Thursday, November 4, 2010

#5 Libraries, Levies, and Lessons on Citizenship This is for you Library Director & Board of Trustees

I thought I was done with this, but after following the online comments to an article in the local newspaper about the overwhelming defeat of the library levy and reading the letters from the director to library patrons and staff, I just couldn't help myself.

The only thing surprising about the failure of the library levy is that supporters are surprised. It doesn't take a political analyst to speculate about the reasons. Simply stated this retread of the 2007 library levy was the wrong proposal at the wrong time. A vote by the Library Board of Trustees to place this measure on the ballot in a mid-term election when there was so much anti-tax, anti-liberal, anti-elite, anti-government, anti-anti sentiment was foolish. What were they thinking?

Even though the anti-everything mood had an effect, it would be a gross over-simplification to stop with that as the only reason for the failure because MANY long time supporters voted NO. One of the comments to the newspaper article posted online says it even better than Dottie can:
I support libraries because I view them as being a vital part of our democracy, but I wonder if some of the people who made the decision to put this measure on the ballot are indeed dinosaurs. Here are some of my thoughts:
The message from the library administration was inconsistent – they said the measure was just for new buildings and services if it passed and deep cuts in basic services including closing a library if it failed. So which was it? Voters aren’t stupid they recognize spin when they see it.  Just because libraries are valuable does not mean every request for money is a slam-dunk. 
Some voters may be aware of the serious personnel problems at the library. I know staff members who have been treated unfairly by the library administration and this made me wonder about their management skills. 
The people who make the decisions about the future of the library lack vision. Instead of going to voters with a plan to build new expensive buildings, perhaps they could have considered more creative solutions such as repurposing existing space. The Board and Administration are locked in the past with out of date solutions to modern problems 
Asking for more money in a depressed economy, when many are out of work was not only insensitive it was completely out of touch with the citizens of the county and their needs. 
During the campaign, the library administration was quoted as saying they had no plan in place in case the levy failed. That alone shows arrogance and poor management.
    Two levy failures in three years should send a message to the Board of Trustees that everything is not right at the library and hopefully they will make changes that will bring the organization into the 21st century.
    My heart goes out to those who put so much effort into supporting this proposal. It makes me sad to see your time, energy, and financial support spent on a measure that had no hope of winning. At least the 11-year-old mentioned in the newspaper article who made so many calls has learned a valuable Civics lesson. She put all her effort into something she cared deeply about and now that it is over she has to pick herself up, dust herself off, rethink the options and keep trying to make a difference.

    Library Director & Board of Trustees

    PS - Here are two points I forgot to include in the original post:

    • The administration paid a lot of money to a consultant after the last failed levy effort for a report that determined county voters were extremely tax-adverse. Knowing this - did anyone really believe the residents at the south end of the county would want to pay for a new library building at the north end of the county?
    • The director has sent a letter to staff saying, "I will personally be visiting staff throughout the system in the next two weeks to solicit your thoughts and allow us to share our feelings about this setback." This director has a history of not wanting to hear what the staff has to say unless it agrees with what she wants to hear. . . and due to the disappearance of many who have spoken up, most staff members are afraid to say what they think.


    1. I voted progressively on every measure and candidate on the ballot this year. I "recused" myself from voting on the levy because the library's leadership is not truthful about its budget nor humane with regard to its employees. When there is a change in administration, I will throw myself whole-heartily into campaigning for the Library.

    2. As usual, Dottie Mae, you are right on target! I, too, am an ex-employee of the library but voted no in this election. The below will explain why: If we examine the Expenditures and Revenues by Year worksheet prepared by the library, we see some interesting facts. Administrative Services expenditures increased 205% between 2001 and 2010 Collections (books and other circulating materials) expenditures increased 6.265% between 2001 and 2010 Public Services (salaries & benefits for the folks who take care of your needs at the library) increased 45.5% between 2001 and 2010. You can bet a large part of that percentage is attributable to health insurance costs. Revenue increases for this period increased 33% That tells the tale, doesn't it? I voted against this proposal because it is obvious where the increased revenues were headed--to the director's office and her newly created positions. Also of interest is the fact that the library budgets did not balance during the years 2004-2008. During that period, the current administration spent the library’s entire rainy day fund accumulated by the prior Director. Deficit spending in this period amounted to $3,187,908. If you would like to check my arithmetic, go to the library website and look at the budget documents.

    3. Like you, I have mixed feelings about the failure of the levy-lid request by the library system you have written about. It seems much more distant now, but it was only two to three years ago that the Bush administration was attempting to control all information and silence critics by painting dissenting voices as “unpatriotic” or worse. Libraries’ promise of intellectual freedom and access to information remains just as important today. I also agree that this request completely misread the mood of the electorate, both nationally and locally. The surprise expressed by administrators and Board members at the results only underscores this. Four years ago, this library had a sizable reserve fund. What I recall being told at that time is that the fund was deliberately spent down in order to justify the prior lid-lift request. Most of this went, not as the Community Relations Director has stated – to restore cuts in services – but for new furniture and remodeling. This much was clearly stated in earlier posts here on your blog by what I assume to be a representative of library management. They were convinced that the previous request would pass, just as they were with this one. Now, the bill for the two failed requests is somewhere around $200K, plus the additional $100K paid to political consultants before and after the last levy failure. During that time, spending on services has remained fairly consistent while the budget for administrative services has grown by nearly a million dollars. Some of this has gone for salaries of friends of the director, several of whom were hired without any open process. These may be talented and skilled individuals; the need for remodeling may have been genuine, but whether that money could have been better spent on core services is a legitimate question. Of course, that is a question raised with the benefit of hindsight. But I believe the issues remain relevant as a local paper quoted “library officials” as saying they may put another levy request before the voters in 2011. Before this is done, I truly hope there will be some serious soul-searching done by both the Board and library management about the culture that has been created there and the quality of leadership that has been exercised over the past few years. Perhaps the biggest lesson I hope is taken from the recent failure is what happens to an organization when personal loyalty to an individual is rewarded rather than dedication to the organization’s mission; and, when at the same time, any critical or dissenting voices are forcibly silenced. Perhaps if more open debate had been encouraged over the past four years, some of what now appear to be serious misjudgments may have been avoided. The library might not have the new facilities it wished for, but it may also not be facing cuts in core services two years down the road, as it is now. I know Board's failure to even acknowledge the issues regarding treatment of staff that were widely discussed here, was extremely disappointing to many people. I doubt that this will be re-visited, but an effort on the part of the Board and library management to establish an environment that is truly open, inclusive and accountable - one where all voices have a chance to be heard, not just those of a select few - would be a positive outcome from the disappointment of this levy failure.

    4. The following quote from the last comment says a lot about the source of the problems at this library.

      "Perhaps the biggest lesson I hope is taken from the recent failure is what happens to an organization when personal loyalty to an individual is rewarded rather than dedication to the organization’s mission; and, when at the same time, any critical or dissenting voices are forcibly silenced."

      While the above statement is an accurate description of a big problem at this library there is one part of the last comment that is not the way I remember. The decision to spend down the reserves to make a levy request more valid was made between the old and the new director by at least one of the administrators who is still at the library and at least two of the current board members (some of the decision makers are no longer at the library). The new director did not re-evaluate this decision and continued to spend down the reserves after she arrived.

      In addition to spending much of the reserve on an expansion of hours and hiring of new staff a small portion of the reserves was spent on furniture and a larger portion was spent on a new HVAC system for the main library. The HVAC project was poorly conceived, poorly managed, resulted in a huge cost over run, and has never worked very well. The person who was originally in charge of the project no longer works at the library.

    5. Thanks for the clarification regarding the reserve fund. It has been difficult, if not impossible, to get accurate information on how much was available, how much was spent, what it was spent on, and who participated in those decisions.
      But, as I said, it is easy to be critical of any decision in hindsight, and that was not my intent. I think what is a valid and relevant criticism stemming from that period is the secrecy and distrust that followed. The misreading of the electorate and the Board's failure to simply acknowledge concerns brought to them reflects the kind of decision-making that occurs in an echo chamber where the only voices heard are those that reflect what one wants to hear.

    6. Yes, it is difficult to obtain accurate information. The veil of secrecy not only protects the decision makers from opposing viewpoints, it also is an attempt to hide the fact that they don't always know what they are doing. Admitting uncertainty, insufficient experience, lack of knowledge or information and then asking for input is a sign of a leader. The opposite of belief in what you are doing is not doubt it is certainty. Beware of those who are certain they are right . . . especially DottieMae.

    7. There have now been two unsuccessful attempts at a levy lid lift under this administration. The board does not appear to have the political will to address concerns about the treatment of employees in a meaningful way. I pray that at least "money talks." A wise board would move to recruit a new leader--a leader with true regard for both employees and library resources.

    8. A wise board indeed!! This is the board who did not heed employee pleas for protection against a rampaging director and her "human resources manager" and could not, in their wisdom, devise a safe way for employees to contact them (except through the director's office). I would guess that 80 percent of the staff at the library has zero respect for this group of pansies.

      Hang in there, library staff!! Many folks outside of the library support YOU, but not the behavior and ideas of the current administration.

      Back to the stack of books I just checked out!

    9. The surprise at the levy failure is what gets to me most. I keep having this feeling of "I told you so," except I didn't tell them that I sensed all along that the community did not want this levy at this time. I felt that the decision to go for another levy was made months and months ago, never seriously weighed. But I also knew that this is not an environment where dissent is welcome. That said, I voted for the levy and will probably vote for future levies, no matter how ill-timed. We need our libraries and I'm willing to take the bad with the good in this organization, but I fully respect people who decide that they can not.

    10. It's interesting how you think a "small portion" of funds was used to purchase new furniture. You, Dottie Mae, were the driver as well as the planner behind the furniture purchase, and I know that well over $200K was spent. All that money was spent on furniture that was never needed. It was only an elitist ego inflating attempt by yourself and others to make the library into something the community never asked for or wanted; another governmental agency so enamoured with itself they feel they deserve new offices, new furniture and new salaries all at taxpayer's expense. Try speaking the will set you free.

    11. Ouch!! Sorry you are so angry with everyone.

      Just for the record - I did not initiate the project nor was I the driver and more was accomplished for less because I was involved. Many people including myself worked long hours (quite a few without pay) to finish an impossible project. The end result of the space planning project was a more efficient work environment that was long overdue. I have spoken the truth and have no regrets.

    12. PS - The furniture/space planning was a very small portion of a much larger project which involved replacing the HVAC system. The HVAC project went way over budget and still doesn't work as it should because of contractor and former KRL staff mismanagement. The HVAC project and hiring new staff spent the largest portion of the reserves.