Library Anti-Privatization Rally

helling_libraryA spirited group of Nevada County citizens — it looked like a hundred or more — rallied in opposition to library outsourcing/privatization in front of the Rood Center this morning from 7:30 until the beginning of the Board of Supervisors meeting at 9 AM.

Several speakers, including Madelyn Helling, Deb Abbadie and Lew Sitzer, spoke out against outsourcing.

Lew said — with utter confidence — that the Board, considering the amount of community opposition, cannot possibly go forward with outsourcing. He said that as soon as the Board shelves that particular idea, NCTV will do a telethon for the library. He pointed out that a recent telethon raised over $90,000 for local non-profits.


Our Place in the Cosmos

earthriseWhen Richard Dawkins talks about the Cosmos, can he help singing?

Here’s the composer’s notes on his latest video:

It was crafted using samples from Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, Richard Dawkins’ Genius of Charles Darwin series, Dawkins’ TED Talk, Stephen Hawking’s Universe series, Michio Kaku’s interview on Physics and aliens, plus added visuals from Baraka, Koyaanisqatsi, History Channel’s Universe series, and IMAX Cosmic Voyage. The themes present in this song are intended to explore our understanding of our origins within the universe, and to challenge the commonplace notion that humans have a superior or privleged position, both on our home planet and in the universe itself.

[Listen to this in earphones. It’s more awesome that way. And this is all about … awe]

Kudos: County Officials Revise Library Review Schedule

helling_libraryKudos to county officials for revising the library outsourcing review schedule, and for opening up the process more fully to public participation.

According to Dave Moller’s article in today’s Union (“Helling to lead rally against outsourcing of library services“) the county has made — apparently as of Friday the 20th — two significant changes in its very aggressive timeframe for considering bids for outsourcing library services.

County officials have decided to release the bid contents immediately, rather than — as originally stated — only after an evaluation period (possibly to include a recommendation to the Board), which might have left only a few days for the general public to consider the bids prior to a Board decision. Many of us felt that the original timing was grossly inadequate.

Dave Moller writes:

At first, county officials weren’t going to release the details of proposals to the public until they had been reviewed by an “evaluation committee” and a recommendation to the board had been provided. Library Systems CEO Frank Pezzanite said Thursday he couldn’t divulge what was in his proposal because he did not want to jeopardize its chances with county officials.

But late Friday, Chief Information Officer Steve Monaghan said the county wanted to be “as transparent as possible,” by putting both proposals on the county’s Web site today. The proposals are not competitive, and “there is no risk to negotiating a contract with them being public now,” Monahan said.

The article also mentions that the review committee originally had a tentative schedule to “deliver a contract recommendation in December so that services could begin in February.”

“I think it will be pushed back a bit from that to give time for the committee review,” said Assistant County Executive Officer Laura Matteson.

“That was a minimum time. It will most likely be longer,” before the committee makes a recommendation.

Note: The article gives the following web address (URL) for the bid contents, but as I write this at about 7:25 AM, I was unable to find LSSI’s bid online. I suggest continuing to check back throughout the day.

Note also: Madeline Helling’s rally against “privatization” is still set — so far as I know — for Tuesday (tomorrow) the 24th at the Rood Center from 730 – 9:30 AM. The threat of outsourcing/privatization still exists.

Is Fixing the Library Budget This Simple?

conundrumThere’s a solution to the library budget shortfall which is at least simple in theory. But how practical or do-able is it? That merits some discussion, and the discussion leads to more questions than answers.

Here’s the concept:

The current  “retail transactions and use tax” approved by voters in 1998 under Measure B, and overwhelmingly renewed by voters (by a majority of over 76%) in 2002 under Measure C, is set at one-eighth of one percent (0.125%), and at that rate the tax yielded a total of $1,658,323 (actual) for the year 2008.

In Rick Haffey’s October 1st memo to the Board of Supervisors, he described the future budget shortfall, and how it would continue to widen:

As you can see even the optimistic expenditure and revenue projections used in this analysis show the Library finances going in the red to the tune of over $400,000 by June, 2011 and increases substantially from there on out.

It’s not difficult to see how an increase in the sales tax rate from one eighth of one percent to, say, one-sixth of one percent would increase revenues by about 50% and would in itself permanently fix the budget shortfall if everything else stayed constant.

But of course, everything else doesn’t stay constant.

Rick Haffey also refers in his memo to the fact that the shortfall occurs even as revenues are projected to increase. The basic problem is that expenditures are projected to increase more rapidly than revenues.

Why is that? What is it about expenditures that can’t be controlled or made to stay flat even in a time of severe recession? The answer to that may give a clue about why there is such a rush to outsource, with its major restructuring of employment contracts.

The line item expenditures in Rick Haffey’s budget projection which show constant growth in years to come — apparently beyond anyone’s control — are labeled “Salaries & Benefits” (from $1.9+ million in 2011 to $2.1+ million in 2014) and “Services & Supplies” (from $500+ thousand in 2011 to $516+ thousand in 2014).

Obviously both of these categories are driven by employment contracts. How about union contracts? (I’m just asking. I have no idea).

So, although some short term relief could be achieved by a voter-approved sales tax increase (a plausible scenario given this county’s extraordinary support at the polls for past library revenue initiatives), no remedy under the current system looks longterm until overall sales in the county return to non-recession levels.

Nevertheless, would it be possible to buy some time with a higher voter-approved sales tax rate, perhaps structured to drop back to a lower rate as sales revenue grows? Is such an initiative even possible in a time of recession?

Are we in such a hurry that we don’t have time to pursue the tax initiative option?

Is the urgency real, or is it driven by what appears to be an opportunity to restructure the terms of employment of library personnel, and the terms of existing outsourcing contracts?

Wake Up, Nevada County!

booksellerWhy is it that some merchants on Broad Street in Nevada City are selling books in competition with all the local booksellers, especially with their immediate neighbor, Harmony Books?

Here’s an even more disturbing question:

Why is such a large volume of books being shipped from Amazon to local businesses and residents? The volume probably exceeds that of the bookstores’ own orders!

Wake Up!

One day in 2005, citizens of Bay Area Peninsula cities were suddenly shocked to discover that Kepler’s Books, a fixture on the peninsula since the 1950s, had shut its doors without warning. Only then did a hue and cry go up, and some local financial angels stepped forward to rescue the bookstore.

“I’ve been so humbled — to have a community say ‘we love what you do and we want to help you,’ ” said Clark Kepler, owner of Kepler’s Books and Magazines in Menlo Park, Calif. In 2005, his store, near the Stanford University campus, was one of the first to attract investors after struggling financially. Since then, Mr. Kepler has heard from at least a dozen other stores that were trying similar ways to stay alive. He has told them what his own investors were told: “This is an investment from the heart. Don’t do this if you expect to see this money again.”

From “Who’s Buying the Bookstore?

Wake up! Don’t let that happen here.

Buy your books locally (from a bookstore!).

Order your books locally (from a bookstore!).

Keep the money in our community.

Keep the local bookstores alive.

Questions Asked But Not Yet Answered

midnightThe Library Outsourcing FAQ contains the statement, “This document will be updated weekly as needed.”

Here are three new questions I sent to the FAQ early last week that have not been answered yet:

(1) Can you cite the relevant “governmental procurement procedures” (county? state?) regarding the general publication of bid contents? Are these procedures available online? (i.e., can you give a web citation (URL?) ).

(2) Once the deadline (11/19/09) for the submission of all bids has passed, what — according to the “governmental procurement procedures” — is the reason for continuing to keep the bid contents secret from the general public, since publication then would give no single bidder a competitive advantage?

(3) Is there any legal reason why the Board of Supervisors can’t wait at least 30 days — rather than a mere 3 days — after the bid contents are made public before hearing from the county executive and general public in an open Board session that includes the library outsourcing agenda item?

LSSI Cut Costs in Half (and Hours Too)

shell_gameIn April of 2007 Jackson County, Oregon closed fifteen of its library branches due to budget problems, the biggest library closure in United States history. In October of the same year, it re-opened all branches under a contract with LSSI.

[Note: Bold Italic emphasis is mine in the article excerpts below]

In his article (“Public Libraries For Profit“) about the Jackson County experience, Akito Yoshikane writes:

LSSI … typically downsizes staff, centralizes accounting and human resource services, and buys books in bulk, all while passing down administrative costs—sometimes as high as 15 percent—to patrons as general handling fees . (The company does not disclose its earnings.)

“They operate entirely with our tax dollars but they have no transparency,” says Buck Eichler, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 in Jackson County, whose organization represented the public library employees. “They’re completely secretive about their books. We no longer know where our tax dollars are going.”

Although the total cost of running the libraries was cut, so, too, were library hours. Now, most libraries in Jackson County are open at half the normal operating times and are closed on Sundays, totaling only 24 hours a week, down from the 40-plus hours before the April shutdown. The exceptions are the libraries in Ashland and Talent, which will stay open for 40 hours and 36 hours a week, respectively, after local residents recently voted in favor of a levy on monthly utility surcharges in order to pay for the extra hours.”

Also writing about the Jackson County experience in April of 2008 (“Special Report: Should the public library no longer be public?“), Chloe Gotsis quotes employees of the Jackson County Library Foundation, by that time run by LSSI:

The cost to run the library is half of what it was before, but of course they are open half the amount of hours they were before,” said Olney, adding that the Jackson County Library Foundation has been run by LSSI for six months.

Amy Kinard, an employee in the Jackson County Library Foundation for 17 years who was rehired after LSSI took over in the county’s Ashland branch, said the library staff rather than the patrons have experienced the brunt of the transitional takeover to LSSI.

“All the people who work for the library now do not have the same benefits,” said Kinard. “I don’t have a retirement program anymore. We are no longer public employees, we are now private employees.”

Other counties reportedly had less than pleasurable dealings with LSSI, like Fargo, N.D., who ended its agreement with LSSI in 2003 on the alleged grounds that LSSI was not paying its bills on time.

Naturally, this question arises: If LSSI cut Jackson County’s library costs in half by cutting the library hours in half and raising fees, then why couldn’t the county have achieved the same cost savings by cutting the hours in half and raising fees itself?

Such a strategy is disagreeable to consider, but since that’s what they ended-up with anyway, you have to wonder whether the contract with LSSI was really necessary?

Contribute! Send Your Op-Ed to

i_beg_youAre you frustrated waiting weeks — or forever! — for your local newspaper to publish your Op-Ed?

Help Sierra Voices live up to its name. Raise your voice and submit your finely wrought and thoughtful words (free of hyperbole and cant) to

As I write this, voices are joining together in a loud chorus all over Nevada County in opposition to the ill-considered and hastily-conceived library privatization proposal.

Maybe you have something to say about that?

Your submission is welcome.

Christmas at the Railroad Museum

rr_museumMadelyn Helling passed this information on to me this evening.The Railroad Museum will hold its main annual fund-raising event on December 5th, “Santa at the Railroad Museum, ” from 10 AM to 4 PM.

Santa and his elves will have picture-taking with engine #5.

There will be music and refreshments and a silent auction.


5 Kidder Court, Nevada City, CA 95959
(intersection of Bost Ave. and New Mohawk Rd.)

Madelyn Helling Announces Rally on Tuesday 11/24/09 at 7:30 AM

helling_libraryI called Madelyn Helling this evening to ask her about her opposition to library outsourcing/privatization. She was very friendly and accessible, and expressed her vehement opposition to outsourcing.

We had a nice chat, mostly agreeing on the issues surrounding the outsourcing proposal. She said she would call someone in the Board of Supervisors’ office after we hung up, in order to see if she could get a copy of LSSI’s bid.

After a little while, she called me back and said she also spoke to Eve Diamond, and was told the same thing that I was told … that the bid contents would not be available until after any negotiation that might take place with LSSI was complete.

Madelyn also told me that Eve had told her that the law regulating the RFP process is the Brown Act. Apparently Eve had researched this issue since I had asked her about the law earlier in the day.

Madelyn also mentioned to me that they are planning a rally in opposition to outsourcing in front of the Rood Center next Tuesday the 24th, from 7:30 AM to 9:30 AM (the time and place of the next Nevada County Board of Supervisors’ Meeting).

Next Page »