Testimony on the experience in Jackson County at a hearing on the Prince William Library below
Chairman Stewart and Honorable Supervisors,
My name is Catherine (Cathy) Shaw. I am a former three-term Mayor of Ashland, Oregon and the author of The Campaign Manager, Running and Winning Local Elections (Perseus Books). Since the 1970s I have worked on many library campaigns in Jackson County, Oregon, was the strategist for the Jackson County Library Facilities Bond in 1999 and subsequently the architect and campaign manager for the voter-approved Library District Campaign in 2014.
By way of background, in 2007 Jackson County’s libraries were closed due to funding issues chiefly around dwindling timber receipts. It was the largest library closure of its kind in the history of our nation and devastating for our somewhat rural county where libraries had become the backbone of the communities. Later that year the library system re-opened under the management of LSSI with dramatically truncated hours (that were quickly supplanted in some individual cities) and lower wages. The relationship with LSSI was good and everyone was happy to have our new buildings re-opened and serving the public.
After the successful Library District Campaign in 2014, the newly elected board, hands full establishing a new district, re-upped with LSSI for management services with a yearly contract and an ability to get out from under the arrangement with six-month’s notice. Once LSSI was bought out by Argosy and re-branded LS&S, the board again signed on with the understanding that they could evacuate the contract as before. But with the new contract, that one line was removed, and its absence went unnoticed; the Board signed a 5-year contract. Then things changed.
Librarians and staff at the library complained of low wages, some earning just minimum wage; LS&S began shadowing staff; Board members noticed double-billings from LS&S; and everything became an ‘extra’. LS&S flies our library director all over the country to serve in their corporate booths at trade shows and library conferences.
With complaints rampant, one of our board members, a former award-winning finance officer for the City of Ashland, conducted a comparison of our district management costs with a similar district here in Oregon. It revealed overhead of LS&S in excess of 20% and profits going to the private equity firm of an additional 10%. A manager of a city in California, whose libraries are also managed by LS&S, got a peek inside LS&S books and told me overhead was closer to 23%.
LSSI/LS&S required a non-competing clause in employee contracts making it impossible for employees to quit LS&S and get re-hired by the District. Wages are so low that we have difficulty filling positions in the libraries. One library in California managed by LS&S revealed to me they were losing qualified library staff to surrounding libraries where pay is better. And, whereas everything in government is transparent, all books at LS&S are opaque; you will not know what library employees are being paid. Adding accident to injury, the wages are so low that library employees qualify for federal assistance programs, so taxpayers get to pay again.
Considering that thirty cents out of every dollar you contract with LS&S will leave your community, diminishing the programs your library provides, taking money from the pockets of library workers who will not be able to shop on Main Street or eat in local restaurants, is reason enough to reject this company from managing your system. But more important, unlike Jackson County in 2007, your system is not broken; your libraries are not closed; your funding is intact.
Once you turn your tax dollars over to LS&S, it will be nearly impossible to walk the path back. Your tax dollars will be used for lavish salaries of the faceless and nameless vice-presidents working for Argosy, the debt acquired from the many buy-outs of the once family-run library management business, and for beef processing in Texas and Pizza Huts in Tennessee and Florida. http://capitalandmain.com/latest-news/issues/labor-and-economy/public-pays-for-hedge-funds-profits-0519/
Consider this decision carefully. Libraries are the critical and personal link between government and your community.
Thank you for your attention to this important decision, I hope my comments have been helpful.