Escondido, CA
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Activists worry library privatizing already decided

Activists who have organized to fight the privatization of the Escondido Library are worrying out loud that the City of Escondido has already made up its mind to make this change, while saying that the decision isn’t made yet.

On Tuesday at 2 p.m. they demonstrated outside of the library at Escondido Library Board of Trustees meeting. The demonstration was organized by Save Our Escondido Library Coalition.

The process towards privatization has moved quickly, to say the least.

On May 21, when The Times-Advocate inquired about this process, a spokesman for the city wrote us back: “At this point, this proposal is not even a proposal yet. There is research being done as to the pros and cons but nothing formal as of yet. Jeff [Epp, the city manager] said he would be happy to call you, but there isn’t much to report. As we move forward I will definitely keep you in the loop and be happy to notify you is there is movement.”

Note: on May 22, the day after we received that statement, city staff was meeting with the company that runs libraries for public entities: Library Systems and Services. According to the FACT SHEET now posted: “LS&S has presented a final proposal. LS&S and City staff, including Escondido Public Library staff held a panel discussion on May 22, 2017.”

And, as per the same FACT SHEET:

“The potential of outsourcing was discussed during the budget presentation at the June 14, 2017 City Council meeting.

•The potential of outsourcing was also discussed in the context of the Council Action Plan on June 28, 2017.

In the budget message of June 22, City Manager Jeff Epp wrote: “It is also the City’s goal to maintain ongoing financial structural stability. Financial capacity is aligned with long-term service objectives. As part of this process, the City will be evaluating opportunities for outsourcing City operations such as graffiti eradication, library services, plan checking services, shopping cart retrieval and other areas where cost savings or additional efficiencies can occur without disrupting service levels.”

Then on July 11 the Escondido Library Board of Trustees heard a presentation on privatization.

On July 12 in an Op-Ed for the TA Olga Diaz, a member of the city council, wrote: “The council majority gave direction in a non-public forum, to explore outsourcing the library to a private company.  Although I insisted on an open public process, staff has already met several times with the vendor, contending that the public does not need to be involved until the review is completed.”

As of the middle of July the FACT SHEET posted on the city’s website contained this statement: “City staff is still analyzing whether or not there are cost savings associated with transferring the day to day operations from public employees to employees of a private company. The Escondido Public Library would remain a public library, as would the building, the land, and the collections.

“As of mid-July, our exploration of the type of employees to use for library operations is focusing sharply on the cost savings issue. The City Council makes the final decisions on the Library, and without substantial cost savings, it would be difficult to recommend any changes. But whether or not changes are made as to the type of employees operating the Library, a review is always a great idea for optimizing operations.”

Then on August 1, the Library Systems & Services (LS&S) proposal was posted on the city website, and the FACT SHEET was updated to say this: “City staff has completed the financial analysis of whether cost savings can be achieved by transferring the day-to-day operations of the Escondido Public Library to private employees. That analysis concludes that savings in excess of $400,000 can be achieved each year. In addition to the $400,000 savings, the Escondido Public Library could also remain open an additional day each week, so the Library is available to the public 7 days a week. Staff has prepared a summary sheet of these savings as well as a detailed analysis.”

This week, through a process totally a mystery to us, we were sent a facsimile of an internal letter within the Library Systems & Services (LS&S) company. The email (see end of this article) is from Dana Braccia, vice president of operations at LS&S to Maureen DeLong, vice president of marketing, and contains the phrase “We are in the midst of getting very close to closing a new contract in Escondido.”

We asked the city to comment on the facsimile and to answer this question: “My understanding was that the process for contracting library services was just beginning and that there would be a number of opportunities for public input before the city council is presented with anything to vote on. Is that still correct?”

We received this answer: “This appears to be an email from Library Systems & Services to which we are not privy to the details. You are correct in that the public is very much welcomed to speak to City Council regarding this topic prior to a final decision being made. This item is tentatively set to be on the August 23rd City Council agenda. If any member of the public has questions or comments prior to that, we encourage them to contact the City Council via email or phone. There is also information regarding the current Library situation on our website here:  www.escondido.org/Public-Library-Outsourcing.aspx. We will continue to update this link if more information becomes available.”

We sent an email to Dana Braccia, and got this reply Tuesday: “Thank you for reaching out.  We are actively working to partner with the City of Escondido and enthusiastic about the potential opportunity to serve the community. Periodically, we survey our library team to ensure that we have an accurate account of library and librarian accomplishments. Let me know if you have additional questions and I will connect you with the appropriate contact.    Regards, Dana Braccia.”

So, from May 21, when we were told “At this point, this proposal is not even a proposal yet,” we have proceeded to a tentative date of August 23 for the city council to consider the proposal.

One response to “Activists worry library privatizing already decided”

  1. Christine 'Chris' Nava says:

    The lack of transparency from the Escondido City Manager and the majority City Council is truly disturbing and demonstrates the importance of one of the American Library Associations Policy statements that “privatizing the library threatens two pillars of public control: accountability and transparency”.

    Sadly, lack of transparency reigns in the halls of Escondido City Hall. Did they honestly think they could privatize our library without public participation? Sneak it through without the public knowing? They need to take notice that the public has not forgotten that some of these same city politicians closed the East Valley Library without justification, a decision which negatively impacted students, seniors and residents in that part of town who relied on that library. To now turn over our PUBLIC LIBRARY to a for profit corporation whose reputation is less than sterling, is a blow to our community and will have serious consequences at the ballot box.

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