Saturday, June 20, 2009

Municipality Of Anchorage Embarrasses Itself Again, Cuts Library Service To Four Days Per Week: So Much For Anchorage Being A "World-Class" City

Under the leadership of Matt Claman, arguably the most incompetent mayor in recent city history, Anchorage has repeatedly embarrassed itself before its residents and even the whole state of Alaska. The state's number one population and economic center can't even keep its library system running efficiently.

The Anchorage Daily News reports that the operating hours of all facilities of the Anchorage Municipal Library System (MLS) are being cut in the wake of a new labor contract that mandates 56 hours of unpaid furloughs for library workers. From July 6th through September 27th, the main Loussac Library and all the branches will be open only on Tuesday through Friday. Previously the Loussac was open every day and the branches were also open on Saturdays. In addition, the MLS also is canceling three of its summer-reading program events.

Library director Karen Keller explained the situation. First, the library has 104 employees, counting part-timers, covered by the new contract. They must work 4,903 fewer hours during the July-September furlough period. And developing a furlough schedule was quite complicated. "We tried all kinds of scenarios. We needed to manage service interruptions to our public with as little confusion as possible and very importantly we had to try and mitigate the hardship for library staff who must take a pay reduction. We also had to take into account normal schedule adjustments made for employees on vacation, jury duty or medical leave. And we wanted to get this addressed as quickly as possible, before the school year was in full swing", said Keller.

More details are explained in the library's own press release. This not only affects the Loussac Library, but also the four branch libraries in Muldoon, Samson-Dimond, Eagle River, and Girdwood. The resultant hours of operation for each branch are posted HERE.

What's wrong with this decision? Two things. First, you'll note that all five branches are closed on the same days. This is absolutely stupid; there is no reason why one of the three branches located in the Anchorage Bowl (Loussac, Muldoon, Dimond) couldn't have been tasked to open on Saturday and Monday, at the very least, and close on two different days to make up for it.

Second, all five branches of the library system were equally considered. This is bogus because the Loussac Library, being the main library, is the FLAGSHIP library. In a situation like this, you never curtail operations at the main branch while leaving satellite branches open. A better decision would have been to close the Muldoon and/or Dimond Branches altogether during this period, while leaving the Loussac Library open during its normal hours to accommodate the resultant increased demand.

Unfortunately, taxophobic Anchorage voters did NOT send an unequivocal message of support for our library system during the April 7th, 2009 municipal election. They voted down Proposition 5, which would have permitted a series of capital improvements on our public library facilities; in fact, 58 percent voted No. It's no wonder the Mayor and the Assembly decided the library could be one of the first services placed upon the sacrificial altar; we sent an electoral message that we didn't care about it.

Quite frankly, it has become painfully embarrassing to listen to some of these crybaby property owners, spurred on by demagogues such as Dan Fagan, chronically bitching about their property taxes in a state that assesses NO state sales tax, NO state income tax, and even pays qualified residents an annual Permanent Fund Dividend. Yet these same people won't get behind a municipal sales tax scheme that would effect a dollar-for-dollar reduction in property taxes and reduce their burden. We cannot continue to have it both ways. City services don't come for free.

In partial defense of Matt Claman, many of the problems he confronted were inherited from Alaska's Boy Wonder Senator Mark Begich, who burdened the city with huge labor contracts as one of his last official mayoral acts before he ran off to Washington, leaving us to clean up his mess. But Claman has shown his deficiencies in judgment and political skills, allowing a divisive gay rights ordinance to trigger a full-blown local culture war and gobble up valuable Assembly time, as well as permitting a simple trip to a mayoral conference to become grist for Dan Fagan's propaganda mill. We look forward to July 1st, when we once again can enjoy the services of a professional mayor who knows how to run a city.

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