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Library trustees ask city to seek County proposal; or let them run it

Escondido’s Library Board of Trustees, apparently appalled at the notion of letting the city’s most used facility fall into the hands of a private contractor, has sent a letter to the mayor and city council asking them to explore folding the city library into the San Diego County system or—to let the trustees take over the running of it.

In their letter [which will be posted on The Times-Advocate’s website] the trustees cited new (to them anyway) information that has come to light from a study submitted to the city on July 27 of this year, from Cynthia Smith, former interim director of library and community services. This letter came to light when the Save our Escondido Library Coalition did a California Public Records request for materials related to the outsourcing.

This “Review of Library Systems and Services Proposal and Cost Analysis” by Smith, is—compared to the staff report that was submitted to city council in August—highly critical of LS&S in places. The report IS NOT posted on the city’s website, which contains many documents pertinent to the library outsourcing proposal.

Apparently, this new information—which was brought to the Board of Trustees’s attention by a local coalition opposed to the outsourcing—has prompted the board that some people feel is the legal entity charged with overseeing the city library—and not the city council—to ask that the city take a different course other than outsourcing to a private company.

Note: The City Attorney for Escondido disputes that the Board of Trustees is legally has the power under current law to operate the library.  See below.

The Escondido Library Board of Trustees Wednesday voted to formally request that the city council explore alternatives to outsourcing the Escondido Public Library to Maryland-based Library Systems & Services (LS&S), including:

• Submitting a letter to the County Chief Administrative Office to develop a proposal for the integration of the Escondido library into the County system.

• As an alternative, offering the services of the Board of Trustees to take over the responsibility of running the library for the city. 

The idea that the Library Board of Trustees, whose five members are appointed by the city council, might be the entity legally charged with running the library—and not the council—was first brought up at the long night of hearings in August before the council voted 3-2 (Olga Diaz and Michael Morasco voted no. Ed Gallo, John Masson and Mayor Sam Abed voted yes) to begin negotiations with LS&S.

The five-person Board of Trustees consists of President Ron Guiles, Secretary Maryra Salazar, trustee Mirek Gorney, Elmer Cameron and Gary Knight.

A speaker at the August meeting, Roy Garrett, told the council: “You don’t have jurisdiction to issue this contract because management of our public library is in the hands of the library board of trustees and the library board of trustees is by statute incorporated into the library. I know that you have the power of the purse, but that is not enough to manage. You have a very severe legal problem on just that point.”

Garrett was referring to California Education Code Section 18910, which reads: “The public library shall be managed by a board of library trustees, consisting of five members, to be appointed by the mayor, president of the board of trustees, or other executive head of the municipality.”

Garrett, and others who share his view, say this means the city council doesn’t have the legal authority to outsource the library. This, of course, begs the question of how the Riverside Board of Supervisors and Shasta County Board of Supervisors had the legal authority to contract to LS&S for their services.

City Attorney Michael McGuinness on September 11 in a letter to Garrett addressed Garrett’s contention. The letter is posted on the city’s website under “California Education Code Section 18910.” The letter is seven pages long, and so too long to quite at length here. However, it addresses a number of court cases that have related to this law. It notes that although the law prevents a city from abolishing a city library or a Library board of trustees, that nothing prevents the city from “fulfilling its longstanding practice- one accepted by and benefitting the board-of providing a stream of labor to implement the Board’s mission. Indeed the Escondido Municipal Code specifically empowers the city to hire the services of professionals to provide city services.”

The trustees’ letter of this week says, “In response to the continued efforts to move forward with this privatization, the Trustees would like to formally request that the City Council direct City Staff to submit a request to the County of San Diego’s Chief Administrative Office to develop a proposal for the integration of EPL into the County Library System.

“Furthermore, in the event that Education Code 18910 be legally upheld the Escondido Library Board of Trustees would accept the responsibility of managing the library for the City of Escondido.

“We look forward to action being taken towards exploring other outsourcing options prior to a Council vote to sign any contract with LS&S.”

The Smith Report

The Cynthia Smith report that the letter refers to, is extremely critical of LS&S, and in some places takes apart its proposal to the city.

For example, Smith writes: “LS&S states it has public-private partnerships with more than 80 public libraries around the country. This is a very misleading statement. LS&S has contracts with 20 library jurisdictions, commonly known as library systems. The number cited is 80 public libraries. In reality, this refers to the total number of facility locations that include branches within a system. Many of the branches are small and serve communities that are very remote or have small populations. From a professional perspective, every library is important and exists to serve their community; however, for the purpose of evaluating services provided, Escondido Public Library and the City of Escondido’s diverse community and demographic cannot be compared to the majority of these small branches or systems.”

She also writes: “LS&S states that they employ more than 1,000 people, including 140 professional librarians with MLS degrees from ALA accredited schools. This means that only 14% of its workforce is classified as professional library staff, a level below professional standards found in public libraries, especially locally in San Diego. EPL’s current ratio of professional librarians is 20% with specializations in children, teen, adult, and technical and technology services. If EPL is operated by LS&S, as turnover occurs, the ratio of professionals to paraprofessionals is bound to decrease to the LS&S corporate standard. In addition, professional services will be compromised because LS&S is known to fill professional librarian positions with staff who do not hold MLS degrees.”

Smith also writes: “comparison can be made with other government-operated libraries, which clearly proves that the LS&S libraries do not provide the same or better quality as the government- operated libraries.”

On Page 3 of the report, Smith eviscerates LS&S’s report on its cost benefits to the city:

“The stated cost-savings of $3.9M over a five-year period (that calculates to a savings of $780,000/year to the City). This figure is different on page 7 in the Cost Analysis section where the estimate of an average cost reduction of $851,342 per year is given. How are these two figures explained and which one, if either, is correct? Further, the cost analysis provided on page 7 is inaccurate and therefore the conclusion they make is also inaccurate. Finally, to provide such inaccurate information in a formal proposal is lacking in quality; and a demonstration of what the City and Escondido community will experience if LS&S assumes the Library operations.”

She also writes: “In almost all cases the municipal government and libraries were in utter financial distress when they turned to LS&S for assistance. Today, none of these library systems are considered as premier, state-of-the-art, or leading in the profession. This is not the case for EPL’s situation and EPL is not in this league.”

Near the conclusion of her report Smith writes: “It is of great concern to me, as it should be to the City of Escondido, that that much of this formal proposal consists of boilerplate information, generalities, and broad statements without specific details of how recommendations will be accomplished and no given timeline. The proposal demonstrates a lack of attention to editing, fact-checking, or proofing; a lack of information; and a cookie-cutter approach to operations – at best, all of which clearly show poor quality and level of standards expected of LS&S employees.”

When The Times-Advocate contacted City Manager Jeff Epp, he pointed us towards McGuinness’s letter to Garrett. He added that Cynthia Smith also did an analysis of the County option: “When you read it over, you can see there are a LOT of issues with moving to the County.  For example, we would have to disband the Trustees entirely—which would be exactly opposite of the argument some are making for giving the Trustee more control.  Cynthia’s memo is attached to the staff report, which is on our website,” said Epp.

Next week we will look closely at Cynthia Smith’s analysis of the County option.

One response to “Library trustees ask city to seek County proposal; or let them run it”

  1. John Donel says:

    Thank you David for your honest and unbiased reporting on the Library outsourcing issue. It certainly is in stark contrast to the one-sided and often inaccurate information the city has provided on this matter. You mention that the Cynthia Smith report on LSS is not on the city website as are many reports and opinions that oppose the outsourcing.

    On the other hand, any positive information that the city has found, usually only from LSS employees or officials from other cities who have already sold out to LSS, are included on the website and quoted without question. Note that it has been outsourcing opponents who have had to find the reports and data critical of LSS. Yes indeed, this is evidence of very poor research by the city on this issue. Either they couldn’t find it or more likely they didn’t even look for it. Maybe they should consult with some professional librarians at the Library to help with their research before we’re all gone.

    And how about when the city wanted to brag about all the libraries LSS managed. They county Jackson County as 26 separate library branches. But when the critical report of LSS by Jackson County officials was uncovered by outsourcing opponents, it was dismissed as just the opinion of one library. How’s that for twisting information to suit the city’s own perspective.

    Frankly the city’s attempt to control information and criticism on this issue has been very disgraceful. The stifling of opposition information and speaking out was part of Cynthia Smith’s downfall. Even after the council voted in favour of outsourcing in August, she continued to criticize the plan and would not follow the official city line. For that she was put on administrative leave a month before she had planned to retire. Have you ever heard of a librarian being put on administrative leave??? That was the city’s crude way to silence her official voice, but her excellent past written work speaks volumes about how bad outsourcing to LSS would be for the Library and the citizens of Escondido.

    One of the things that librarians pride themselves on, and Cynthia was no exception, is providing the public with objective, detailed, high quality and accurate information. Even the city cited her work on joining the county library system because it agreed with their opinion. But they disagreed with her on LSS so that information never found it’s way to the city website.

    All this selective use and biased manipulation of information provided by the city on this outsourcing “sell out” is another reason why it is so difficult to swallow for professional librarians, as well as the public. But as we’ve seen with new critical reports and stories each week, truth will win out in the end.

    John Donel, MLS

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