Breaking The Government-As-Usual Mold At Park Ridge Public Library


Abraham Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, famously invoked a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

If you’ve been paying attention to the adventures of Illinois’ new governor, Bruce Rauner, you know that he has been learning a painful lesson: In the state that calls itself the Land of Lincoln – a sick joke, considering the pervasive dishonesty and corruption for which Illinois has become infamous – we seem to have become a government of the bureaucrats, by the politicians, for the special interests.

And those special interests often include both the bureaucrats and the politicians.

Gov. Rauner is finding out just how entrenched those bureaucrats and special interests really are, and how determined they are to maintain Illinois’ continuing road-to-bankruptcy status quo: No matter what it is that Rauner wants to cut, it always seems to be somebody’s indispensable program, service or entitlement.

So it should come as no surprise that a variation on that same theme is playing out here in Park Ridge. And although there are many examples we could point to, today we will look at the Park Ridge Public Library – specifically the $43,738 in raises recommended for some of the Library’s 90 employees that the Library Board nixed last month.

That $43,738 is around 1% of the Library’s annual budget. In government, both that dollar amount and that percentage are treated as little more than rounding errors. And small ones at that.

But that $43,738 represents a principle much more significant than the dollars or percentage: Whether the Library exists primarily for the benefit of its taxpayers/users, or for the benefit of its employees?

Last summer that question was answered loudly and clearly by Library Director Janet Van De Carr and a majority of the then-Library Board (Trustees John Benka, Audra Ebling, Margaret Harrison, Dorothy Hynous, John Schmidt and Jerry White) when it chose to slam the doors – literally – on the Library’s Sunday users for 14 summer Sundays, rather than use the roughly $20,000 earmarked for employee raises to keep those doors open. You can read the gory details in our our 04.04.14 postour 04.14.14 post and our 05.29.14 post.

And those doors stayed shut until the July 15, 2014, Board meeting, when new Trustees Pat Lamb and Dean Parisi, replacing Benka and Schmidt, joined with Trustees Joe Egan, Char Foss-Eggemann and myself to provide a majority vote to overturn the Sunday closings.  With that handwriting on the wall, Ebling, Harrison and White grudgingly flipped – leaving only Hynous insisting that shutting down the Library on summer Sundays wasn’t wrong and provided a more consistent referendum message.

With the new Board has come more oversight, a more pro-active approach to management, and a more exacting focus on Library finances than existed in past years.

So when increases to employee compensation came up at the April 14 Library Board personnel committee meeting, a majority of the Trustees in attendance voted to convert Van De Carr’s recommended $43,738 merit salary increase pool into a $25,000 merit bonus pool.  And then at the April 21 Library Board meeting, a majority of the Trustees present rejected any additional compensation for employees, indicating that neither Van De Carr nor the employees themselves had made a persuasive case for such additional compensation.

Not surprisingly, that exercise in financial stewardship whacked the hornets’ nest.

Not only did Van De Carr express her indignation at the temerity of the Board to reject one of her recommendations, but so did some employees and a collection of folks from the Citizens Supporting the Library Referendum, who were on hand that night to be honored for their efforts in running the successful Library referendum campaign. The employees and referendum folks accused the “no”-voting Trustees of not valuing the employees, of ruining morale, and of ignoring the will of the voters who passed the referendum.

Of course the Library employees are valued.  But just like the rest of us mortals, they are not irreplaceable. They can die, become disabled, move to another state, or simply change jobs or careers.  So if their morale is so fragile that it can be crushed by not getting a raise or bonus this year, then it’s far too fragile to count on under any circumstances.

Moreover, nothing in the referendum question itself mentioned employee raises or bonuses.  Neither did anything in the Library’s own Funding and Budget FAQs, or in its Referendum Information sheet, or in the campaign mailer sent out by the referendum folks.  And for good reason: neither the Library employees nor the referendum folks wanted the taxpayers/voters even to think about whether any of the extra $4 million in total funding would go for employee raises and bonuses.

Just like the way the Director, the former Board majority, and the employees emphatically denied and ridiculed any suggestion that last summer’s Sunday Library closings were in any way related to last year’s employee raises.

As one of those trustees who cast a “no” vote at that April 21 meeting, the easiest thing to do would have been to rubber-stamp whatever the Director proposed. That’s what past Library boards had been doing for over a decade, even if it meant deficit spending to the point of closing the Library’s doors on summer Sundays,and cutting other hours.  And the reason they did that is because they never cared enough to ask the basic questions that should be sine qua non inquiries before taxpayer money is used for additional employee compensation:

“Is the Library better today than it was a year ago?”

“Are the employees providing more and/or better service than they did a year ago?”

“Does the Library provide greater value to the taxpayers than it did a year ago?”

None of those questions, or any variants of them, were answered or even addressed by the Director or by the employees, or by the referendum folks, prior to that April 21 vote.  Instead, all that was offered were arguments along the lines of the contents of a letter which the refendum folks sent to the Trustees two days ago, which all boil down to: “Library staff members deserve a modest wage increase in line with that being received by other City employees.”

In public employment that’s what’s known as an “entitlement.”  Because here in Illinois, just showing up for your public-sector job is usually reason enough for a raise, especially if other public employees are getting raises.

What those of us on the Board considered, however, were a variety of facts that suggested the answer to all three of those sine qua non questions was “no” – including the Library’s own reports showing: (a) a consistent decline in Library visits to their lowest level in 10 years; (b) a decline in Library circulation to the lowest level in six years; (c) a decline in Library program attendance to the lowest level in 9 years; and (d) even a slight decline in the number of Library card-holders and the number of cardholders actually using their cards to check out items.

And, as Trustee Pat Lamb pointed out, Library employees had received raises over the past four years that averaged in excess of the increases in the Consumer Price Index.

Those of us who have been entrusted with the stewardship of the Library realize that the additional $1 million/year in referendum money the voters gave us for the next four years carries additional responsibilities for using it wisely. That means making sure that, first and foremost, the Library is put on a sound and sustainable financial footing by the time those four years are up.

It also means improving the Library and its operations so that it looks, feels, and IS a better facility – not only for its regular users but, also, for the occasional user and even those non-user taxpayers who are funding it without getting any direct benefit in return.

That requires more from both the Board and Staff than acting merely as custodians and doing the same old same old for the next four years. That requires improving and even re-inventing what the Library does, how well and efficiently it does it, and the space in which it does it – so that the Library’s performance metrics start demonstrating something better than the lemming-like following of some “national trend” that has become the alibi du jour anytime those metrics are questioned.

If the Director and Staff can figure out ways of doing that, maybe next year they will have some tangible achievements, instead of just a purported entitlement, to justify a request for additional compensation.

Let’s hope so…for the community’s sake.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

To read or post comments, click on title.

19 comments so far

Mr. Trizna, you know that there was a budget that was passed for the referendum that contained raises and that’s what the voters approved with their votes. So you are ignoring the will of the people.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr/Ms Anonymous, you are completely wrong. No budget “was passed for the referendum.” The budget that contained raises for staff wasn’t presented to the Board until December and was approved by the Board in January (I voted “no”). Consequently, the “will of the people” has not been expressed about employee salaries and bonuses.

Great analysis of this problem, and thank you and your fellow Board members for taking it on while others just kick the can down the road. Public employees either don’t realize how good they have it, or they do realize it but know they can cry poor-mouth and get a bunch of suckers to believe it.

The Director didn’t ask those three questions that you believe should be asked. I would say the answer to those three questions are ‘yes’, from a Park Ridge resident who uses the library.

Reopened on Sundays during the summer was a positive to me.

I noticed that the employees are much more helpful than before. Maybe because I am old, but they used to point in the direction of where books or reference items are located. Now they actually walk with me to help me find the material I am looking for.

They seem to be ordering popular books in a different fashion. The wait list for getting newly released books has decreased from two to three weeks, to slightly over a week. Not sure if that is what you refer to as value, but it is nice not waiting as long. Maybe it is purely coincidental that the books I am requesting the wait list is not as long.

So one resident supports both the Director’s request, as well as supports you (a trustee) for asking those questions. The harder question is how to measure this without getting bias opinions. Yes, my opinion is bias and I don’t even know who the director is.
An online survey would not be the method to take as you already know of the problems that presents. Randomly asking users who enter the library would not be a good sampling method either.

So I challenge the Trustees to determine a fair method for answering those three questions if that is what it takes to increase the pay of the employees. The problem with asking yes or no questions is that they are too simple. It would have to be more of a range from poor service to excellent service. At least that’s what I think would be more appropriate method for determining the level of library customer service as well as value.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Undortunately, the only way “[r]eopened on Sundays during the summer” could even be a factor for you is because of the boneheaded and political decision to CLOSE the Library on Sundays in the first place.

But you are right about: “[t]he harder question [being] how to measure this without getting bias opinions”; and that “[a]n online survey would not be the method to take…[because] of the problems that presents”; and that “[r]andomly asking users who enter the library would not be a good sampling method either.”

As a Library Board member this editor already accepted your “challenge…to determine a fair method for answering those three questions” by pointing out, in the post, such ojectively-measurable criteria as the decline in Library visits, the decline in circulation, the decline it program attendance, the decline in Library card holders, and the decline in the number of card holders actually using their cards.

Now it’s time for the Library’s well-paid senior staff to take a crack at it.

how come we haven’t heard anything about the city paying over $70,000 to fight the 150 guys. AND LOSE?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We did, in our 12.05.14 post. And we’re sticking to the principle of not letting Local 150 make the City (and its taxpayers) its beeyatch – at least for the time being.

We’re guessing you’re a Local 150 shill/pimp who is trying to create a public outcry to pressure the City to fold because litigation is costing Local 150 more than it wants to spend, especially if there’s a chance it might lose on appeal.

I find it amusing that you put “the questions” to the Senior Staff as to why circulation and program attendance is down and card users dropping, when it was the idiotic notion of the Board (namely, you) to charge for computer use and some of the programs, making some people decide to go elsewhere for their computer/program usage. Can’t imagine why usage has dropped… In addition, you question the possibility that usage is tied to a “national trend” and the economy. Let’s do the math. Let’s see, the economy tanks and people lose jobs or take pay cuts. No one can afford to go out and make purchases for books and other items, and cut their expensive Internet connections, etc. Then, these same people flock to their libraries to borrow these items or use the Internet. Then, thank goodness, the economy starts to improve. People are working again and go back to their old buying habits and no longer need to borrow as much. I think that would explain the “National Trend”, whether you choose to believe it or not.

To keep things transparent, (we all know you love that) I am a taxpayer, I am not an employee of the library, nor a Board Member. However, I am a regular user of the Library. Now, to answer your All Important Questions: “Is the Library better today than it was a year ago?” YES. The Library has made improvements, between the brand new Media Lab (which was funded by a private trust), the new charging stations, and the building maintenance, the Library is better, and will probably continue to be. “Are the employees providing more and/or better service than they did a year ago?” ABSOLUTELY! After the City Council decided to cut the levy last year, which in turn caused layoffs, the Staff shouldered the additional workloads and still gave 100% with a smile.
“Does the Library provide greater value to the taxpayers than it did a year ago?” YES! For all the reasons stated. And I do believe that the majority of the taxpayers agree, otherwise the Referendum would not have passed.

A correction to your post: You stated that “A majority of the Trustees in attendance voted to convert Van De Carr’s recommended $43,738 salary increase pool into a $25,000 merit bonus pool.” Per the Library Minutes from 4/21, the $43,738 was a MERIT salary increase pool. An important distinction, because that completely changes the tone and tenor of your statement “In public employment that’s what’s known as an “entitlement.” Because here in Illinois, just showing up for your public-sector job is usually reason enough for a raise, especially if other public employees are getting raises.” The dollar amount suggested was intended as MERIT increases. Merit, which according to the dictionary means, “the quality of being particularly good or worthy, especially so as to deserve praise or reward.” Which leads to you last question, “Whether the Library exists primarily for the benefit of its taxpayers/users, or for the benefit of its employees?” I’d say, both. Just like any other organization that has employees. In any industry, whether Governmental, Industrial, Retail, etc., whatever the purpose is, has a responsibility towards their employees to compensate them fairly, just as it is the employee’s responsibility to their employer to work hard and do a good job. So, does the Library staff deserve MERIT increases, just as the rest of the non-union City Staff do? You bet they do. I consider them as important, if not more important of a resource, than any item in the Library. Are they replaceable? Sure, but why would you want to replace anyone who has proven themselves to be dedicated, hardworking and knowledgeable? Answer, you don’t, you reward them for it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since we can’t find a “Morgan Taylor” in any Park Ridge directory, we’ll assume you’re one of those anonymous parasites from Chicago who pays those cheaper property taxes and then comes to Park Ridge for anything they can get free from our taxpayers. Or, in light of that last paragraph of your comment, maybe you ARE a Library employee with delusions of grandeur; i.e., being more important than the Library building and all the books in it.

As for how many parasite visitors the Library has lost due to the fees, you can’t possibly know that because the Library itself doesn’t know that: it doesn’t collect that kind of data. Just like it can’t tell how many unique visitors are represented by the admittedly-inflated 30-35-40,000 “visits” it reports each month.

The very idea of using “national trend” as any kind of benchmark is unacceptably flawed because such a “trend” appears to be an average that includes an overwhelming majority of libraries in communities with very different demographics than ours – most of which were hit by the Recession far worse than ours. But good management is expected to out-perform the average, so using “national trend” as an alibi for our Library’s dropping numbers is just a cop-out.


My takeaway is the three questions you laid out above which could and should be applied by any elected board/council in their consideration of any staff review and subsequent raise discussions:

-Is the (insert entity) better today than it was (insert rating period)?
-Are the employees providing more and/or better service than they did a year ago?
-Does the (insert entity) provide greater value to the taxpayers than it did a year ago?

Clear, concise and widely encompassing principles all elected officials should be striving for.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thank you, Alderman.

And, as much as possible, those questions should be answered with verifiable data rather than anecdotes and speculation.

Let me see if I understand this correctly. You are saying that the drop in visitors and circulation is because service is not more and/or better that last year?

How on earth is that verifiable data??

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you do “understand this correctly” you certainly aren’t articulating it.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Brilliant, as usual. Now go home and get your #@%&-in’ shinebox.

Only in public employment can all your “numbers” go south and yet the employees expect more money and management recommends they get it.

Thank you, Library Board, for being the adults in the room for a change.

I don’t normally comment more than once on any given post, but I did some Googling and cannot find references to any other board/council of any other public body in the Chicago area that did what this Library board did by just saying “no, management has not made its case for raises.”

You Library board people should take a bow, except that the special interests you have ticked off would probably kick you.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You’re right, but a kick would still beat a red-hot poker.

The Library Board needs to strike the right balance between what is best for the taxpayers and what is best for the users, with an emphasis on the taxpayers because the person who pays the piper deserves to call the tune. I believe this board is on the exactly right track in striking that balance, and I hope they continue.

You have assumed wrong. Simply because I believe that the staff are just as deserving of a very modest increase, along with the rest of the city staff, does not make me an employee, a Board member, and least of all, a parasite. I guess that’s what you would believe of anyone who disagrees with you. Typical. I am just an unlisted avid library user, who thinks that the staff at the Library has always been one of their best assets.

As for the library losing visitors due to the fees, you’re right, I don’t know that for a fact. But human nature would dictate that most people would go where they can get something for free, even if it’s a few miles out of their way, rather than have to pay for it. This does not make people freeloaders or parasites. Frugal would be a better word.

And lastly, if you’re going to state that “…a “trend” appears to be an average that includes an overwhelming majority of libraries in communities with very different demographics than ours – most of which were hit by the Recession far worse than ours.” I would hope that you could also provide verifiable data to confirm this. How exactly would you know how many people in our community were hit by the Recession? The Recession hit every community. It’s not an alibi, it’s a fact.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If we “have assumed wrong,” prove it!

Staff is an asset of the Library. But in the grand scheme of Library operations, the building and the books/materials are the sine qua non and, therefore, far more important assets than employees. We’re also aware that a significant number of people use the Library’s computers, WiFi and copiers without ever using the “librarian” services of staff. So to those customers the staff’s importance may drop even further.

The word for anyone who would go “a few miles out of their way, rather than pay” the Library’s nominal non-resident fees, is “idiot” – in addition to “parasite.”

So you’re arguing that the effects of the The Recession hit Park Ridge just as hard as it hit Calumet City, Waukegan, or the thousands of similar such communities all across the country included in that national “trend” our Director is relying on to explain our Library’s poor numbers? No wonder you would drive a few miles out of your way for free computer use.

At what pay grade do you get to screw up, indulge yourself, perform much worse than last year, do active harm to to many customers and still collect big money from the taxpayers, no questions asked, no itemization required? Or to put it an more recognizable way, how big do you have to be? Please, it’s fine that you want to be sure our local public employees re held accountable and do a good job. But spare us all the hypocritical moralizing. Or spare us the next round of too-big-to-fail rationales and ransackings.

EDITOR’S NOTE: At any “pay grade,” Class Warrior. ANY!

And you’ve never heard us mount any defense for your “too-big-to-fail rationales and ransackings,” or for the folks who run those “too-bigs.” So unless you can point to a specific example of any such “too-big” in Park Ridge, stop wasting our time with your irrelevant class warfare red herrings and take them to “entertainers” like Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity.

Oh, c’mon, you love it. And you’re pretty dang entertaining, yourself. I’d be happy to stick to local concerns if the larger world didn’t have such a big impact on our local economy. You pick on the local hoi polloi because they’re more accessible, not because they’re more culpable. And you know we as citizens have as much control over the policies that govern — or don’t govern — the big-ticket disasters as we do locally. Some of us just don’t want to acknowledge it. Meanwhile, I do think the elected or appointed boards should come up with the metrics that constitute “success” or “improvement” for any public entity we fund, with factual support from staff. It’s a lot more productive use of everyone’s time to have the board, with all its myriad business experiences, say “we want X” and have staff respond or request modifications for factual reasons than to say “you come up with X and we’ll shoot holes in it.” I’d be interested to know what others (yes, including you) think of this more businesslike approach.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Anybody who says, as you do, that “citizens have as much control over the policies that govern — or don’t govern — the big-ticket disasters as we do locally” is either lying or delusional to the point of needing institutionalization. Which might also explain your view of how most local government functions should be handled – which might be a “more businesslike approach” in your la-la world.

Fighting the scary library ladies. You’ve met your match at last, it appears; you and the rest of your capon cabal. You take revenge on the majority of voters for supporting the restoration of library funds is by punishing library staff? Is there an American in the house?

EDITOR’S NOTE:Charging the Library Board with taking “revenge on the majority of voters” for supporting the referendum is borderline nutty. Charging the Board with doing it by not giving raises to Library employees crosses that border.

And what’s more “American” than: (a) looking out for the taxpayers; and (b) paying people such a fair wage that the Library experiences minimal turnover; and (c) demanding that people work longer, harder, and/or better if they expect to receive higher wages or a bonus from an employer which has never produced a profit?

The problem is that the standards/metrics you “run government like a biz” guys don’t consider is that a true business operation allocates between 5 and 20% of its gross revenues to marketing, not including outright sales. This is not how tax-supported service entities are constructed and to change the formula on them, requiring more customers every year, for example, without commensurate revenue allocations to achieve that goal, is simply irrational. The human service non-profits you guys pulled the rug out from under a few years ago are either dead (Maine Center) or struggling to solicit and deploy extra revenues, not for service providing but for marketing, aka development. That’s tough if all the cards are on the table, but it’s damned impossible if they aren’t. You can’t change half the equation (mo’ betta bells, whistles, etc. every year) without beefing up the other half (money to make it all happen). Not rational.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Nice try at building a straw-man argument to knock down, but it’s really a stupid one because governmental units by their very nature have a captive market.

Wha? You and your ilk are quick to say just the opposite — we don’t need trained cops at real salaries because citizens can and should bear arms and stand their ground…we don’t need human services because whatever the churches don’t get around to doesn’t need doing…we don’t need libraries because “everybody” is getting his entertainment and eddication on the web these days, we don’t need affordable park district facilities because there are so many for-profit fitness centers around, including one coming in right down the street. So where is this captive market? You yourself ceaselessly say that the market has other, better options. No straw man here, only in the Oz you live in.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Okay, Class Warrior, try to follow along even though there’s no bouncing ball: Our local governmental units already offer “real salaries” – in fact, they’re so “real” that there’s minimal attrition and plenty of applicants for every opening that does come along.

Higher taxes and relatively low user fees have contributed to giving the Park District a monopoly over the “health club” market in town for the past 20+ years. Even with the new health club being built on Touhy there will still be a health club oligopoly – one form of captive market – within the Park Ridge city limits.

Contorted to the max. Get thee to the Fitness Center before you pull something permanent. And I hope you don’t truly think anyone is being scared off by your “Class Warrior” canard. What’s next: Bra-Burner? Miracle-Whip Eater? I was taught that “class” is about breeding and behavior, not about money. In fact, with Yale-trained designer John Saladino, “every night, I pray that people with class get money and people with money get class.” So bring up class war all you like. Nya. Nya.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Whatever you were taught must not have taken, because any time you use the word “class” it has nothing to do with “breeding and behavior” and everything to do with the socio-economic/political status that’s the hallmark of class warfare – because you are a Class Warrior.

And while we think highly of Saladino and his work, we’re not aware of any of his furniture being featured at K-Mart or Sears. His clientele would appear to be the folks you Class Warriors love to hate; and the answer to his prayers would seem to be the self-serving doubling of his potential clientele.

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