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Commentary by Lori Rivas
| Tuesday, Mar 25, 2014

LoriRivasYour vote for City Council will also elect new members onto our Library Board of Trustees. The two positions run concurrently, and the latter comprises the “local control” portion of our library contract with LSSI. All voters should consider candidate commitment and understanding of libraries when choosing candidates for the City Council.

In 2010, our City Council voted to leave the Los Angeles County Public Library system, establish a municipal system, and award a $20 million, 5-year contract to LSSI, a private library management firm headquartered in Maryland. The City Council then appointed themselves onto the Library Board of Trustees.

Library services are a dynamic public service, ever evolving with and responding to changing community needs and desires. Therefore, it is vital that those sitting on the Library Board of Trustees are invested in the value of libraries, are engaged in developing services, and have some education or experience in library management. This enables a true check and balance to services provided by LSSI.

The American Library Association defines the role of the library board of trustees as “having the authority for developing and implementing (library) policies” and “work(ing) with library administration in planning and goal setting for the library.” Aside from approving additional funds and extending their own appointments to the board, I am hard pressed to find any meaningful public discussion by our Library Board of Trustees.

Twice, I asked Councilwoman Marsha McLean to highlight any specific library policies, programs or other library matters discussed at meetings of the Library Board of Trustees. McLean did not name a single example, yet asserted that the libraries are discussed “continually” in subcommittee.

Laurene Weste and McLean are the sole members of the library ad-hoc committee. Three years into a contract with LSSI, and McLean cannot name any issues that have been discussed?

Are we to presume that our libraries operate on autopilot? That LSSI sits in the driver’s seat? That those who were cheerleaders for “local control” have disengaged from our library services, and simply approve all that is proposed by LSSI? Is the Library Board of Trustees just a legal formality, or is it a real, governing body?

Incumbent Weste also sat on the council in 2010 and voted to award a $20 million contract to LSSI.

This year, Weste’s campaign paid $11,000 to Rincon Strategies for “campaign consultation.” Rincon Strategies is owned by Chris Collier – the same Collier who helped facilitate private, introductory meetings between Weste and LSSI in 2010. When twice asked the nature of Weste’s relationship to Collier in 2010, and her knowledge of his ties to LSSI, Weste responded: “I would have no concept, whatsoever, of … who Mr. Collier has worked for, or hasn’t worked for … and I’ve never met him before … and he’s new to me in the last few months.”

Public records demonstrate that in 2010, Collier, an unregistered lobbyist, spoke with City Council secretary Julie Skinner, who then set up private meetings between LSSI and Weste (see August 4, 2010 here). A subsequent request for public records referencing Collier returned empty, with an explanation that the previously disclosed record was not retained because it had “no ongoing purpose.”

Collier is no stranger to LSSI. There are records of his involvement with Simi Valley’s contract with LSSI. His former employee, Gary Cushing, currently lists LSSI as a client. In fact, in 2010, Cushing supported Camarillo’s contract with LSSI – all while Cushing was employed by Collier.

Did Collier not mention to Weste his connections to Santa Clarita? Or did Weste hire Collier and dole out $11,000 without researching Collier’s track record for success? Methinks something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Only three candidates for City Council are prepared to sit on the Library Board of Trustees. Maria Gutzeit, Alan Ferdman and Stephen Daniels will bring library professionals and citizens onto the Library Board of Trustees, as was promised by City Council in 2010.

According to the ALA, libraries prosper with passion, purpose and persuasion. When a commercial contract, intended to maximize profit, is managed by a disengaged Board of Trustees, and led by a mayor with ties to the vendor’s lobbyist, then we are at risk of buying a gold ring in a pig’s snout.

Vote for those who actively seek to invest personal time and energy into our municipal library system. Vote for Gutzeit, Ferdman and Daniels.

 

Lori Rivas is a Santa Clarita resident.

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