|Card source, but hardly Hallmark|
The Tattler: Can this question be submitted for Library Relocation postcard consideration? Popular theme on the blog this morning. "Should the money raised through the sale of the Library property be used for water infrastructure and road repair, or moving the Library to the YAC?"
City Manager Gabe Engeland: I would say no. The purpose of selling the current library would be to fund the move to the YAC. The YAC location would need a retrofit, changes to the layout of the site, and potentially an expansion to accommodate library services. If the funds from a potential library sale were dedicated elsewhere, the library would not be able to relocate, as the YAC could not be altered to meet the needs of putting a library at that site.
The Tattler: Right. But isn't it a bit of an assumption to say the money realized through the sale of a public property must be used for that one purpose? Without objection? There are many other things in town that could stand an infusion of cash. It is the peoples' money, after all. They might want to buy new pipes instead.
City Manager Gabe Engeland: If the funds for the sale of the library at its current location were used elsewhere we would effectively be closing the library. If we sell the current location, and don't have the funds to move to a new location, the library would have no place to operate. This may inject revenue into our infrastructure, but it would come at the expense of the Library. It is not something I would recommend.
The Tattler: That is my point. You might be able to convince a lot of people that there is good money to be made in selling that property. But that does not mean people will automatically think the money raised needs to be spent on a different library facility. Some think a library is an antiquated idea, times and ways of communicating information have changed, and there might be far better things to do with the cash. The best way to keep a library in town is to not open that Pandora's Box. Just do the legally required repairs, which can easily be funded by selling the back lot.
City Manager Gabe Engeland: I agree the community needs to decide what types of services it wants from the Library. Further, selling the back lot, making necessary repairs, and leaving the library at its current location, remains a viable and attractive option. I'm positive this specific option will be addressed in the survey. I have heard a lot of feedback from residents on how they want the library to operate, as well as from people who believe the library should not be a priority, or at least a lower priority. I have not yet heard a compelling argument that the community would be better without the library entirely. With that said the idea of a modern library, focused on technology and learning events, versus a traditional library, focused on more static activities, will need to be decided by the community. Both are models commonly deployed in cities, and both can adequately serve their mission.
The Tattler: Here is another idea that made the blog today. What if a portion of the card were left blank so that people could share their thoughts beyond merely checking a box? I think people would be more likely to participate, and something good could come of it. There are a lot of smart people in Sierra Madre.
City Manager Gabe Engeland: The Library Board will be determining the specific questions to be placed on the survey. I believe their first meeting on this topic takes place tonight, but they will craft the questions over the next several weeks. One of the types of questions available to the Board are "open ended" responses, so what you are describing is an option. I agree, we have a lot of smart people here. We have received a ton of good feedback and suggestions on both sides of this issue.
The Tattler: Let's be honest. The purpose of the postcard is to create the impression of public participation, but without letting it get beyond the control of people who already have an agenda they are determined to drive home. That one of the most partisan groups of folks in town on this Library question are also the ones creating these questions and driving the process pretty much proves it. There is a difference between enabling and transparency. What is going on now is not transparency.
City Manager Gabe Engeland: I think this characterization is exceptionally cynical. The Library Board will determine the questions, but they have no control over the responses, and they are not driving the process. They also can't create questions which are leading or are intended to drive people to a specific, preferred response. The survey company will send out the postcards to randomly selected residents and will ensure the questions are asked in an unbiased manner. This company will have no stake in the outcome of the survey, but they will have a keen interest in ensuring the results are reliable, statistically significant, and their reputation as an independent, fair, and non-partisan firm remains intact. The City is not contracting with a public relations firm. The results will be statistically significant and will be demographically representative of Sierra Madre. In addition to this the questions asked will allow for a multitude of responses, as well as levels of support for different ideas or scenarios, to make sure people are able to register their opinions appropriately. I respect people have different opinions and beliefs, and to that end it's okay for people to argue about which outcomes are best for our city and which model of library services are needed in Sierra Madre. However, making an argument that an independent third company is acting in a partisan manner, or a statistically significant survey isn't transparent or public, does little to advance the discussion on the library that is currently taking place. I'm happy to keep the dialogue going as we have several acceptable options for the library moving forward.
The Tattler: There is a lot of cynicism about surveys because of the way they were used in the past. This is a familiar pattern. Third parties are hired for specific purposes. Fairness is not always the top priority.
City Manager Gabe Engeland: That's fair, and in that context, I understand the concern. The idea of the survey is to truly understand what the community desires and supports. The community will make the decision, and I think a transparent and robust survey, completed by a 3rd party company, will provide good information. We have a lot of acceptable outcomes for the Library, I don't have an agenda to push. I just want to understand the options better.
Mod: So who exactly is this survey company that will keep the rolling pin warm should the Library Board start pressing their tainted love a little too eagerly? They are called the National Research Council Inc., or NRC. While they are headquartered out of Boulder Colorado, the NRC also has an international presence as well. I Googled them in as many different ways as possible, yet I could not access any easy dirt. Funny thing is, there are pages of articles about these guys, but they are almost all entirely written by themselves. The NRC is either as pure as the driven snow, or they have successfully suppressed their Internet critics. It is done, you know. Reputation Maintenance is a big on-line business these days. I did find this following article on a site called Governing. Here it peddles some familiar stereotypes about certain small city residents (link).
Mod: Then there is this disheartening passage:
Mod: It certainly does make you wonder who is going to receive those Library Relocation postcards, or how they know who is what. Maybe the city gives them that information? Remember, not everyone is going to get a postcard. And it might not only be about saving money. Despite what you've heard.
You can see where we could be going with this project, right? Our pals at the NRC might be attempting to dig up what Richard Nixon used to lovingly refer to as the "silent majority." You know, the people who don't go to meetings, don't pass petitions, speak at public comment, or otherwise worry the wooly heads of the sleeping classes. If this is to be the kind of criteria that is going to be employed when the data retrieved from these selectively distributed postcards is culled and interpreted, then yes, the fix could very well be in.
After all, the more you know, the less nice you must be. And yes, no postcard for you.