakehills Community Library serves as president of the federated system.

Evans said the group might explore the legality of depositing the $195,000 into an endowment account and using the interest for purchasing books.

In an earlier press release, Smith had stated, “Since reading plays an instrumental role in education, it’s vital that all children have access to books. These funds will increase that access.”

During the presentation, he called libraries “the nucleus of a community.” Smith recalled taking his children to the library every Saturday when they were 5- and 7-years-old.

“I probably shouldn’t say this, but when my children were small, I bribed them to read. Instead of an allowance, I paid them five cents per page. If they read 100 pages, they got $5 and that was a lot back then.”

Smith went on to say for the first several years, his children read strictly for the money, but eventually they began reading for the love of it and to learn. “Reading certainly helped them do better in school,” he added.

Another sheepish “confession” concerned his continued allegiance to a library in Comal County. His “confession” also revealed a secret Smith vice.

“The library has a collection of vidoes of the old television program, ‘Have Gun Will Travel,’ Smith explained. “Every two weeks, they send me a cassette and I watch the four episodes included on it. I return the video and they send me another one.
That’s just one way I can keep a connection with a community library.”

To a query from Evans, Smith confirmed the county could apply for additional funds next year - albeit for a different project.

“Perhaps we can apply to use the funds for law enforcement,” he said, adding he would rather the money not have to be used for flood clean-up as it was a decade ago.

In conclusion, Smith exhorted library personnel to use the funds wisely by “buying lots of wonderful books and upgrading computer systems.” He cautioned, however, “Don’t feel you need to buy videos of ‘Have Gun Will Travel’.”