Library Outsourcing, a Breach of the Public’s Trust

 

And so, to the matter of outsourcing the library service. I wrote about Councilwoman Olga Diaz’s exposure of the possibility of outsourcing the library service at the June 14, 2017, council meeting: https://ablueviewescondido.com/2017/06/18/libraries-much-cheaper-than-jails/ .  It was clear then that Mayor Sam Abed and City Manager Jeff Epp wanted to sneak this matter by without much input from the public.

There was a great deal of input from the public. First at a meeting of the Escondido Library Board of Trustees on July 11, 2017. Over 100 people attended the meeting. Escondido Indivisible has a great summary of the meeting, the minutes, and much more: https://www.escondidoindivisible.com/2017/07/24/on-the-issue-escondido-public-library-privatization/  City Manager Jeff Epp briefed the board on the CalPERs system, and stated that the city might be able to save money by having part-time employees and contractors through outsourcing, saving as much as $400,000 a year. Then Library Systems and Services (LS&S) execs Ed Garnett and Dana Braccia made their sales pitch. They assured the board that they would offer every employee a job with the same pay—just no CalPERs benefits. Then some thirty residents including Councilwoman Olga Diaz addressed the Board with their many arguments against this outsourcing.

The Library Board met again on August 8, and heard a presentation against the outsourcing from a Master of Library and Information Science student, Whitney McCoy. Her excellent presentation is also on the Escondido Indivisible website. Again more citizens spoke against outsourcing, and the Library Board voted unanimously to oppose such outsourcing. The Library Board held a special meeting on August 15, 2017, to draft a letter about their decision to the City Council. Their letter summarizes the massive public input:

During the process of considering the possible outsourcing of library services, the Board listened to a presentation from Library Systems & Services (LS&S), received and read 64 letters & emails from community members, and heard 58 community members speak directly to the Board during the last two Trustees meetings, which were attended by over 250 citizens. We also received an 81-page petition with 1,000 signatures, and a separate online petition containing 576 signatures opposing outsourcing EPL. In all communications received from Escondido citizens, one person had been in favor of outsourcing our library while all others were opposed.

The Library Board felt that outsourcing would: 1) cause the loss of talented staff, 2) lose community support for the library and the city, 3) lose local control over library operation, 4) lose a chance to build a new library in Grape Day Park, 5) lose patrons passionate about the library and Escondido, 6) jeopardize the voluntary support of 218 individuals with a total of 29,080 hours of support equal to $701,991 of effort, and 7) lose support of the Friends of the Library and their bookshops annual addition of $75,000 to the library’s funding. (So, if you’ve been keeping track of the finances that’s a possible savings of $400K, versus a possible loss of about $776K.)

I spent several hours watching the August 23, 2017 City Council meeting. The meeting was covered extensively by the press—as you can see be scrolling down the above Escondido Indivisible site—as well as a tape of the meeting.  It was at that meeting that Roy Garrett pointed out that there are two provisions in the California State Code that specify that public libraries are to be managed by the Board of Trustees, and therefore, it is the decision of the Board of Trustees that counts when it comes to outsourcing. If the council approved this outsourcing, the city could be sued. Karen Tatge, president of the city employees’ union, also indicated that such outsourcing could lead to legal litigation. Altogether there were almost ninety public speakers. I counted less than five for outsourcing, one claimed the library was run by communists, and the others I remember, were current or former employees of LS&S.

The press did a good job of covering the response of the city council members, but I have some observations that the press would be reluctant to make. Yes, the press noted that Councilman Ed Gallo (who began the council’s response) said he was tired of listening to “crap” when the audience jeered him. Gallo’s demeanor made it clear during the testimony, and during his remarks that he was antagonistic to majority of the audience. In response to a question of one the speakers asked of the council, he said he had a library card, and had possessed a library card since he was a boy. He then explained that the city outsourced many of its services, including landscaping—so what was the difference between outsourcing landscaping and outsourcing a library? Sigh! Gallo may have a library card, but he doesn’t seemed to have used it much to widen his education. Gallo said he had spoken to two officials in Temecula, whom he respected, and they had nothing but praise for LS&S.

Mayor Sam Abed spoke next. It was obvious that the three hours of testimony had done nothing to change his mind. After all, he had gone to Temecula’s library, run by LS&S and had been very impressed. He had talked to people in the Temecula Library, and they were very pleased with their service. (All of Riverside County Libraries are run by LS&S. It turns out that the City or Temecula pays LS&S $180K extra each year to get all the services it wants.) He said that the city had to figure out a way to pay for the unfunded pension liability, and this would be an important step.

Diaz spoke next, very passionately, at times in tears. She began by suggesting that if Gallo and Abed thought so highly of the opinions of Temecula residents, maybe they should go represent the cititzens there. The audience applauded, and Abed couldn’t stand it, saying something about not wanting anyone to be intimidated. Diaz responded that she was not intimidated by anyone in the audience. The library’s budget, she noted, was less than ½ of one percent of the city’s budget. In her nine, almost ten years on the council, she had only been inspired one time, and that was when Councilman John Masson had proposed building a new library in Grape Day Park. Now this false frugality and misguided purpose would destroy the public trust. Library volunteers and contributors had told the Library Board and the city council that outsourcing would result in the loss of their time and donations. The council needed to listen to the community, ignoring their input would destroy any trust that the council had their best interests at heart. Yes, the city would need to handle the problem of the unfunded pension liability, but why pick on the library? The city had many real estate properties that were sitting idle—sell them. The city would be receiving millions back from the state in redevelopment funds, use that. Close down the Reidy Creek Golf Course that cost the city so much. Why pick on the library first? If the council authorized this privatization, she, she said directly to Masson, did not think she could campaign for a bond for a new library.

City Councilman Mike Morasco spent a good deal of time explaining how a City Manager run city, like Escondido, was governed. He said that several months ago, Masson had suggested to the previous City Manager Graham Mitchell that he look into LS&S, after City Councilman John Masson had heard about them at a League of Cities’ meeting. City Manager Jeff Epp had inherited that task, and had done his job. Morasco then spent a good deal more time complaining about being accused in many emails and other messages of being secretive about the matter. He said that the four men on the council definitely worked independently on the council. They never conspired. He took offense to the suggestion that he would be less than transparent or independent about any city council decision. He accused Diaz of having an activist “the end justifies the means” gene he didn’t have. He inferred that the activism that she had stirred up had interfered with the normal processes of the city. His head, he said, told him that the outsourcing was a great thing to do. His heart told him that it was asking the loyal library staff to swallow a bitter pill. His gut told him that all the controversy would make it difficult to pass a library bond in the future. Of course all of those talking organs of Morasco are really just his brain. And,  if he explored what should be a memory in his brain, he might remember his part in the closing of the East Valley Pkwy. Branch of the Escondido Library, and subsequent leasing to his crony capitalist buddy Dennis Snyder and his white-flight Heritage Charter School. It is that abysmal act that those who sent him all those nasty emails were probably remembering.

Masson said when he did volunteer work for the city, (and he did a lot of volunteer work for the city,) he didn’t do it for the people who were running the city, he did it for the youth and others he was helping, and because it made him feel good. He thought it was insanity to refuse to volunteer just because the management of the library would change. The only reason he wanted to outsource was to make the library better.

Before the vote, Diaz got in one final word. It had been a very poor public process, and it was more about a fairness gene.

As you probably know, the council voted three to two for negotiating a contract with LS&S, Diaz and Morasco voting no.

The arguments presented against LS&S were extensive and convincing. To me, one of the strongest arguments is the fact that LS&S boasts that it saves money by getting rid of items than are low in circulation. That would include classic novels—no more Jane Austen, no more Bronte sisters, goodbye Charles Dickens—and as for Herodotus, why would anyone want to read about ancient history by an ancient Greek? Any organization with such an attitude about saving money has no concept of what a library is about, and has no business running any library. Anyone who doesn’t recognize that fault in LS&S also has no business making any decisions about a library.

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