Saturday, December 31, 2011

PPL: Jobs Spared The Ax But Problems Remain

Common Council meeting, 12/28/11. It was midpoint during the holiday season but most seats were taken in the council chambers, many by library supporters.

I can hear the tired groans of some readers, mutterings about "He's yammering again about the Plattsburgh Public Library." I'm also sick of the topic but for a different reason.

The recent budget crisis didn't have to happen. It didn't have to play out the way it did. And unless certain problems are addressed, a replay might be in the future.

To paraphrase Benjamin J. Grimm: It's yammering time.

One of the biggest problem areas in the budget train wreck: communication. Specifically, the lack of it.

Mayor Donald Kasprzak has stated that he warned the PPL Board of Trustees three years ago that there were problems with the library's budget. Some library employees tried to pass on the same concerns to the trustees but were reprimanded.

And what happened over those three years? The finite contingency fund was used to meet increasing costs of operation. And the Library Board voted for another raise for Library Director Stan Ransom.

In an essay that appeared in the Press-Republican back on February 18th of this year, "In My Opinion: Library director's raise explained," the Library Board answered criticism from the mayor, justifying its position. If it was aware of the budget crisis back then as others have said, the board should have been writing a piece about the need for no one to get a raise, even the director.

As part of the recent deal to save four PPL jobs, employees are going to take home smaller paychecks: they are losing two hours each week, have to pay more for health insurance, and won't see any raises for the next three years.

I've known Stan Ransom for a long time; he has always treated me well. It seems that this is a case of a good man with good intentions who unfortunately ended up with bad results.

But he shouldn't burden all the responsibility.

As I've heard a few times before, the Library Board has a fiduciary responsibility to the public (and library employees). Yes, the trustees are unpaid volunteers and probably get more blame than credit overall. But that doesn't change the fact that they didn't keep a close eye on the budget situation, especially after a warning from the mayor, and that all they could recommend was to lay off people instead of considering other alternatives.

At a Common Council meeting Mayor Kasprzak said that he was annoyed that people were complaining to him about the library budget crisis, the plan to ax four positions. Instead, he pointed out, people should take their complaints to the Library Board because it operates as an independent governing body.

It's true that the board does operate with independence but the mayor forgot to mention one important detail: the trustees are appointed by him and the Common Council.

And if the board seems to be falling back into its old bad pattern as the new year rolls on, maybe it's time for the mayor to work on unappointments and better appointments if that's within his power. If not, whoever's in charge in City Hall when the appointments run out should pick carefully.

Anyway, enough yammering about problems. Let's take at a look at some suggestions, positive steps that can be taken.

Communication has to be improved among all parties. Councilor Tim Carpenter's plan includes the creation of a grievance committee to handle complaints. If employees have concerns, the board should listen, especially if the employees are aware the train is going to jump the tracks again.

Press-Republican acting as Personnel Office.

The trustees have to be less aloof. No more employees finding out that their jobs might be on the chopping block by reading it in the newspaper instead of hearing it at work. Less secrecy. Does the executive session option have to be invoked so often when the board meets, keeping the public and the media in the dark? And to make the meetings more accessible to the more of the public (those who work 9 to 5) why not move the meeting time to later in the evening like 6 or 6:30? 4:30 PM is too early for most people.

Does the board have to be so big? It has thirteen members now with some wards with only one representative while others have four. A smaller board might be more effective, giving more equal representation.

More oversight by both the board and the public is needed. A good step in the right direction was the addition of an accountant to the board. Also, let's all be on the same page, no more two or three versions of the budget floating around, playing the "Who's got the real budget?" game.

It's time -- right now, not later -- to look at other ways to fund PPL.

For example, Reference/Local History Librarian Kelly Sexton has an idea: operate the library as a special district so that not only the city but surrounding townships can support it. This has been done with success in the Glens Falls - Queensbury area and in other communities.

A few thoughts to consider.

I don't want to see history repeat itself when we can learn from it and not be doomed.

Doomed to more yammering.

And not from just me but also library supporters who showed up at public meetings and vocally pressed for a better solution than canning four people. Great job, people.

And if I may repeat myself...

There are two kinds of people you should never eff with: librarians and library patrons.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

PPL: Four Jobs Off The Chopping Block

The suspense was over tonight as the Plattsburgh City Common Council voted to approve additional funds to the Public Library 2012 budget, thus saving four positions.

By a unanimous vote the Plattsburgh City Common Council approved an additional $60,000 to the 2012 Plattsburgh Public Library budget, thus saving four jobs that at one point were in danger of being eliminated.

One could feel the collective sigh of relief. It's been a rough month for all library employees, not only for those whose positions were on the chopping block. The employees work together as a family and what affects one affects all. Also, such cutbacks would have added to the difficulty of an understaffed library running smoothly. PPL has seen a jump in usage due in large part to the bad economy that has forced many people to stretch their budgets by taking advantage of free materials offered by the library.

By having the vote tonight everything is wrapped up, said councilor Tim Carpenter. There had been concern by both employees and patrons that the uncertainty about the four positions wouldn't be resolved until January when the Common Council finalized the city budget. By voting tonight, said Carpenter who also serves as council liaison to the library, the last step was taken to assure that four PPL employees would retain their jobs.

Carpenter has been instrumental in saving the jobs. During the meeting he said he worked with 57 other people and he gave everyone credit for their efforts. But it was Carpenter who took the initiative and came up with an alternative budget plan. Representatives of the local AFSCME union also had an alternative budget proposal but it wasn't favored by the PPL Board of Trustees. Fortunately Carpenter's plan met with approval by the Library Board.

After the meeting Carpenter said that barring the closedown of a major industry in the city, meaning a severe cut in tax revenue, the jobs at PPL should be OK.

Despite the fact it was midpoint in the holiday season, most chairs in the Common Council chambers were filled. Before Carpenter’s plan was considered, Mayor Donald Kasprzak was surprised when he opened the meeting to public comment and none of the library supporters spoke. Sitting in the audience, I felt that people were anxious to hear the news, one way or the other, good or bad. Comments would only prolong the tension.

After the vote Library Board President Roland Lockwood commented to the council that he was glad that everyone worked together and made the compromises needed to keep the four jobs.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

PPL: Library Board Reinstates Four Positions

PLATTSBURGH CITY – Tues. 12/27/11 5 PM

The Plattsburgh Public Library Board of Trustees has reinstated the four PPL positions that were on the chopping block, going with city councilor Tim Carpenter’s alternative budget proposal.

Back on Dec. 5th, the board had voted to eliminate the four positions in dealing with a budget shortfall. Local AFSCME union representatives and Carpenter each presented alternative budgets to the board which after consideration favored the city councilor’s plan.

Yesterday library union members voted unanimously to accept Carpenter’s plan.

At this evening’s board meeting local AFSCME union president Denise Nephew was present. According to her, the decision to reinstate the four positions wasn’t official until she reminded the trustees that a motion had to be made and carried. The board promptly did this.

Following the meeting Tim Carpenter said that 58 people were involved in trying to save the four jobs. He added that everything was contingent on the Common Council accepting his plan and providing an additional $60,000 to the PPL 2012 budget.

Due to the holiday season, the Common Council meets tomorrow evening, one day earlier than its usual schedule. The council’s regular meeting begins at 5:30 PM, Wednesday, Dec. 28th in the City Hall second floor chambers. Library supporters are urged to attend this meeting.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Councilor Reports On His Plan To Save PPL Jobs

PLATTSBURGH CITY – Wednesday, 12/21/11

A plan to save four jobs at the Plattsburgh Public Library is under consideration, its success contingent on various factors.

During the new business portion of this evening’s Common Council meeting councilor Tim Carpenter reported on what was happening so far with his alternative budget plan for the Plattsburgh Public Library. He said his proposal was favored by the library Board of Trustees at a special meeting it held the previous evening.

Due to a budget shortfall the Board of Trustees had recommended the elimination of four jobs. That action may occur if things don’t fall into place by December 28th.

Carpenter, who is also the council’s library liaison, said the union representing library employees, AFSCME, had to agree to the cuts in his alternative budget plan.

After the meeting AFSCME Vice President Karen Ricketson said the union planned to have PPL employees vote on Carpenter’s plan before the Common Council convenes again next week.

Also contingent on Carpenter’s plan being put into place is the city kicking in an additional $60,000 to the library’s budget.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

PPL: All Ayes For Carpenter’s Plan

The Plattsburgh Public Library Board of Trustees held a special meeting to consider alternative budget plans intended to prevent employee layoffs.

"From the common sense point of view and the ethical point of view, if there is a way, we have to find a way, to give four people who have been faithful servants not a Christmas present that says 'We're dumping you.'" – Harold Brohinsky, PPL Board of Trustees member

PLATTSBURGH CITY – Tuesday evening, 12/20/11

After comparing two alternative budget proposals the Plattsburgh Public Library Board of Trustees voted unanimously in favor of the one put together by Tim Carpenter.

Due to a budget shortfall the board had recommended on December 5th to cut four positions. Since that time library supporters have rallied and voiced their concerns, resulting in the formation of an ad hoc committee that met the previous night to listen to plans being offered by the local AFSCME union and city councilor Carpenter who is also the Common Council library liaison.

The deciding factor between the two plans was that Carpenter’s had a longer range and could provide stability beyond next year.

Board president Roland Lockwood felt the AFSCME union proposal only provided a short term solution with its year and a half contract; the board needed longer than that to get the library back in the shape it should be in.

While not favoring the AFSCME plan, trustee Harold Brohinksy said the union proposal was an excellent contribution in that it showed the union had a strong commitment to make sacrifices.

After the vote trustee Sally McSweeny said: "We should note that this vote [in favor of Carpenter's plan] is contingent upon receiving a union memorandum of understanding prior to December 28th and if not we have already voted in previous meetings to reduce staff... and it's also contingent on the city council voting on [December] 28th to kick in [additional funding]."

While the employees slated for layoff are glad there’s a positive initiative to save their jobs, there are still factors that might affect the outcome.

December 28th quickly approaches.

Tim Carpenter will report to the Common Council tomorrow evening regarding the results of his plan. The weekly council meeting has been moved up one day due to the holidays to Wednesday, December 21st. It starts at 5 PM with a work session and then the regular meeting follows at 5:30 PM in City Hall.

PPL: Overheard

Killing time but comfortably.

I'm ensconced in a big chair with overstuffed cushions on the main floor of the Plattsburgh Public Library. Upstairs the PPL Board of Trustees is in executive session, meaning this blogger, other members of the media, and the public have to wait here until the meeting is open to all again.

With notepad in hand I scribble some notes. Behind me some library employees discuss various issues concerning the PPL budget shortfall, concerned about four jobs on the chopping block.

Closer to me I hear grumbling. A man sitting at one of the public access computers is thinking out loud to himself about taxpayer's money being wasted. But he's not reacting to a news item on his computer screen about District of Corruption drunken spending, but to the sight of the PPL employees -- who at the moment aren't on the clock -- just standing around and talking.

I can't help but overhear him complain about the apparent (to him) waste of his tax dollars. He talks on, saying that $8.00 an hour times X number of employees times so many work hours per week times 52 weeks in the year -- well, that was big amount of money wasted.

Yup, that's a lotta good money down the crapper IF every employee spent every minute of every work hour goofing off, as it were. But I've never seen that at the library. The PPL employees are already understaffed, trying to keep up as it is. Cut four positions and see how long it'll take for service.

Regarding the employees that triggered the man's personal tirade, one was on vacation and the others were either off-duty, done for the day or on break.

It's been a tense time for the library staff. Since they're human beings, not robots, they're allowed to talk about the proposed cuts hanging over PPL, relieving a bit of stress.

Of course, the man sitting at the computer is allowed to deal with his own tension and express himself -- within reason -- but still...

Two thoughts pop into my head.

First, if you're a guest in someone's home, don't be rude to your host.

Second, if the disturbed man at the computer turns out to be a Tea Party supporter against "socialism," how can he justify using a public access computer free of charge, paid for by taxpayer funds?

PPL: Good Meeting, Cool Heads

AFSCME union Vice President Karen Ricketson (top left) and AFSCME union President Denise Nephew (lower left) confer before the commencement of the library ad hoc committee meeting with chair Harold Brohinsky (middle right). In the background a wall poster marks PPL's 110 years of service.

PLATTSBURGH CITY -- Mon. 4:30 PM 12/19/11

Digital thermometer readout: 82 degrees F. (27.7 C to the rest of the world.)

To compensate for underheating the recently fixed Plattsburgh Public Library boiler decided to crank up the temps in the second floor conference room. From freezing to frying. I was down to a t-shirt and still felt too toasty.

Despite the sticky conditions the tone of the ad hoc committee meeting remained cordial. The committee was formed to deal with the PPL budget crisis. Back on December 5th the library's Board of Trustees voted to eliminate four positions to deal with a shortfall.

Harold Brohinsky, a trustee, chaired the meeting. Sitting with him were trustee Don Moore and also Jamie Parrotte, PPL Administrative Assistant, who recorded the details.

In his opening remarks Brohinsky stressed the purpose of the committee was to listen to alternative budget proposals and comments by the public. The committee would make no decisions but would report back to the Library Board. (The Board of Trustees will meet Tuesday, 12/20/11, also in the PPL second floor conference room at 4:30 PM.)

Two budget proposals were given to the committee. PPL librarian and local AFSCME Vice President Karen Ricketson outlined a plan by the union where cuts could be made without laying off any employees. As she had publicly stated before she said the union was willing to work with the board to avoid jobs being eliminated. She mentioned that eleven grievances filed by the union could be dropped.

Tim Carpenter presented the second proposal. Carpenter is a city councilor who also serves as the liaison between the library and the Common Council. Despite the contentious nature of the budget crisis he has acted like a politician but not in the pejorative sense. He has been trying to bring all sides together -- the board, the Common Council, the union, and the library employees. He's been a voice of reason, one of the few during the situation.

In contrast to the union proposal, Carpenter's plan focused on a four year period, looking beyond 2012. Also trying to avoid staff reduction, he proposed different cuts and also the formation of a grievance committee for the library to save on legal fees.

The meeting was then open to public comments. Four library employees took to the mic, saying both proposals should be considered. Between the two the employees favored Carpenter's four-year plan because it worked towards a more long-term solution.

After the recent upheaval it's obvious employees want stability, not uncertainty, with the library's future. Two employees found it difficult to speak, the stress evident in each one's voice. Maybe the alternative budget proposals can lead to a way to provide stability and cut stress, not staff.

What was refreshing about the meeting was the emphasis by all speakers to compromise and work together.

During previous meetings where the budget crisis was discussed, both Library Board and Common Council, library supporters found their voice and spoke up, breaking what some thought was the cold silence by city reps. Sometimes participants on each side became too warm, getting hot under the collar.

But this evening the theme was trying to find a common ground.

No more extremes.

A theme that everyone -- including the problematic library boiler -- should take to heart.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

ROTA Rocks: Plattsburgh's DIY Youth Center

PLATTSBURGH CITY -- Sat. 12/17/11

Frostbite night. Inside 19 Clinton Street there's heat generation from amps, blast furnace music.

This event: Local bands playing too damn loud to a few young people (and adults), young people not wandering the streets, looking for something to do.

Years ago I approached a city councilor about Plattsburgh starting its own youth center. It was needed. I knew teens who said they weren't into the drug scene but what else was there? Smaller communities in the area like Saranac Lake and Lake Placid responded to the problem by creating hang-outs for their youth. Why not P-burgh? The councilor looked into the possibility, trying to get things in motion.

Time passed. There was some talk, some plans, but nothing came to fruition. Inertia.

But as the years rolled on places opened up where young people could hang around and make some noise. One of the latest is the ROTA Studio and Gallery on Clinton Street with its All Ages -- No Drugs Or Alcohol -- shows. ROTA sometimes serves as a Do It Yourself youth center, no city sponsorship.

And if ROTA and other such venues should disappear? Well, don't bitch about "today's youth" wandering the streets.

Energy needs to be channeled, expressed.

(Note: If the embedded videos below don't work or you want a larger view, use these links:

Friday, December 16, 2011

PPL: Special Meeting Dec. 19th

Pasted below is a copy of an item by library supporter Amy Bonn that she shared via Facebook.

* * *

Dear Plattsburgh Folks Concerned about the Library,

Mr. Lockwood, President of the Board of Trustees, just called to let me know that an Ad Hoc Committee of the Board will be meeting on Monday, December 19th at 4:30 pm in the Library Conference Room to discuss, with the Union, a new budget. All members of the community and welcomed and encouraged to attend this meeting.

On Tuesday, December 20th at 4:30 pm in the Library Conference Room the entire Library Board of Trustees will meet to review and discuss the proposal and feedback from the Union.

Please try and attend these meetings and please share this information with others.



PPL: Mayor Shares His Perspective, Responds To Critics

PLATTSBURGH CITY -- Tues. 12/15/11

At this evening's Common Council meeting Mayor Donald Kasprzak spoke out regarding the controversy over the proposed staff cuts at the Plattsburgh Public Library.

"I have some comments," the mayor opened his remarks, "that I have been withholding for months and months on the library. And you want some answers and I'm going to give you answers and you're not going to like to hear the truth."

He said when he first arrived in City Hall five years ago the city was experiencing financial difficulties. He knew what had to be done but when speaking with management and unions it was obvious to him that not everyone was going to cooperate. In dealing with the city's budget problems, the mayor said he was being represented in various media as someone not willing to listen to people and that wasn't true.

The mayor told Councilor Tim Carpenter, library liaison, that he hoped that Carpenter's endeavor would save jobs. Carpenter had announced that while he couldn't give details to the public at this point, there was an effort going on to prevent the job cuts.

Kazprzak said that it was important to him to save those jobs.

He said he took exception to a statement that appeared in a Press-Republican article that he felt unfairly criticized Library Board member John Prim. Local AFSCME union President Denise Nephew who represents library staff was quoted:

"What does he (Prim) know about running a library? They need to listen to those who have worked there for 30 years and know how to run a library and to the people who care about the library."

(Article: "Library Board to study union offer" 12/15/11)

Kasprzak agreed with a councilor who said the statement "besmirched" John Prim's name and that it didn't recognize the hard work Prim had put in as a board member.

The mayor said that part of the problem with the library involved difficult dealings with the AFSCME president and vice-president. It was his opinion that those two individuals cared more for themselves than the people they represented. He cited the problem of sick time being misused that drove up overtime costs, adding to the budget shortfall.

Kasprzak touched upon the problem of funding sources from the state and grants being cut.

"If I was making decisions over there [at PPL]," he said, "I would forgo state aid right now. 2012 wouldn't have any... If you think, if anybody in the world thinks, New York State in its present fiscal state is going to give more money to the libraries across this state, you're fooling yourself, folks. It's not going to happen."

Even Plattsburgh City, he added, wasn't receiving fiscal aid at the same levels. He recommended dropping the library's hours of operation to forty a week.

Another decision he would make if he could would be not to lay off the four positions requested by the Library Board but instead the employees who have been abusing sick time.

I recorded the video that accompanies this post to document the mayor's comments about the library situation. Unedited, it contains all of his remarks except for his opening statement.

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.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

PPL Budget Crisis: Citizens Speak Out

Former city councilor Stuart Voss addresses the council Thursday evening, recommending that creative means should be explored to deal with the public library's budget shortfall.


City resident Kate Gardner is really upset about the Plattsburgh Public Library budget crisis.

How upset? She told the city Common Council that due to an apparent misappropriation of funds, PPL Director Stan Ransom should resign immediately.

Kate and other library supporters spoke during the open comment period at this evening's council meeting.

On Monday evening the PPL Board of Trustees voted to eliminate four positions at the library due to a budget shortfall. Apparently the problem started three years ago, involving the use of a finite amount of money in the contingency fund for expenses instead of raising the budget.

Suzanne Barton, a full-time PPL clerk whose position is on the chopping block, also spoke to the city council, questioning the supervision by the Board of Trustees. She asked what qualifications a board member had in overseeing a budget. The same point was raised by Kate Gardner during her comments. She told the board she had worked with a library board in another community and it had an accountant providing the needed financial oversight.

Speaking with Kate outside the City Council chamber, she said she had the impression that the Board of Trustees was basically a "rubber stamp board." Basically: What came in was just glanced at, stamped, and passed along.

I asked her for her reaction to what had happened (or didn't happen) at the last meeting of the Board of Trustees.

At that meeting, beside questioning the need for the trustees to go into a private executive session, a certain blogger (ahem) asked the board why the employees whose positions were on the chopping block had to find out through a newspaper article, not at a staff meeting the previous day.

Board President Roland Lockwood and others sat there; no response.

Deer in the headlights.

I had asked why didn't the board spot the budget problem sooner.

Deer in the headlights.

I wanted to hear someone else's POV about what had happened at that meeting, how the board responded.

So I asked Kate Gardner, who was also there, for her observation.

Without any prompting from me, she said: "Deer in the headlights."

There were no such stunned Cervidae* moments at this evening's Common Council meeting. At the beginning of the open comment period Mayor Donald Kasprzak said there certain rules pertaining to the forum. No questions could be asked. Questions about library matters should be directed to the Library Board. The council would only record comments. Councilors sat and listened.

Gee, I wonder if the mayor had heard about a certain blogger who had asked all sorts of pointed questions the other night at the Board of Trustees meeting.

Questions that others are asking. Questions that won't go away.

*Not familiar with that word? Ask a librarian.

Freezing Your Ass Off For Walmart

A poster informs public bus riders of a new moronic policy put in effect by Consumer Square Plaza property owners.

You stand there, waiting for the bus, stomping your feet to keep the blood flowing. You're being pelted by cold rain or stinging sleet or icy snow or a combination of all three. The wind buffets you, sub-zero windchill temps piercing you to the bone. The scarf wrapped around your head is an ineffective shield: your face is going numb. Frostbite?

Winters can be tough here in the North Country.

But it's really tough for disabled and elderly people on limited incomes who don't have their own transportation. They rely on the bus system, Clinton County Public Transportation (CCPT). At some stops there is a shelter to protect them from the elements. At other stops such as the mall they can stay inside a warm building and watch for the bus.

That used to be the option for bus riders who shopped at Consumer Square Plaza. Many people living on low incomes stretch their few dollars at Walmart. They could wait inside at the main Walmart entrance and catch the bus when it made its stop out front.

But not anymore thanks to a new policy. The public bus must now stop in the middle of nowhere in the expansive parking lot, an unsheltered spot between Walmart and Sam's Club. But this policy wasn't handed down by Walmart or CCPT. It's a moronic move by the property owners of Consumer Square who control the parking lot.

The property owners say that the Walmart front entrance must be kept free for emergency vehicles. Understandable up to a point. Of course, leaving bus riders completely outdoors without any shelter -- especially the elderly and the disabled -- could end up with someone falling victim to the wintry weather. It won't be suprising if serious injury or even a death results.

Oh well, if it means extra calls for the ambulance, at least it won't be slowed down by a bus or other vehicles stopped in front of Walmart.

Maybe. I rode the bus yesterday evening and the driver had a problem making a turn because someone with a SUV was parked guess where.

Before I took my trip uptown a woman -- young and healthy -- was also waiting for the bus. She asked me how long it took to get to Walmart. I gave her what I thought was the ETA and then mentioned the new policy.

She decided to shop instead at Target in the mall. Where you can wait comfortably indoors at the rear mall entrance and catch the bus.

She became a satisfied mall, not Consumer Square, shopper.

Gee, I used the term "moronic" to describe the new policy, didn't I?

But things will be better after the six months of winter are over. Then bus riders can stand in the middle of the Consumer Square parking lot on a blazing summer day and suffer heatstroke.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

PPL: What Happened?

At the last PPL Library Board meeting, Denise Nephew, president of the local AFSCME union, addresses the board, saying that the union is willing to work with it in dealing with the library's budget crisis.

During a recent meeting the Plattsburgh Public Library Board of Trustees voted to eliminate three full-time and one part-time positions.

Library supporters plan to rally on, hoping to save the positions. There is a chance in that the final city budget isn't decided until January. Supporters will now be putting pressure on the city council, planning to attend its next meeting Thursday, December 8th, at 5 PM in City Hall.

So how did things end up this way?

Listening to various sources -- with different POVs and interpretations -- there seem to be two main problem areas: oversight and communication.

As one person observed, the Library Board is well-intentioned, wanting to do its best, but it isn't trained in the oversight of municipal department budgets. The budget problem should have been caught three years ago but it was overlooked until recently, snowballing to the point where cuts are needed. This shouldn't happen again as an accountant is now a board member.

PPL employees were aware of problems years ago and tried to communicate their concerns to the Library Board. This resulted in the employees being censured and receiving oral reprimands. Represented by the AFSCME union, the employees are considered by the board to be adversaries.

During the last board meeting AFSCME local union president Denise Nephew stressed the need for cooperation, that the union was willing to work with the board on the budget, finding other areas that could be cut. In the info she was given, she challenged the need for PPL to budget $48,000 for a lawyer to deal with union matters.

After the meeting it was mentioned that in the past a lawyer would represent the library pro bono.

There was also communication problems between the library director, Stan Ransom, and the city council, a misunderstanding about what money was being requested. It seemed the library director wasn't asking for an increase in the budget for the year and that he wanted to even cut part of it. But what he wanted to cut was really part of a requested increase in a certain part of the funds. Unknown to the director Mayor Donald Kasprzak had already removed the increase.

Listening to discussions about the miscellaneous items of the PPL budget, funds coming in from various sources, my head sometimes hurts trying to track it all. If I sat on the PPL Library Board I would need a big bottle of aspirin.

In fact, it seems that the budget information the union has access to isn't the same data used by the city council. It's like dealing with two different budgets at the same time. Both sides aren't on the same page of numbers. Maybe the accountant now on board can sort it out for everyone and help to eliminate headaches, not jobs.

EDITED 12/6/11 7:14 PM -- First sentence: corrected number of positions being considered for cuts, full and part-time. Revised last sentence.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Four For The Chopping Block

Left to right: PPL Director Stan Ransom, Library Board member John Prim - Ward 1, and Library Board president Roland Lockwood listen during the comment portion of the meeting where it was decided to cut four positions at the city library.


Two librarians, one clerk, one page. To be axed.

The Board of Trustees for the Plattsburgh Public Library voted in favor of eliminating four positions (one trustee abstaining) at this evening's meeting.

The meeting was originally scheduled for the Clinton County Personnel Department conference room but due to so many citizens who wanted to attend it was relocated to the larger first floor conference room. Library supporters sat and stood outside the large conference table, using most of the available wall space.

At the beginning of the meeting the motion was made to move into executive session, meaning the public would have to wait outside. A blogger (ahem) in attendance asked why the first part of the meeting was being made private. The answer was given that "personnel issues" were going to be discussed and such discussion couldn't be shared with the public.

Democracy in the dark?

After the executive session was over the public was allowed back in the conference room to offer comments. Everyone who spoke at the podium urged the Library Board not to make any cuts. One person who whose position was going to be eliminated was distraught, almost in tears, telling the board how her husband's pay at his job had been cut and without the income from her own job it would be difficult for her family to make ends meet.

Board member Harold Brohinsky spoke, saying he understood how people were upset with the needs for cuts. But with tough economic times across the country -- less money coming in from federal and state sources -- there were no other options. He added if he wasn't a board member he would be on the other side, being one of the library supporters.

Brohinsky mentioned the movie, "Sophie's Choice," in which a mother had to decide which one of her two children would live, when describing the hard choices the board had to make. He stressed the board hated to take such drastic measures but there were no other options.

Other board members made similar comments about the difficulties they faced.

After the meeting I spoke with Roland Lockwood, President of the Library Board.

I asked him why did the bad news of the cuts came out without too much warning.

He replied that the Library Board was working hard to deal with the budget shortfall and didn't want to create undue concern if it could find an answer in saving the positions. But at the last minute the only option was to cut.

I asked why did the PPL employees and the public had to learn about the possible cuts through the local newspaper.

He replied: "I don't know." He added that when he was employed in private industry that someone would be let go without any warning, just enough time to clear out their desk.

So city government should treat its employees the same way as private industry?

Lockwood paused. "Well, not really..."

PPL: The Crux of the Budget Problem

A display from July 2011 celebrating 110 years of service by the Plattsburgh Public Library.

As mentioned in a previous post employees of the Plattsburgh Public Library recently learned without any heads-up that six positions might be eliminated, the bad news being first heard through the newspaper, not from the Library Board.

So what caused the budget problem leading to the possibility of staff being axed?

There is a document posted on Facebook entitled "Script For Contacting Your Representative About The Budget Problems At Plattsburgh Public Library" that apparently provides the answer. The document is pasted below in its entirety but one sentence stands out:

"Here is the situation with the Plattsburgh Public Library, which is the central library of the Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System--the use of a contingency fund (a finite amount of money) to balance the library budget for the last three years was allowed to happen by the library's Board of Trustees and the City Council and is now leading to a $150,000 shortfall for the budget year 2012."

Supporters of the library are scrambling before the next Library Board meeting that will be dealing with the issue. The meeting will be held today, Monday, Dec. 5th, in the Clinton County Personnel Department conference room, Margaret Street, at 4:30 PM. The timing of the surprise announcement gave supporters less than three days to organize. As one person observed:

"We need to get the word out to as many people as possible to call AND attend the meeting tomorrow! This is very short notice (deliberately so) and we need a LOT of support!"

A rally opposing the cuts will be held before the Library Board meeting.

* * *


I am contacting this office as a constituent of _______. Here is the situation with the Plattsburgh Public Library, which is the central library of the Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System--the use of a contingency fund (a finite amount of money) to balance the library budget for the last three years was allowed to happen by the library's Board of Trustees and the City Council and is now leading to a $150,000 shortfall for the budget year 2012. There is a possibility of massive layoffs (more than 1/3 of the staff) and, potentially, the reduction of hours and the loss of New York State accreditation. I am asking for my representative to show support for local libraries by contacting the Plattsburgh City Council and asking to have the situation addressed in a way that preserves library service for the large number of communities that rely on Plattsburgh Public Library. There is a meeting today (December 5) at 4:30 to address this situation--can your office please contact our City leaders ahead of this meeting as a show of support?

Bill Owens: (518) 563-1406 (Plattsburgh office), (202) 225-4611 (DC office)

Janet Duprey: 518-562-1986 (Plattsburgh office), 518-455-5943 (Albany office)

Betty Little: (518) 561-2430 (Plattsburgh office), (518) 455-2811 (Albany office)

If you are a resident of the City of Plattsburgh, please contact your City Councilor as well:

* * *

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Gharan Burton Exhibit @ ROTA

The ROTA Studio and Gallery held a reception for artist Gharan Burton on Saturday evening. Some of his paintings feature Plattsburgh City scenes: familiar streets, buildings, and monuments treated with either traditional representation or abstract/interpretative views.

Artist Gharan Burton (right) discusses his work with two patrons.

Patrons browse through the works on display, paintings and sculptures.

A young volunteer watches the ROTA front desk.

Saturday, December 03, 2011


The bad news usually comes down through the channels at work: There might be layoffs.

But hearing the bad news initially through a newspaper article has some employees at the Plattsburgh Public Library upset. While they were aware that PPL was facing budget problems, they say they were completely left in the dark about the possible need to cut staff until they read it in a Press-Republican article.

Published online on December 2nd and then in print on December 3rd, the article discussed the retirement plans of PPL Director Stan Ransom and projects being completed at the library. ("City library director to retire" by Joe LoTemplio)

Some readers glancing at the article might not finish reading it, thinking that it was another story of a public servant looking back at his accomplishments before retirement. But towards the end of the piece, under the subhead JOB CUTS POSSIBLE, there is this statement:

"The Library Board is considering cutting six positions: two librarians, two clerks and two pages to make up the $150,000 shortfall."

This newsworthy detail rated its own article, at least a sidebar.

One commenter at the PR website, Natasha237, observed:

"Very sneaky.... Hide the part about cutting 33% of the library staff (and, therefore, services) in the next-to-last paragraph so NO ONE notices and NO ONE attends the personnel meeting on Monday. For shame, Press Republican! That is a CHEAP TACTIC!"

But someone did read the whole article and it didn't take long for the bad news to spread, especially through online channels. Getting the news that way has left some library employees feeling angry and betrayed. I heard the term "underhanded" used to describe how the situation was handled.

As one PPL employee observed online:

"We didn't even have a heads up on this one! We sat in all staff meeting yesterday and there was no mention of 6 of us being axed! We found out by reading the newspaper!"

The Library Board is holding a special meeting about the issue of axing jobs at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 5th, but not at City Hall. The meeting will be held at the Clinton County Personnel Department on Margaret Street in its second-floor conference room.

Library supporters plan to rally before the meeting.