Escondido Council Ignores Community, Library Advisors, Experts—Votes 3-2 to Outsource Library
Abed, Gallo, and Masson squander opportunity to build support for new library
Escondido, CA: In a shocking display of community and political deafness, Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, and Councilmen John Masson, and Ed Gallo ignored overwhelming community opposition and voted for an ill-defined marketing sales pitch by the corporate interest, Library Systems and Services (LS&S) to take over our library services.
Speaker after speaker, around 90 in all, spoke eloquently, factually, and with great insight against outsourcing. These speakers included many library volunteers, representatives of The Escondido Library Foundation, the Board of Library Trustees, and a representative of the American Library Association.
These comments fell on deaf ears of three of the Councilmembers.
In the hearing, Mayor Sam Abed revealed additional motives for his pursuit for outsourcing, adding his concerns about the quality of the current library. “You know what, if it was about $400,000 only I’d probably say let’s work hard and let’s find something.” This was hard to hear for most of the 100 people in the audience who had been hearing this issue framed, for weeks, as solely a cost-savings need. Certainly, many in attendance were ready and willing to work harder, if only given the chance to save the current library staff and programs.
One speaker pointed out, Mayor Abed’s media comments felt like a ‘smear’ against the current, dedicated, and loyal library staff. Speakers objected to the fact that outsourcing has been pursued without inviting the Library Administration to offer a proposal and the Mayor and Council had failed to seek the input of the library staff or evaluate several alternatives.
Others outed the Mayor’s push poll that he says (but has yet to release the results) shows people approve of outsourcing the library. Kay Guy, school teacher called out the Mayor’s push poll for what it was, “Don’t give us a piece of electronic propaganda and call it a survey.” The Save the Library Coalition noted the over 2,800 signatures on a petition to stop outsourcing, which the Mayor dismissed out of hand. In the end, he seemed intent on ‘saving’ the library by giving it away.
Councilman Ed Gallo was emotional and frustrated by the public testimony stating, “I’m tired of this crap,”. He characterized a request that he consider the impact on families in his District who use the library as ‘obscene’. Oddly, he was more interested in how residents in Temecula would perceive our library struggle.
It was hard to understand how the majority could ignore the public testimony on this, which was researched, thoughtful, and compelling. Resident Debbie Resler stated, “I simply cannot understand how the City Council heard the same testimonies that I did, and still chose to move forward with this decision.”
Loretta McKinney, the former Library Director spoke about her firsthand experience of LS&S run libraries. “They cannot provide the same or better services and make a profit. Our library is not broken. This is not the only way to address the pension issue.”
Author Neal Griffin offered some context, “In 27 years, there has never been an outpouring of support like this for any city Department. This is an easy decision.”
Brenda Townsend thanked LS&S for their presentation but stated “We already have a lot of vibrancy. We don’t need to buy any more. We don’t need you.” Laura Hunter from Escondido Indivisible asked LS&S to withdraw their proposal until the Council had time to weigh all options. “It’s not about assets, it’s about people. It’s about programs. It’s about our future.” Patricia Serrano reminded the council that, as an immigrant, she and her family used and needed the library. That it offered help as a way out of poverty.
The youngest speaker of the evening, Hunter Ayers, an Eagle Scout, opposed outsourcing. “My family uses the library. They know the people. We like it here because it is local.”
Responding to the many signs in the audience reading, Libraries are Sacred, Rev. Ben Camp from First United Methodist Church, Escondido, reminded the Council that a library provided the moral frame for our city. “A library is a center of a community. Sacred centers belong to the people, should be controlled by the people, for the benefit of the people.”
Many spoke to the loss of volunteers, local control, loss of our quality staff, and loss of support for the bond needed for a new library. These risks of outsourcing are not reflected in the staff’s cost-benefit analysis.
It became evident as the Council comments went on that the Council majority is at a loss of what to do or how to do it. Like a one trick pony, the only solution seriously considered by the Council was to outsource. Their action was inexplicable. Knowing, as they stated, they can’t solve the City’s $18 million future pension problem on the back of the library with a, maybe, $400,000 savings per year, why don’t they address the problem comprehensively as many speakers recommended.
Kathleen Lamb cautioned, “Our city is not facing the future of who we are and who we need to be. The library is part of who we are for more than 100 years.”
Councilwoman Olga Diaz was the only clear opposition to outsourcing on the dias. She said, “In making this decision we are premature and out of order. We should know what our legal exposure is. We are making a decision based on a sale pitch.” Diaz offered multiple options and alternatives to all of this issues raised. She suggested several sources of funds that could help alleviate the pension crisis. None of these were considered by the majority.
Paul McNamara, offered some common-sense advice to the Council, “When you’re in a hole, stop digging.” He said that, if the Council proceeds with outsourcing, it is another step towards a downward spiral for Escondido.
The Save our library Coalition wishes to thank Councilmember Olga Diaz and Mike Morasco for voting no on moving forward with outsourcing at this time.
One speaker asked the Council, “How do you want to be remembered? As a wall or as a conduit of all of this library support?” The majority chose the wall. They might wish to read Robert Frost’s poem, Mending Wall. It begins, “There is something that does not love a wall”.
However, it was clear Wednesday night that thousands of Escondidans love their library.
Kay Guy reminded the Council, “We are not just a handful, we are many, we are informed.” To that, the Save our Escondido Library Coalition would add, “we are undeterred”.
The Council will now move forward and negotiate a contract with LS&S to bring back at a future date and they will need to respond to legal and labor issues raised in testimony. The Save our Escondido Library coalition will be evaluating next steps in our campaign to Save the Escondido Library. This cannot and will not be the last word about our library.
About Save Our Escondido Library Coalition: The coalition was formed by local Escondido community groups and local residents in response to the City of Escondido’s move to consider privatization of the Escondido Public Library. The coalition seeks to educate themselves and the public and to provide a conduit for Escondido residents to voice their concerns.