Library unveils 5-year plan despite ongoing lawsuit

Library unveils 5-year plan despite ongoing lawsuit
The city of Escondido had unsuccessfully attempted to dismiss the case through a "demurrer" on Dec. 19, 2017, accepting the facts of the case . Courtesy photo

ESCONDIDO — The fight over the future of the Escondido Public Library’s proposal to outsource library functions and staffing to the company Library Systems & Services ended months ago in the eyes of many when the City Council voted 4-1 to approve the proposal.

But the release of a new five-year plan published by the Escondido Public Library — “Strategic Plan 2018–2022: Innovative Library Services for a Growing Community” — serves as a fresh reminder that an ongoing court battle could determine the future of the library.

The Strategic Plan 2018-2022 was mandated under the newly minted contractual relationship with Library Systems & Services, a Maryland-based company that was met with strong opposition in the weeks leading up to the City Council’s fateful vote.

The newly-released plan explained which services the library will emphasize in the coming years. The report shared the results of a survey distributed to both users and non-users of the library about preferred programs and services and included resident’s quotes given to the library during eight rounds of focus groups.

“To meet changing needs and make the most of its location in the heart of Escondido, EPL will focus on closer community connections,” the report reads, explaining the library’s goals in the coming years. “From fresh, inviting surroundings to programs that make life more interesting to books, electronic materials and technology that expand horizons, EPL will support a strong Escondido.”

The document also says the library intends to do more marketing, further optimize its email outreach efforts, develop a partnership with the California Center for the Arts, be a hub for community meetings and offer more programming to bring community members into the library. That’s the short version of the list.

“Listening to the priorities of our community, we will use this Plan to continue offering great customer service, resources, and community outreach with measurable results,” Patricia Crosby, director of the Escondido Public Library, said via email. “Educating the community that we exist, that we are relevant to their lives, and on all of the resources and services we offer will be a priority.”

Crosby, though the director of the library, officially works for Library Systems & Services. It’s a job she began in January, just as the court case was heating up. And that’s where the ongoing lawsuit comes into play.

In response to a question about how the ongoing lawsuit could impact Library Systems & Services’ plans going forward, Joanna Axelrod, city director of communications and community services, pointed to the city’s motion for summary judgment to dismiss the case. Filed on July 26, a hearing on that motion is set to take place on Oct. 19 at the Vista Superior Court location.

The lawsuit was originally filed last November by Roy and Mary Garrett, two residents of Escondido since 1972 who are active members of the grassroots group Save Our Escondido Library. While offering myriad legal reasons as to why the case should be decided via summary judgment by the judge for the case, the city of Escondido wrote in its Motion for Summary Judgement that it should also be dismissed because it believes the Garretts do not have standing to sue.

The Garrett’s “are not claiming a curtailment of rights personal to them, nor do they have a financial interest in the implementation” of the agreement between the city of Escondido and Library Systems & Services “other than their asserted basis for standing as two City taxpayers and residents in a city of over 150,000 residents,” the city of Escondido argued. The city went on to say the “general public elected the City Council that passed the Resolution (creating the partnership), which is the same body … that exercises its discretion in the appropriation of the funds necessary to operate the Library.”

The city of Escondido had previously attempted to dismiss the case through a “demurrer” on Dec. 19, 2017, a legal position that accepts the facts of the case but acknowledges they are legally insufficient to move forward. But the demurrer failed, with Judge Earl Maas ruling on April 6 that the legal case made by the plaintiffs to date warrants the case proceeding. The plaintiffs had also previously attempted to halt the case by filing a motion for a temporary restraining order and injunction, which also failed.

“We expect the court will enforce the law, order the offensive resolution dissolved, and restore the public library to the management responsibility of the Board of Trustees” of the Escondido Public Library, Alan Geraci, the attorney representing Roy and Mary Garrett said via email.

Geraci also stated that he believes a deeper issue, beyond the status of the Escondido Public Library system itself, is at play for the case.

“We fight this lawsuit to defend our constitutional ‘commons,’” explained Geraci. “That is, everything that belongs to all of us, and the many ways we work together to use these assets to build a better society. Our public library is such an institution and must be protected against the slippery slope of losing such commons to the perversion of privatization.”

If the motion for summary judgment made by the city of Escondido does not prevail, and the case does not settle between the two sides before now and then, the trial commencement date is set for Feb. 22, 2019.

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