Wednesday, March 26, 2008

the other side of the story

I recently posted a link to a Times Colonist article which essentially explains that the library workers are locked out. It was not an endorsement of the paper's opinion (which is what someone thought, I guess, though why would I side against the workers?), but I was somewhat chastised in an anonymous comment by someone, saying that I needed to look at the CUPE 410 website and Monday magazine for a worker-friendly side of the story, so without further ado:

And from Monday Magazine:


By Jason Youmans, Mar 5, 2008

Further challenges face GVPL

With most residents still scratching their heads over the chasm that has developed between the region’s library workers union and its employer, the Greater Victoria Public Library board of trustees, local book lovers would do well to note that serious challenges lie ahead for the region’s library system.

The Library Operating Agreement that sets the cost-sharing and municipal representation formula for the GVPL board—effectively the library’s constitution—is set to expire in December 2008. If a new operating agreement is not reached within six months of the old agreement’s expiration, the entire library system dissolves.

“The current library system would cease to exist and assets would be distributed proportionally to the 10 municipalities,” GVPL board chair Chris Graham told Monday in a recent interview.

This, according to Graham, would be “cataclysmic” for the library system.

“It would be a very bad thing. It would be incredibly chaotic,” he says, with assets divided among area branches, “probably by tonnage.” Municipalities with GVPL branches in their boundaries own the buildings, but not the administrative structures that comprise the library’s functional foundations.

While operating agreements have historically been ratified before the clock ran out, the current staff lockout by the Greater Victoria Labour Relations Association has added an unwanted dimension to the process of formulating a new operating agreement, making member municipalities more nervous than usual about the viability of the library system.

“It’s a really bad time to be doing this,” says Graham, who also represents Central Saanich taxpayers on the board.

Board vice chair and Saanich citizen board appointee Paul Gerrard deferred Monday’s questions to Graham, allowing simply that, “The only thing I will say is that its difficult for everyone in the present situation to try to operate as normal.”

The problem, say those experienced in local library politics, is that provincial legislation does not allow for the type of system that has developed in Victoria over time, and the current 21-member board structure has grown too unwieldy to be effective.

“The best solution would be to scrap the whole thing and start over,” past GVPL board chair Neil Williams told Monday.

“I think when it is this big it becomes a debating forum rather than an operating forum,” says Oak Bay municipal councillor Nils Jensen, who sat on the GVPL operating agreement committee during his term on the board from 2002 to 2005. The operating agreement struck during Jensen’s tenure was established for only three years, rather than the traditional five-year period, mostly in the hope the province would amend its Library Act to recognize Victoria’s unique situation.

The GVPL system operates in a grey area between the two types of library systems allowed under the provincial act. It is neither a municipal library system in the strict definition, nor is it a conventional regional system as occurs north of the Malahat.

Under the terms of a municipal system, individual municipalities are solely responsible for the administration of the branches within their jurisdiction, with their own boards comprised of elected and appointed citizen representatives. In the capital region however, Victoria remains the administrative hub for each municipality’s branch(es), with member municipalities fielding a delegation of representatives to the what is effectively a regional board.

“[The operating agreement] is really a contract that says you will join [Victoria] in running the GVPL,” says Jensen.

Conversely, a regional library system would have at its centre a board of trustees solely comprised of elected representatives with the power to levy taxes to finance the regional system—similar to the way the CRD levies region-wide fees. The current GVPL board does not possess taxing authority and must go cap-in-hand to each member municipality when it comes time to ratify the annual budget.

“Since nobody—except Victoria—actually owns the system, it is a relatively easy target for cost-cutting,” says Williams, echoing the oft-heard criticism of the system’s current structure that financial accountability proves difficult.

“Every municipality likes to build new branches, but nobody likes to pay for them,” Williams adds.

A provisional operating agreement is currently undergoing legal review by the GVPL board’s lawyers before it is taken to the participating municipalities.

The new operating agreement calls for the current 21-member board to be scaled back to 17 members, a move Graham says approximates the formula used to determine representation around the CRD board table, with each member municipality guaranteed one representative, and subsequent representatives added for every 25,000 people in a given municipality.

“There’s really no rationale for why each municipality gets the number of representatives they do [under the current system],” says Graham.

Under the new agreement Saanich, View Royal, Colwood, Central Saanich and Metchosin would maintain their current numbers, while Victoria, Esquimalt, Oak Bay, Langford and the Highlands would each lose one.

According to a GVPL dispatch released in January, the board hopes its municipal partners will sign off on the new agreement by June.

But with 2008 off to a rocky start for the region’s library, even that could be a tall order.

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