TELLURIDE – In the face of ongoing criticism for its decision to close the Wilkinson Public Library on Sundays, the San Miguel Library Board of Trustees is reaching out to the Telluride community over three weeks with a series of public forums, focus groups and a survey -- all aimed at learning which library services library patrons value most.
At a cost of $4,000, the trustees have hired an independent consultant, Hilary Taylor of Hilary Taylor Consulting, to conduct the public outreach initiative, which began on Monday, July 15. Starting then, the survey will be available for a three-week period for residents to participate in, either online at the Wilkinson Public Library’s website (telluridelibrary.org) or in person at the library. Taylor will also be soliciting public comment through several focus groups and will be holding four public forums to gather input as well.
“I am totally on track to post the survey online,” Taylor said at Thursday’s library board meeting in Telluride. “I am completely independent. If it's the survey or me finding you in the library, I’ll be the one asking if I could have a couple of minutes of your time for some questions.”
Taylor said she intends to reach as many different demographics as she can to get well-rounded information.
The public outreach is in response to public criticism the trustees’ have received since January when the board made the decision to close the library on Sundays. Like other government entities in San Miguel County, the library district faces sharply reduced tax revenues keyed to property values that declined between 2009 and 2012.
The fiscal plan adopted by the trustees for 2013 includes staying open 61 hours a week despite the Sunday closure, and avoiding layoffs. Through staff attrition, the library is ahead of its goal of reducing staff by 80 hours a week by the end of 2013. The board has said that the reduction in staff is directly related to the Sunday closure, because the library can more efficiently manage a smaller staff over six days than it can over seven days, with fewer disruptions to services on the six days it is open.
“Everything we do in 2013 is in preparation for the huge revenue fall-out in 2014,” Library Director Barbara Brattin said at the time the Sunday closures were announced. “Whatever we can save now will minimize the impact of 2014.”
Critics of the decision to close on Sundays have argued that library administrators, specifically including Brattin, are paid too much.
“There is this drama going on about tax revenues,” Tom Hutchison said at Thursday’s meeting. “The revenues are the same as they were in 2007 when the cost of employees was a million dollars. Next year that's going to cost a million-five.” Hutchison called the situation a “pay party.”
Dylan Brooks told the trustees he understands the budget pain they are feeling but closing Sundays at the library is a loss for the community.
“I want to express my appreciation for this board,” Brooks said. “This board and this staff have done a fabulous job in this library. To have this as a resource for the community is a huge benefit – it’s one of the reasons why I raise my children here. I am here to let you know we sincerely miss having it open on Sunday. I trust your professionalism in making this a reality. As far as all the other negative comments, I feel your pain. It’s part of being a head of an organization.”
Trustee John Wontrobski said that depending on what the board learns from the public outreach initiative, the trustees could consider reopening the library on Sundays. But the budget shortfall would have to be made up somewhere else.
“If Sunday is a value, is it something you are willing to give something else up for?” Wontrobski asked. “We intend to ask, ‘Do you want the library open on Sunday, and if you do are you willing to lose something somewhere else?’”
Despite the trustees plans to conduct a public outreach effort prior to consideration of another round of budget cuts, the most outspoken critics of the earlier decision to close on Sundays are apparently unmollified.
“It is a farce,” Don Lachowski said. “I have had 40 years experience in market research, good market research, and when I see this I know its eyewash. To do this survey is going to make it look like something’s going on. Save the four thousand bucks and vote with your feet. I cannot stand still and see this farce going on.”
Trustee Seth Cagin responded.
“The board was severely criticized in making the decision for 2013 for not doing enough public outreach. Now you are criticizing us for public outreach,” Cagin said. “The problem the board faces is that we’ve already stopped doing the things that aren’t popular. Everything the library does is popular.” Responding to Lachowski’s assertion that the board should decide what to cut based on usage statistics, Cagin said, “Sunday visitation numbers were half of all other days of the week. Those are compelling numbers and that’s why the board decided to close on Sundays.”
Board President Judy Thompson said she was encouraged that Thursday’s meeting was so well attended by members of the public and that she hopes the public will participate in the upcoming survey, focus groups and scheduled public forums.
The first public forum is scheduled for Tuesday, July 16, from 12-1 p.m. Forums will then be held on Monday, July 29, from 6-7 p.m.; Wednesday, July 31, from 8-9 a.m.; and on Saturday, Aug. 3, from 3-4 p.m. All public forums will be held in the Wilkinson Public Library’s Program Room.
‘I Want to Do the Job I Was Hired to Do’
During Thursday’s meeting, Taylor took the opportunity to “set the record straight” on some “personal attacks” that several citizens, including Eileen McGinley, were alleged to have made since she was retained by the trustees at a special board meeting on June 25 to conduct the public outreach.
According to Taylor, McGinley found a website called Slideshare that contained information about Taylor, including a statement that she was the founder and owner of a small TV station.
Taylor said the information on that website was false and that she did not know how that information was put there. It has since been changed, she said.
Besides that online search, Taylor said that McGinley went a step further and contacted her former employer at the Telluride Ski and Golf Co., checking her references.
“McGinley posed as an employer to check the references on Hilary Taylor as a potential employee for the library,” Taylor said. “She had no right to do that. My references are not public information.”
Taylor went on to say that she’s been “harassed through email by Ms. McGinley” asking for information.
“I will not be the library’s cover,” she said. “I am their independent consultant. I want to do the job I am hired to do.”
An email from Taylor’s former supervisor at Telski to the board of trustees stated that McGinley made the phone call posing as an employer.
“Eileen had left a voicemail stating that she was checking on references for a potential employee,” Noah Sheedy’s email states. Sheedy is the director of the ski and snowboard school. “…My apprehension turned into full blown distrust when I called Eileen back and she proceeded to say Hilary was a potential employee and that she (Eileen) wanted to know if Hilary was a past Ski and Snowboard School Director. My legal instinct kicked in, thankfully, and I did not disclose any employment history with Eileen.”
Sheedy went on to write that the email to the trustees was to “inform you that Ms. McGinley is actively calling Hilary’s past employers acting as a library employee…”
On Friday, McGinley denied the claim that she posed as an employee of the library.
“That’s an outright lie,” McGinley said. “I am a taxpayer and these are public funds. That’s ridiculous. I did call to check on one of her people that she claimed for reference. I never said I was a library trustee.”
McGinley said information requests to Brattin and the trustees about Taylor garnered an insufficient response and that’s why she was checking her references.
“I am not out to get Hilary,” McGinley said. “I am out to get a good survey. That’s all. Doing a survey is a very specific kind of job and her resume indicated no experience in doing them.”
Board Seeking Applicants for Trustee Vacancy
Following the resignation of Trustee Teresa Westman following a library board meeting on June 13, Thompson said on Thursday that the board is seeking applicants to fill the seat and that the application deadline has been extended by the San Miguel County Commissioners for another two weeks.
So far two people have submitted applications. Applicants must reside within the San Miguel County Public Library District No.1. The new appointee will serve until Dec. 31, 2014.
A full position description is available at telluridelibrary.org or at the first floor service desk of the library, 100 West Pacific Ave, Telluride.
To be considered, please submit a letter of interest to the San Miguel County Board of Commissioners, 333 W Colorado Ave, 2nd and 3rd Floors, Telluride, CO 81435.
Candidates will be invited to interviews by the Wilkinson Public Library Board and the San Miguel County Commissioners. While the library board may make a recommendation, the appointment will be made by the San Miguel County Board of Commissioners.
For more information, contact Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: Cagin is Publisher of The Watch Newspaper. He did not participate in the reporting or editing of this story.