Thursday, December 18, 2008

Double the Millage

I noticed something in Library Journal last March that was glossed over by the local press:
While NOPL’s budget was about $18.45 per capita in 2004, at the 16th percentile of peer libraries, the library’s per capita budget would be the equivalent (in current dollars) of $40.53 per capita, thus placing it in the upper quartile of its peers. Personnel costs would more than double to add service and hours for a population estimated by 2030 to remain 16% of pre-Katrina figures.

The plan estimates a capital budget of nearly $200 million in current dollars, or $277 million over time. Where to get the capital funds? Mayfield was optimistic, saying that federal and state funds had not been tapped, nor had local and national foundations. The city’s economy has been growing, and Mayfield said “we think we have justification to double the millage.”

I'd guess that the above should read that population by 2030 is expected to remain 16% below pre-Katrina figures (still seems odd), but that last item didn't appear in the Picayune. At the time, I noticed something that I thought was just another case of city government inflating job titles and salary at the top while cutting staff at the bottom. I was wrong:
But soon it became clear to Schremser that she was being marginalized, left out of key decisions. In March, the board named Trigs to the new position of chief operating officer.

For those of you who read the paper online, there's a sidebar in the print edition that includes this item:
March 6, 2008: Saying that consultants from Library Development Solutions recommended it in a report not released to the public, board appoints Rica Trigs, 36, a non-librarian and former assistant to mayor Marc Morial, to the new position of chief operating officer. Job calls for her share authority with library director.

I know that nobody wants to criticize Irvin Mayfield; I don't want to criticize Irvin Mayfield. However, he's not Superman, but he seems to be busier than Ed Blakely:
Preparing "All the Saints" is not the only endeavor on the multitasking Mayfield's mind these days. He is a member of numerous boards, including the New Orleans Public Library 's. This summer, he was named artistic director for the acclaimed Minnesota Orchestra's "Jazz at Orchestra Hall" series.

It's time for other people to start asking questions. Chairman of one board that's become very important, newly appointed member of what may be the most important board in the city's recovery, numerous other activities and a hectic travel schedule -- my guess would be that Mayfield's a very smart, well-intentioned guy, but self-confident enough and busy enough to be manipulated by more political types. My guess could be totally wrong, but Mayfield's taken on enough responsibility to invite the scrutiny.

I'm disappointed in the Library Journal for writing such an clumsy and error filled passage. I went to the link, the quote is accurate. In context I couldn't figure out exactly what they were saying.

As for Mr. Mayfield, he seem busier than a one armed paper hanger. There must be someone else out there willing to serve to take the load off his shoulders, unless he's planning torun for Mayor.
The population statement had the most obvious error, but that might have been the least important. Some definition of peer libraries is needed. For total expenditures, the relevant comparison would be with cities with a similar population, but I have no idea what the relevant comparison would be for per capita expenditures. Library systems of other southern cities? Cities with similar per capita incomes? Some of the dollar figures seem straight forward enough, some not so much, but, it does seem clear that the plan calls for a drastic increase in real per capita spending -- after the new buildings are built. There's too much talk about raising the money to build this impressive new system, no talk at all of the city will be able to maintain it.

I can only guess that Nagin, Trigs, Ike Spears, or somebody is stroking Mayfield's ego. I can't believe he'd be stupid enough to be the front man for the scam if he were actually in on it.
"Peer library" is undefined in the NOPL's press release. The report states that the increased operating costs are primarily personnel costs, nothing about increased maintenance costs for these new buildings.
"Mayfield's taken on enough responsibility to invite the scrutiny."

It leads one to speculate about his future political ambitions.
The more I think about it, the more tempted I am to blast Mayfield the way I would a politician. I won't go that far because I doubt he has any knowledge of anything corrupt. Still, he's right about one thing, the library board is now a very important board. I'd never dream of taking positions on both the library board and NORA, and I don't have a hectic travel schedule. He's not just on both boards, he's the hands-on chairman of one. I also noticed that his op-ed piece doesn't claim he was misquoted when he called Shremser "out to lunch," so I can only assume that he doesn't realize how unprofessional that sounds -- or maybe he realized it too late, and he's doing the right thing by not going into it. He does seem to be acting like a politician by taking credit for projects that have been underway since Katrina, some pre-Katrina.

I've been too busy for any long essay blog posts, but I had been planning a post about the library system as an example of what's wrong with the recovery and as a cause of concern in and of itself. We don't need visionaries (it was absurd for Elie to call him a reformer), we practical problem solvers. Now the whole thing is starting to remind of the garbage collection boondoggle -- too much attention on side issues, not enough attention to whether we can afford millions of dollars for somebody's idea of "world-class" service.

From now on, when I hear the phrase world class..., I release the safety on my Browning. (not paraphrasing Hermann Göring)
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