Huntington Beach City Council Votes To Issue Library Services RFP. Good For Them.

By:OC Independent Editorial

Last night, a majority of the Huntington Beach City Council voted to authorize a Request for Proposals to operate the city’s library system. They did so in the face of an pressure campaign organized by public employee unions and progressive activists that has flooded the public square with disinformation and hysteria.

Good for them.

The vote broke down along predictable lines: the conservative majority – Mayor Gracey Van Der Mark, Mayor Pro Tem Pat Burns, and Councilmen Tony Strickland and Casey McKeon – in favor of soliciting proposals, and liberal councilmembers Dan Kalmick, Natalie Moser and Rhonda Bolton against.

It’s important to understand what is and isn’t going on here. Opponents of the RFP characterize it as “privatization” as does their echo chamber at the Voice of OC. They wield “privatization” like a talisman, trying to panic Huntington Beach residents into thinking the council majority wants to sell the library.

That is a false characterization. Privatizing means to literally sell a public asset or service. That’s not what this is. All the council majority did was authorize staff to solicit proposals for operating the city’s library system. In the event the council awards such a contract. The Huntington Beach Public Library would remain the Huntington Beach Public Library. It would be continue to be owned by the city.

Huntington Beach has nothing to lose and potentially much to gain through a competitive RFP process.

The focus has been on LS & S, private company that contracts with local governments to operate their library systems. Municipalities – especially newer ones – contract out the operation of public services all the time because it typically allows them to provide the same or better level of service at a similar or lower cost.

Waste hauling is a more vital and necessary municipal service and no one bats an eyelash that cities typically contract it out to private companies that – horrors! – earn a profit. The lifeguards at county beaches are not county employees: they work for OC Lifeguards, a private company with whom OC Parks contracts. The county also contracts out other services at county beaches. Does that mean county beaches have been “privatized” and that the county is “putting profit first”? Of course not. This weird allergy to the profit-motive on the part of progressive activists is nonsensical and presumes money plays no motivating role for local governments, public employees or government unions.

Libraries – despite opponents efforts to endow them with a semi-sacred aura and treat the librarian profession as if it were a mystical priesthood – are no different. Public libraries are places where people have access to free books, music, newspapers, magazines and meeting spaces – regardless of whether they are staffed by city’s employees or the contractor’s employees.

Most of the speakers during public comments had been spun up on disinformation, misunderstanding and plain old hostility to the conservative council majority. They jumped to conclusions, turned assumptions into facts and generally acted as if merely soliciting proposals was tantamount to razing the library and plunging the children of Huntington Beach in a new Dark Age of ignorance and superstition.

One of the few reasonable people was a woman named Ann Palmer. Rather than joining the excitable crowd’s figurative rending of garments and gnashing of teeth, she used a brief PowerPoint to make perfectly reasonable points:

  • Issuing an RFP was outsourcing, not privatization.
  • If library operations are outsourced, it is based on a contract, which can be selective and is scalable
  • It maintains city ownership and control of the library
  • The RFP and contract can lay down criteria regarding staffing and facilities
  • Outsourcing offers accountability, agility and cost savings.
  • Sometimes it’s necessary for cities to contract out for services – like food services and tech support.

Ms. Palmer also counseled exploring the matter “with caution”:

  • Can the city resolve the issues?
  • Do the vendors “reflect Huntington Beach values”?
  • Will there be community input?

All valid, normal concerns offered in a reasonable manner – unlike the general hysteria and apocalyptic rhetoric exhibited by most of the public speakers.

LS & S won’t necessarily by the only bidder. The city ought to solicit a bid from others, including the County of Orange, which operates the libraries of a number of Orange County cities. Furthermore, nothing is stopping the city’s Community & Library Services Department from submitting it’s own bid.

Indeed, in a truly competitive bid process involving LS & S, the County of Orange and the city’s library department, the big winners are city taxpayers – who will end up getting more bang for the library buck.

Councilman Casey McKeon had it exactly right during his comments:

“What’s wrong with issuing an RFP, which is a request for proposals. That’s the first step. What’s wrong with issuing an RFP to obtain all the facts and answers before people rush to judgment about what they think the facts are? Hypothetically speaking, if a company oversaw operations of any department in the city, which created cost saving cost savings, kept the current employees pay the same and kept and possibly increase the services and programs provided would anyone have an issue with that? We should do everything we can to not raise taxes in order to pay for our expenses.”

Taxpayer value isn’t top of mind for the unions spearheading opposition to even issuing an RFP in the first place. Their opposition emanates from an understandable place: they don’t want to lose dues-paying members. Remember, unions are in the membership business.

If LS & S wins the RFP, Huntington Beach library employees would become LSSI employees (if that is what they choose) – and it that happens, then the city employee unions (like the Orange County Employees Association’s Huntington Beach affiliate) to whom they currently pay dues money will cease paying dues money.

At the end of the day, the primary concern of city government is providing key services to the public efficiently and at the lowest possible cost. Whether the Huntington Beach library system is staffed by public employees or the employees of a private contractor should be, at best, a secondary consideration.

Councilmembers Kalmick, Moser and Bolton, along with the OCEA and their residents they have spun up, would be better served by taking a deep breath and waiting until an actual RFP has been developed, issued and proposals have been received.


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The OC Independent is dedicated to providing factual, informative reporting on Orange County government, politics, education and quality of life issues such as homelessness and access to housing. We seek to illuminate aspects of issues, movements and trends that receive little or no attention from more established, mainstream outlets. Our editorial philosophy is grounded in the principles of the American Founding: limited government, federalism, the separation of powers and equality before the law as indispensable to securing our liberties. The opinions and stances articulated in OC Independent editorials flow from those principles, and are grounded in facts.