City of Calabassas Loses Money by Hiring LSSI

helling_libraryI wrote an email today to Matt Sylvain, assistant librarian at the Claire T. Carney Library at UMass Dartmouth, asking him whether he was aware of any town that had actually saved money by hiring LSSI, and here’s his reply:

“I’m not aware of such a community, but I haven’t looked at (or have had access to) all the data.

Ward’s article notes that in Calabasas, the community did initially see savings. However, the savings were short lived, and the increased cost of the LSSI run system soon outpaced the increase in services.”

My Call to the County Board of Supervisors

helling_libraryInspired by Virginia Brunini’s letter to The Union on 11/19/09, I called the Board of Supervisor’s phone number (265-1480) today and spoke to Eve Diamond, Administrative Analyst for the Nevada County Board of Supervisors, a very knowledgeable, professional and helpful person.

I asked her specifically about what appeared to be  a plan to allow as few as three days between the day on which LSSI’s bid contents become public and the day on which the  Board of Supervisors meets to  consider — and possibly approve — a contract with this company for the management of Nevada County’s library system.

I am particularly interested, I explained, in the legal basis for continuing to keep the bid contents secret until after the deadline for submitting bids, until after the various committees have finished their deliberation, and — finally — until after negotiations may take place with LSSI for the details of a contract.

I don’t understand what seems like an excessive degree of secrecy in the process. Eve Diamond promised to research the legal basis for this process and get back to me, most likely by email.

Subsequently, after I wrote to her and gave her my email address (and mentioned that I had run across on the Internet the interesting story of her literary namesake), we had this email exchange:

“Thanks, Don. You got me! 🙂 But the similarity between the fictional Eve Diamond and me ends with the name.

I sent your inquiry to Supervisor Beason this morning and also checked out your website. BTW, I also spoke with Chair Weston and passed along your comment about the length of time for public review of the contract. Although he concurred with you about it being inappropriate to release a proposal until staff has negotiated all the details, he said that if there are enough unanswered questions the Board has the option of continuing the item to a future meeting.

Either Supervisor Beason or I will get back to you on your question.

Thanks,
Eve”

—————————————————————-

“Eve:

By the way, concerning Chair Weston’s sensible remark to you to the effect that …

” … if there are enough unanswered questions the Board has the
option of continuing the item to a future meeting … ”

… I want to point out that if the Board meeting containing, say, an
LSSI contract agenda item, occurs after only a mere 3 days of public review of the bid contents, then a paucity of “unanswered questions” is likely to be an indication that there has been insufficient time for public review, rather than an indication that there is widespread public approval of the idea of outsourcing.

It would be much better to PLAN at the outset to continue the item
from the meeting in which it is first discussed to a future meeting,
allowing at least 30 days, so as to guarantee sufficient time for
public review.

I understand the urgency of the budget issue, but sufficient time for public review — the democratic process after all — is just as compelling.

Thanks again.

Don.”

—————————————————————-

“Thanks, Don.

Small point of clarification, the agenda is normally released by Thursday at 1pm so that would allow five days.

I’m copying Supervisor Beason rather than respond on the timing issue.

Thanks,
Eve”

—————————————————————-

“Eve:

Thanks for the clarification. I thought the agenda was released to the general public on Friday, but to the supervisors on Thursday, so I counted Saturday, Sunday and Monday (essentially, three full days).

In fact the Library FAQ (page 11) says:

“As this is a formal county procurement process and bound by governmental procurement procedures, the proposals and report cannot be made publically available until they are posted with the agenda for the Board meeting. This typically occurs on the Friday before the following Tuesday’s Board meeting.”

But, really, 3 days or 5 days, either seems like insufficient time to review something as important as this.

Thanks for your patience with all my questions today.

Don.”

Hate Privatization? Email bdofsupervisors@co.nevada.ca.us

helling_libraryThe Library Outsourcing/Privatization issue is heating up.

Yesterday at 3 PM was the deadline for the submission of bids in response to the RFP. Two bids were submitted by the deadline: one from Library Systems  Services, LLC (LSSI) and another from Friends of the Library Nevada County, but the latter bid was apparently submitted for the management of the Foley Library only, not for the entire county system. (Click image at left to bring up email to the Board of Supervisors, or click here).

That leaves just LSSI — a company rejected by the city of Dartmouth, Massachussetts for, among other reasons, keeping its yearly financial statement secret — as the sole bidder for the management of Nevada County’s Library System.

There have been many letters to The Union in opposition to privatization over the last week, as well as a petition circulating in the community — supported by Madelyn Helling and many others — in opposition to privatization/outsourcing.

Among the Union letters were comments such as these:

“I, along with other volunteers, take offense at the statement in the FAQ “volunteers don’t reduce operating costs.” I suggest that all library volunteers take off the same week so the private company realizes what we do and the county sees what they may lose! I know in the last year volunteer hours equate to approximately 2.10 full-time employees at this library alone.

The library is one of the ways I give back to our community. Volunteering to help a profit-making corporation, to me, is not community service. Count me out as a volunteer if privatization happens; I’ll find another nonprofit that will be as thrilled with my hours as our local library.” (From “Library Volunteers Make a Big Difference,” by Myrna Wood, Nevada City, 11/18/09).

“All of us who since childhood have thought of our public libraries as magic places where one can borrow books and acquire knowledge, all of the students who use the libraries, all of the mothers and children that frequent these facilities need to be aware of what is happening. The county is attempting to rush this privatization through when there is no need for it. Citizens of Nevada County, “Storm the Bastille” and let your supervisors and Rick Haffey know that this is not acceptable. Keep our libraries public!” (From “It’s time to storm the Bastille,” by John Fletcher and Irene Nicolas, 11/20/09).

“Retaining these libraries with the quality of care we have received and expect is of great importance to our entire community. It is timely that all of us who use our library services express that now to the Supervisors. A call to 265-1480 could put you in touch with your Supervisor, or you could e-mail: bdofsupervisors@co.nevada.ca.us.” (From “Tell supervisors what you think about for-profit libraries,” by Virginia Brunini, 11/19/09).

The Horrible Injustice of the Don Siegelman Case

free_donThe prosecution of Don Siegelman, former Democratic governor of Alabama, by a Rove-politicized Justice Department, stinks to high heaven.

Siegelman, who is in the first year of a seven-year sentence for — allegedly in a quid-pro-quo for a “bribe” — appointing Alabama businessman Richard Skrushy to a hospital board that Skrushy had been appointed to by three previous (Republican) governors.

The prosecutor in the case was the wife of Siegelman’s last Republican opponent in his campaign for governor. Although convicted of taking a bribe, Siegelman never pocketed a nickel from anyone, but rather had solicited a contribution for an issue — a state lottery program supporting education — from Skrushy, and rewarded Skrushy with a position on the hospital board, an act of political patronage that defines normalcy in politics throughout America.

Fifty-two former state attorneys general (of both parties) have petitioned Congress to investigate whether Siegelman was prosecuted for political — rather than criminal — reasons.

Adding to the injustice of the Siegelman case is that Eric Holder’s Justice Department is opposing Siegelman’s appeal to the Supreme Court. Apparently — unlike all previous administrations — the Obama administration did not ask for the pro-forma resignation letters of all its federal prosecutors and make a clean sweep to reflect the judicial philosophy of the incoming president. As a result, most of the same cast of characters who drove the Seigelman prosecution from Washington are still there.

Thus, Karl Rove’s Cheshire grin still hangs over the “Justice” Department, and this case is shaping up as another chapter in the growing book, Change We Are Still Waiting For.

Watch this nine-minute 60 Minutes segment on the Siegelman case, then check out his website here.


Watch CBS News Videos Online

Climate October Surprise?

global_warmingHere’s an interesting excerpt from Thom Hartmann’s blog today:

“Could climate change be a thing of violent swiftness? New research indicates it took only months for Europe to freeze solid 12,800 years ago. This new analysis is showing that Europe froze not in a decade-as previously thought from analysis of Greenland ice cores-but in less than 12 months, when a giant freshwater lake – its remnant is the Hudson Bay – burst its banks and flooded the North Atlantic with billions of gallons of cold water, shutting down the Gulf Stream that keeps Europe warm. This sudden freezing terminated the Native American Clovis culture, the dominant culture in North America at the time, and killed off many of the early human inhabitants of Europe, which was covered with ice, too. Once triggered, the cold persisted for 1,300 years. If you thought you could miss all the major climate change effects, surprise! Get out your winter duds and snow shoes!

Speaking to the Economist recently, Gov. Tim Pawlenty told reporters that he questions the science underpinning climate change. Pawlenty explained that while the earth might be warming, it is unclear “to what extent that is the result of natural causes.” As ThinkProgress has noted, Pawlenty has veered sharply to the right to appease a right-wing, tea party base. In Dec. 2006 Pawlenty laid out an ambitious clean energy program for Minnesotans to reduce their use of fossil fuels 15 percent by 2015. Now in November 2009 – it’s tea party time. Or presidential ambition time.”

My Letter to the Board of Supervisors RE Library

county_bannerThis morning I sent the following letter to the Nevada County Board of Supervisors:

“Dear Supervisors:

I’d like to respectfully suggest a minor scheduling modification that would greatly enhance the opportunity for the general public to comment on whatever recommendation the county executive makes to the Board — at the conclusion of the RFP review process — concerning Library Outsourcing. This small modification would also likely improve public appreciation or “buy-in” for whatever decision you ultimately make on this highly contentious subject.

I urge you to consider allowing at least 30 days — rather than a mere 3 days, as is now planned — after the online publication of the bid contents before you hold your open Board meeting in which the county executive presents his recommendation to the full Board.

This would allow the general public a more reasonable period of time in which to review and evaluate the contents of the bids before being given the opportunity to comment on them in open session, prior to your final decision.

I understand that the Library budget problem requires prompt attention in order to forestall worse problems in years to come, but due to the extremely controversial nature of the concept of outsourcing general Library management, it is also imperative that you give the general public — not just the “blue ribbon committee” — sufficient opportunity to review and evaluate the bids and offer potentially crucial feedback.

Three days is simply inadequate and gives the unfortunate and inaccurate appearance of rushing the process through to a pre-determined conclusion.

Sincerely,

Don Pelton
Grass Valley, CA”

More Questions for the Library Outsourcing FAQ

helling_libraryThis morning I sent the following email to the Library Outsourcing FAQ:

In your description of the general publishing of the bid contents, you say:

As this is a formal county procurement process and bound by governmental procurement procedures, the proposals and report cannot be made publically available until they are posted with the agenda for the Board meeting. This typically occurs on the Friday before the following Tuesday’s Board meeting.”

As a result of this description, I have three additional questions:

(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?

Public Will Have 3 Days to Review Library Bids

helling_libraryAs I understand the county’s response to my recent question concerning how much opportunity the general public will have to review the bids for Library outsourcing, there will be only three days during which the full contents of the bids will be available online prior to the meeting of the Board, when a final decision might be made. This seems woefully insufficient, and I propose that the Board extend that period to at least 30 days.

On Friday the 13th, the following item was added to the FAQ, describing the role of the public in the review and decision process:

“How will the public have access to review the proposals received in response to the RFP, and how is the “blue ribbon committee” going to work? … The Board directed the CEO to form a citizen committee to provide input to this process. … this input will go directly to the CEO who will provide a staff report to the Board in public session on the issue. A contract for service may or may not be a part of the CEO’s recommendation and report depending on the outcome of this review process. As this is a formal county procurement process and bound by governmental procurement procedures, the proposals and report cannot be made publically available until they are posted with the agenda for the Board meeting. This typically occurs on the Friday before the following Tuesday’s Board meeting. A Board meeting date has not been set for this topic to date. The Board agenda can be viewed on-line at http://www.mynevadacounty.com/boardofsupervisors/ or in the Board’s office in Nevada City.”

Clearly, then, the “blue ribbon committee” will represent the primary public participation in the review process prior to the Board’s decision. The current plan is that there will be a period of from three to four days between some future Friday’s public posting of the contents of the bids (along with the Board of Supervisors’ agenda) at the conclusion of the review process, and the subsequent Tuesday’s BOS meeting (date yet to be determined), at which time the county CEO “will provide a staff report to the Board [including a recommendation] in a public session on the issue.”

“Governmental procurement procedures” are cited as the imperative for concealing the contents of the competing bids from the general public until after the “completion of the review process” and the CEO is apparently ready to make a recommendation to the Board.

Such regulations make perfect sense as a means of maintaining a level playing field among all the bidders. If the contents of each bid were revealed at the time of submission, early submitters would automatically be put at a competitive disadvantage, since late bidders would be able to construct bids based on knowledge of early bid contents, clearly an unfair process.

Of course, once the deadline for the submission of bids has passed (3 PM November 19th?), the playing field is fixed, and — in my layman’s view at least — no harm would result from making the bid contents public.

In any case, there may be an opportunity for the general public to offer its feedback to the Board during the public session at its regular Tuesday meeting (whenever that occurs) before the Board makes its final decision. How important this feedback will be in the Board’s deliberations is entirely unknown.

Since library outsourcing is such a contentious issue in the community at large, I’d like to suggest a procedure whereby the general public would have a fuller opportunity — at least 30 days — both to review the bid contents and to give feedback to the full Board:

The Board should post its agenda plus the bid contents at least 30 days (not merely 3 days) prior to the Board meeting. If there is any regulation at all concerning the timing of the agenda’s posting, I suspect it specifies a minimum period prior to the meeting, not a maximum.

Allowing a longer period for public review and comment would be entirely consistent with governmental regulations regarding the integrity of the bidding process, as well as with the spirit of open government and democratic principles.

Americans Are Overpaid?

great_depressionIf you are wondering what the world will be like after the recession has finally run its course and all those Americans who have lost their jobs go back to work, you may find a clue in this article from Fortune magazine: “Americans Are Overpaid.”

“U.S. workers are overpaid, relative to equally productive foreigners doing the same work. If the global economy is ever to get back into balance, that gap needs to be closed.”

The authors of the article, Martin Hutchinson and Edward Hadas, cite the unusually high unemployment rate in this recession as itself proof that a shakeout in American wages is underway, that a shakeout presumably — since the market doesn’t err? — is necessary and proper.

“The global wage gap has been narrowing, but recent U.S. labor market statistics suggest the adjustment has not gone far enough.

One indicator is unemployment, which has risen unexpectedly rapidly in this downturn. The 7.3 million jobs lost are more than treble the 2 million of the next worst post-war recession, in 1980-82. Some of that huge increase reflects the turbulence of an unusually sharp decline in GDP, but there could be another factor: the recession has revealed many workers are paid more than they are worth.”

The authors also cite increasing American productivity while output is declining as evidence of outsourcing to countries with lower wage workers, and they point likewise to the growing trade deficit as a sign of “excessive pay” for American workers.

They suggest that the best solution for avoiding Depression-level unemployment rates may be “a combination of moderate inflation to reduce real wages and a further drop in the dollar’s real trade-weighted value.”

Why is no one talking about a national industrial policy, a plan for restoring American industry, and halting the war on the American middle class?

If Hutchinson and Hadas are right, we are heading into a much different world than the one that so recently collapsed, a world in which the best we can hope for is to share the pain equally.

But then, the pain is never shared equally, is it?

Have You Ever Seen Richard Feynman Drumming?

cosmic_dawnI love these two short beautiful videos, done by John Boswell of Colorpulse. I’ve been watching them over and over. They are hymns to the Universe and love songs to science and spirituality. They express the deepest common insight of science and religion: “We are all connected.”

Have you ever seen Richard Feynman drumming? Or giggling? Or listened to Carl Sagan singing whale songs? That’s the state-of-playful-mind it helps to attain in order to get the most from these videos. Don’t judge them too quickly. So what if they’re sentimental? Can you imagine sentimental and profound?

It may turn out that to see clearly, we have to see through tears.

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