239 South Kalmia Street, Escondido
On October 18th, dozens of Escondido residents rallied one last time to keep their public library from being outsourced to an East Coast company. The library belongs to the community, they told the city council; it should not be run by spreadsheet. But in the end, cost-cutting won out, 4-1.
"We're not going to outsource our police or fire," said mayor Sam Abed. The city expects to save $400,000 annually, with "at least half a million in pensions," Abed said. "We must do this to be a financially viable city."
The vote affirms a ten-year contract with Maryland-based Library Systems & Services. The proposal was first presented months ago as a five-year term, and has been strongly opposed all along.
"The contract rate steadily increases each year," said resident Liz White at the meeting. "No wonder it went from five to a whopping ten-year term." White mentioned a scathing performance report by an Oregon county, where she said the company was taking 30 to 35 percent profit.
Councilmember Michael Morasco said the longer-term contract will save the city money: 4 percent vs. 3 percent. Library advocates fear major staff and service cuts and a collection not up to par. The outsourcing is opposed by the Escondido Library Board of Trustees, Library Foundation, and American Library Association.
Councilmember Ed Gallo said the library board of trustees, which has input on the contract, will still have oversight on books. As for job losses, city officials said there are no employment guarantees for current library employees, but the company has agreed to hire the current workers at the same wages. One speaker suggested that could change, saying she looked up the jobs at Library Systems & Services and found that in three months the jobs can be cut to minimum wage. "This is not what I pay my taxes for."
Resident Heidi Paul said the council "has a problem getting that a library isn't just a repository for books. Where on the contract does it mention writer's groups and all the various amenities of a public library? When LS&S offers these amenities, they do it for a price."
Councilmember Olga Diaz had concerns about details not being clearly spelled out in the terms. "When there's additional work, would it come with price tag?" And who would review or approve it?
City attorney Michael McGuinness said the company is allowed to subcontract some services, like janitorial. "It's performance-driven." As some on the council argued, many cities have satisfactory contracts with Library Systems & Services. And if things don't work out, the city can end the contract due to material breach; failure to appropriate funds; or by a Calpers determination. Termination could occur 60 days after notice.
In addition, the company's records pertaining to city business can be audited and their work must be satisfactorily performed without volunteers.
The city has been threatened with litigation. White said she and other advocates had met with attorney Corey Briggs the night before the meeting. They claim that outsourcing a contract for library management violated state law; the city counters that the law doesn't support the claim that the library board of trustees had sole and exclusive right to manage the library.
Councilmember John Masson made a pitch for the change of hands: the library will now be open longer, seven days, for a total of 60 hours. They'll be responsible for professional development of staff and diversity of materials. It's Escondido's chance "to create the library of the future."
Diaz made a motion not to approve the contract, which she considered vague and misguided. She said the change would be no improvement over today’s library: “Everything you want in this contract you already have."