Wednesday, December 14, 2011

PPL: Good Meeting, Bad Vibes


With four jobs on the chopping block, about 45 library supporters attended the Tuesday evening meeting of the Plattsburgh Public Library Board of Trustees held in the PPL second floor auditorium.

Overall supporters maintained a positive tone, those speaking to the board offering suggestions, saying that people were ready to volunteer, ready to work with the trustees.

But as you can from my video accompanying this post, underlying tensions remain between some supporters and board members. PPL Librarian Karen Ricketson, who is also vice-president of the local AFSCME union, went into detail during her presentation how other areas of the library budget could be cut and ways to make up the shortfall. But when she asked the board president Roland Lockwood when he could get back to her about the alternate budget, he said he had no idea, not offering any time frame.

Two supporters in the crowd spoke up, asking why the board was being so negative.

Later on in the meeting Ricketson took exception to how a board member was categorizing her union. The member implied the union was a source of increased costs for PPL through its filing of grievances and the legal feels that ensued. Ricketson stated that the union had always preferred to work things out without the need for legal representation.

Board member John Prim snipped that all the union wanted to do was have everything given to it. Board President Roland Lockwood loudly rapped his gavel, ending the heated exchange. He empathically stated he would brook no arguments.

Plattsburgh residents Stuart Voss, Russell Puschak, and Amy Bonn spoke to the board, trying to keep things positive, offering suggestions in how to deal with the budget train wreck.

Former city councilor Voss said that while there was a 2 per cent tax cap, other communities went over that cap when needed.

Plattsburgh Middle School teacher/librarian Puschak cited the example of the Glens Falls - Queensberry area that created a special funding district for its library. Maybe some time in the future, he said, a similar arrangement could be made with Plattsburgh Town.

But for all the openness and willingness to work together, the board remained generally cool, it didn't return the positive vibes. Amy Bonn, advocate of an ad hoc committee to look at the library budget again, had to press the trustees a bit to get someone to say they would respond within five days. Bonn and other supporters didn't expect an immediate response from the board or even one in twelve hours. But they never expected the board to provide no time table at all.

Supporters stressed the need to take action because there was one month left to find other answers to the problem. Jobs might be saved. While the board made recommendations to eliminate positions, the city Common Council had the final say and wouldn't finalize its budget until next month.

From what I've seen from its last two meetings, I get the impression the PPL Board of Trustees is in a time stream that moves at a different rate than the rest of the world.

1 comment:

Mike Kelly said...

Hi Luke,

My name is Mike Kelly, and I served on the City Council for three years from 2008-2010. I was also library liaison for that time. I really appreciate your sharing of the events surrounding the budget shortfall. The one thing I cannot agree with is that Stan Ransom ever did anything wrong. In my tenure with the library, I never saw anything but 100% professionalism from Stan. Stan cares about the library like no one else, and he cares deeply about the employees. In his time, the library has improved tremendously. It was also my experience that the board was very professional in the conduct of its duties. The budget shortfall, in my opinion, is the result of the same factors that have caused the economic collapse of our country. Now, before anyone says: "What do events on Wall Street or in Washington, DC have to do with the PPL?" - let me assure you and your readers that events in the seats of power and the PPL are inextricably linked. The state of New York, in its struggle to balance its budget, has reduced funding to institutions that help the 99% for years. Education, roads, public transportation, healthcare and even libraries have felt the pinch. The federal government has also done everything in its power to prop up banksters, defense contractors and other assorted lobbyists at the expense of you and me. The PPL scenario is being played out all over our great land. We should all be in the streets fighting for our libraries, schools, a clean, safe environment, peace and all things that benefit the 99%. I suspect this will happen en masse in the spring. Unions did not create this mess; neither did the City Council, Mayor or PPL Board.

Having said that, I will add one more point: Mayor Kasprzak is the leader of our city, and in that capacity, the buck stops at his desk for union affairs. If there is tension between unions and management, blame lies squarely in his lap. In his tenure, there has been much labor tension, and about all he has managed to do is alienate union leadership. Yes, there have been gains. Unions have made concessions on his watch, but these have been offset by bitter feelings, grievances, litigation costs, etc. It does not have to be that way. Again, the unions did not create funding crises in the city or in the library. Mayor Kasprzak is a good man, and he cares deeply about our city. However, he doesn't understand that many people in Plattsburgh use the library as a lifeline for job searching, education, culture and entertainment. He and his family have never been in that position to be so dependent upon a public service, so it's hard for him to conceive that the need exists.

In closing, let me encourage you to keep writing about events in the city and surrounding areas. Village by village, we can change the world.