Public Watchdog.org

It’s All About Priorities

05.29.14

If you were one of the people who showed up at the Park Ridge Library this past Sunday looking to check out a book, read a magazine, surf the Net, or just hang out, you probably were disappointed to discover that you happened to pick the first of what is scheduled to be 14 consecutive Sundays that the Library will be closed this summer.

The official party line on the closings is that the Library doesn’t have the $20,000 it would cost to keep it open those 14 Sundays.

That’s an outright lie.

The truth is that keeping the Library open those 14 summer Sundays just isn’t a priority for the Library’s executive staff who recommended its closing, or for 6 of the 9 Library Board members (pres. Margaret Harrison, vice-pres. John Benka, secretary Audra Ebling, treasurer John Schmidt, trustees Dorothy Hynous and Jerry White) who voted to approve that recommendation.

Or you might say that it just isn’t as much of a priority as giving the Library’s employees $20,000+ of raises.

Or as much of a priority as continuing the free use of the Library’s computers instead of charging a nominal $1 per log-on.

Or as much of a priority as continuing the Library’s free programs and movies instead of charging a nominal $1 per attendance.

In fact, based on the Library’s own computer usage statistics, a $1 computer log-on fee could have generated over $60,000 – enough money to keep the Library open all 14 Sundays this summer AND next, while also giving the Library employees their raises.

And, based on the Library’s own program attendance stats, a $1 attendance fee per program or movie could have generated $30,000 – enough to keep the Library open all 14 of this summer’s Sundays and also cover 1/2 of the employee raises.

Even if computer usage would decline by 50% in response to a $1 fee (as all those financial geniuses chose to spend $1-plus on the gas for their round-trip to the Niles or Des Plaines libraries for free computer usage), summer Sundays could still be saved…and with an additional $10,000 to put toward raises or other uses.

But user fees are anathema to senior Library staff and this Board majority. And keeping the Library open Sundays this summer wasn’t a priority for them.

Actually, closing it was.

That’s because the Library’s senior staff and the Board majority wanted a very visible symbol of the Library’s financial situation to anger the taxpayers enough that they would demand that the City Council give the Library more tax money.  But after failing in that effort and now facing a Library tax increase referendum this November, the staff and Board majority will use the Sunday closings to try to sell a “yes” vote to those same taxpayers.

Interestingly enough, although that senior staff and Board majority wanted a visible symbol to motivate the taxpayers, they didn’t want to cause the Library’s core weekday user base – e.g., kids, seniors, the voluntarily and involuntarily unemployed – any inconvenience.

So summer Sunday users – the largest group, on a per-hour basis, of Library users (according to the Library’s own, albeit very flawed, data) – became expendable.  Or “acceptable collateral damage” in military parlance.

Ironically, a half-baked “Survey-Monkey” survey commissioned by the Library’s senior staff and Board, with the wink-and-nod expectation that it would reveal overwhelming opposition to any kind of Library fees, actually showed just the opposite.

As reported in a recent article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Survey: Most Park Ridge library users would pay for adult programs,” May 20, 2014), 62.8% of the survey’s 530 respondents to questions about “adult” programs said they would be willing to pay a fee to attend programs at the Library. And of the $1-$3-$5-other price range surveyed, 41.9% indicated they would be willing to pay $5 for computer classes!

Even the majority (54.5%) of the 244 respondents who said “no” to a question about paying for children’s programs was not the resounding mandate the senior staff and Board majority seemed to be hoping for, with a number of those folks indicating they’d pay a $3 program fee if it were charged.

The senior staff’s and Board majority’s response to such “Survey Monkey”-shines?

“We need to do our homework and due diligence on this, because if the referendum gets shot down, we need to come out of the gate with an alternative money source,” said Library Resources Committee chair Jerry White.

In other word: Let’s not try to salvage some of this summer’s Sundays by starting to charge user fees now when, instead, we can keep the Library closed and hope it ticks off enough voters that they pass the referendum in November, so we won’t have to start charging the user fees we really don’t want to charge.

To the people in charge of the Library, closing the Library to the entire community one day a week for 14 weeks is better than deferring $20,000 of raises for less than 50 employees.

And closing the Library to the entire community for 14 summer Sundays is better than charging computer users and program attendees a nominal $1 user fee.

Those are the priorities of this senior Library staff and this 6-person Library Board majority.

And all you Sunday Library users aren’t.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

To read or post comments, click on title.

15 comments so far

You were silent on the three Library board members who are standing up for the Sunday library users… Joe Egan, Char Foss-Eggemann, and Bob Trizna.

Survey results and the library board decision should now trigger a new question for the Herald Advocate.

“Are you in favor of reopening the library on Sundays for a $1.00 per user fee or keeping it shut for the rest of the summer?”

My bet is that we would be on a “Salvage Sunday for the Library” campaign with the results.

Perhaps the referendum should read are you in favor of giving more of your tax money to the library while 6 of it’s board members have no concept of fiscal responsibilty? As long as the current “management” is in place the answer is obvious.

I go to the library on Saturdays and my kids go there after school during the week, so the Sunday closings do not affect me or my family. But the library being closed on Sundays, or any other day, over $20,000 is the sign of bad management because I cannot believe $20,000 could not be found in the existing budget, or could not be generated from the fees you write about.

The comments by board members that you wrote about in a previous post sure sound like this is a contrived situation to stampede voters into getting the library more money. I don’t think that tactic will succeed, but its offensive whether it does or it doesn’t. I also don’t think most of the people who use computers or attend the programs can’t afford one dollar for log-in or attendance, which is less than a tall coffee at Starbucks or a pack of cigarettes.

Are you saying that the employees should have been denied a raise for a fourth straight year? I’m sure that’s the automatic default position for people like you when the City doesn’t want to spend the money it should on the most important building in the City.

EDITOR’S NOTE: What I’m saying is: keeping the Library open for reasonable hours, 7 days a week, IS JOB ONE!

If that means 1,000 less books, DVDs and videogames, or no staff raises for another year, or charging user fees, then so be it.

The bottom line is that when the Library is closed it serves NOBODY – not the executive staff, not the employees, not the Board and most definitely not the community. And when that happens for the ridiculous reasons our Library is closed for 14 Sundays this summer, that’s the product of screwed-up priorities and incompetent management by senior staff and the Board.

…employees denied a raise for a fourth straight year…

Can someone please demonstrate this?
I find it terrifically hard to believe the Library Director, much less most if the staff, have gone without a raise for four years. I frankly do not believe it.
This sounds like one of those sound bites intended to elicit sympathy that just is not true.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This editor does not recall ever seeing information demonstrating that fact, but he asked for it on May 21 and hopes to receive it sometime soon.

Of course it’s a sound bite for that purpose. But, frankly, it should not matter. In a contest between closing the Library on its busiest day of the week (measured by average attendance per hour, albeit as questionably measured by the Library) or giving employees raises, Job One is keeping the Library open – and, presumably, not cutting back the hours for those employees who normally work Sundays.

Exactly right, keeping the Library open and available to the public is more important than acquiring more movies, DVDs, videogames, or employee raises. It also is important enough to charge fees to generate revenue if management wants to keep those other things.

So the library is closed on Sunday.. 14.3% of the week… How do we go and get that salary back from the library management as a cost savings measure?

As far as not having a raise in 4 years, join the club. It’s a tough job market. Raises are not automatic nor an entitlement. It’s something that I’m dealing with but I enjoy my private sector job and know that I can get a new job or enjoy the one I have.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You’ve been in the private sector too long, Mike. There are NO CONSEQUENCES for public sector management when things go bad – they still get raises and great reviews, which is likely to happen again this coming month (June) if the current Board majority has its way.

“Priorities” is exactly the right way to look at it, and even if you haven’t called it that all the time you consistently point it out in various other posts, like those D-64 parents who complain about having to pay $200 for books/materials when their kid is already getting a $13,000 education. And then they take the whole family to Cancun for Spring Break, or Disney World at Christmas.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That was the message we were going for with those posts. Glad you caught it.

Is Laura Enright on vacation? I would have expected at least 5 comments from her by now.

Anyone who is considering supporting this referendum because they are concerned about how these funding cuts have affected library staff should know that the $4.1 million the library wants to raise over the next five years will not be used to re-hire any positions that were lost. Director Van De Carr was clear that although hours and material cuts will be restored, “no eliminated staff positions will be filled”. Instead the bulk of the funds are set to be used on capital projects (windows, doors, carpet, restrooms, lighting, etc.)

So while charging fees for computer usage or special programs may directly allow for Sunday re-openings, this $4.1 million referendum isn’t at all just a question of Sundays or staffing/raises. It really needs to be framed as a question about whether we need a vastly “improved” library building.

http://parkridge.suntimes.com/2014/05/05/park-ridge-library-hopes-to-raise-4-1-million-in-new-taxes/

EDITOR’S NOTE: Paine:

As someone who is painstakingly interested in how the Library is run and the taxpayers’ money used by it, rebuilding (or even replacing) rotted-frame windows is much more “maintenance” and “repair,” not “improvement” – and the same could be said for some of those other things you mention, albeit not all of them.

This is priceless and so typical. You rant on and on about the poor Sunday user and label people freeloaders and talk about 14 Sundays and a figure of 20K. You and the Mayor “demand” a referendum and now what do we find out??…..4.1 mil over 5 years?!?!?! HAHAHAHAHA!!! Exactly how many Sundays is that???

Here is a question. Rather than call people names and engage in political bickering on your blog over 20K, why didn’t you inform the public about what apparently is some needed(???) maintenance and/or improvements?? I guess window repair and restroom remodeling aren’t as much fun as railing on fellow board members and staff. They do not get as many posts on the ole’ blog.

If my math is correct, it appears you and the board are going to be asking for about 40 times (per year) what it will cost to keep the library open on Sundays. For that kind of money you could put paddle tennis courts in the library parking lot.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You really don’t get this referendum business, do you.

Nobody proposed a referendum for $20K – even the Library’s mismanagers could have handled that with the money already available if keeping the Library open 7 days/week was one of their priorities. But it wasn’t. Just like repairing all the rotting window frames wasn’t as much a priority as improving the lighting in Readers Services.

The Library Staff told us the amount they “needed” and we voted to recommend that amount to the voters. Frankly, I personally would have been fine with a $3 million, $5 million or $8 million referendum question, just as I was fine with a $13 million Youth Campus Park referendum question – for the simple reason that if a majority of voters want their taxes raised to provide more Library funding, or a Youth Campus Park, they should get it. Paddle tennis for everyone!

I did not “demand” a referendum, and neither did the Editor as far as I know. I approved of the tax levy for the Library set by the City Council. However, when one or more of the aldermen proposed a referendum, I supported that as well, because I have no problem with the voters deciding the issue. It’s that simple.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This editor did not “demand” a referendum, either – although he did suggest/recommend one as the preferred alternative to the Library Board’s and senior staff’s efforts to progressively cajole, browbeat and ultimately vilify/demonize the City Council for applying to the Library the same or similar austerity measures the Council has been applying to all City operations for the past several years.

Wow. Library cries poor but Library Director banks it; more each year.

http://www.openthebooks.com/search/?PensionCode=1&F_imrfempnm=Vandecarr%20Janet%20L

Did someone say there hadn’t been raises at the library for some four years? Wrong…

EDITOR’S NOTE: The website to which you refer, OpenTheBooks.com, reports only on Ms. Van De Carr’s pay raises, which average 4.7% a year for each of the past 10 years (from $86,563 in 2003 to $127,208 in 2013) but which have been less than that most recently.

We were not able to find the salaries of her subordinates.

PW,

That is interesting to know about the windows. The last piece of data I received on the state of the library was from an employee of the company who worked on the roof renovation (this was well over a year ago) and they mentioned fire-proofing the curtains as being a big concern.

I have no argument against considering a proposal of these capital projects and learning what the library wants to do and why they want to do it. Rotting wood definitely sounds like a need more than a want (whereas lighting and carpet I’m not so sure…)

Anyway my point is that anyone following the comments here or on the HA has heard a lot of passionate opinions from the staff or former staff of the library re: their jobs, and the current state of things was described as extremely understaffed if I remember correctly. It would be disingenuous to allow voters to think they were going to remedy that situation by voting to give the library $4.1 M., unless the situation changes. So at some point it needs to be made explicitly clear in the wording that this is primarily a question of supporting hours, materials and building maintenance.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Paine: The language of the referendum question, by law, needs to be somewhat limited to the amount of the levy increase and its effect on your tax bill. We don’t believe the question can be framed so as to limit the use of the additional funds to only certain specific things.

What you’re talking about is how it will be “sold” by the proponents of a “yes” vote on the question.

Yeah, that’s why I think it’ll be extremely important to have a lot of transparency in the campaign if the library does intend to limit the uses for any funds it receives. So far I thought Van De Carr was very honest in the HA article and I hope the carries forward to whoever takes over the marketing of the “Yes” vote.

The other crucial thing in my opinion is some sort of assurance that restoring cut hours are absolutely being prioritized as “Phase 1” and not secondary to new carpet or materials.

EDITOR’S NOTE: How much confidence do you have in people who would rather close the Library for one whole day per week (and the busiest day at that) instead of cut one hour from 5 of the other 6 days, or charge $1 per computer use, or defer employee raises, etc.?



Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>