An Equity Resource Center at a Howard County library branch.

Several Black Howard County organizations have put their support behind calls to fire the county auditor, saying he attempted to smear the President and CEO of the Howard County Library System in a recent report because she is Black.

“I am deeply troubled … This is a Jim Crow-era tactic being used to discredit powerful Black women in Howard County.” the Rev. Larry Walker, deputy pastor at Celebration Church in Columbia said at a news conference on Thursday.  “This is an attack on African-American women and Howard County is not going to stand for it. This is 2023. This is not 1903. This is not 1873.”

The organizations also demanded that the auditor’s report be removed from the county’s website and that the auditor issue a public apology to Howard County Library System CEO and President Tonya Aikens.

County Auditor Craig N. Glendenning could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

Glendenning started investigating the library system and Aikens after receiving an anonymous tip about a potential misuse of library resources in October.

The library hosted an event by a local chapter of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha on Oct. 7 at the library’s central branch in Columbia. The audit report suggested that the sorority may have received special treatment.

The Howard County Library System’s Board of Trustees along with County Council members Christiana Rigby and Opel Jones have said that repeated references to “American-American women in white dresses” in the auditor’s report were inappropriate.

Tracy Williams, president of the African-American Community Roundtable of Howard County, noted that previous auditor reports make no mention of race, gender or how subjects were dressed.

“The auditor’s report related to the President and CEO of the Howard County Library System was clearly biased and meant to try to tarnish the reputation of Mrs. Aikens.”

Former County Councilman Vernon Gray said the auditor’s report was another example of the “political-cultural warfare that’s going on around the country.”

“Well, this is no more than someone with a hidden agenda and an outrageous accusation. I think we have to address that. Because we have seen this before,” said Gray, who also previously served as the administrator of the Howard County Office of Human Rights.

Rigby, who is council chair, and Jones called for Glendenning’s ouster late Wednesday.

The auditor is hired by the five-member council, and it is unclear if other members share that dissatisfaction. Council members Liz Walsh and Deb Jung could not be reached for comment on Thursday. David Yungmann, the panel’s lone Republican, declined to comment.

Glendenning did not respond to a request for comment.

The library maintains that it routinely lends its spaces free of charge to outside groups. The library also says the sorority paid for all expenses connected to the event.

A lengthy Howard County Library System Board of Trustees report on the matter released Wednesday refuted almost all of Glendenning’s concerns about the event.

However, the board did pledge to review its early closure policy after the Central Branch closed at 2 p.m. – four hours early – to prepare for the event. 

In his report released last week, Glendenning said he was unable to complete the inquiry because of lack of cooperation from the library.

But the Board of Trustees said it was Glendenning who was uncooperative and that the county auditor did not have the authority to investigate the library system because it is technically a state agency.

Aikens has been the library system’s president and CEO since 2018 after leading the library system in Riverside, Calif. The county library system has earned a “five-star” designation, ranking it among the country’s top public libraries.

According to Walker, organizations represented at the Thursday news conference included several Greek organizations (Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, Zeta Phi Beta sorority, Delta Sigma Theta sorority), the African American Community Roundtable, Celebration Church at Columbia, St. John Baptist Church, Continental Society, and Life Change A.M.E.

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Tim Swift

Tim Swift is a local freelance writer and the former features editor for the Baltimore Sun.