Matthew Leslie

Several months ago Fullerton City Councilmember Jennifer Fitzgerald unexpectedly made the audacious suggestion that the City Council should appoint itself to the five seats on the Fullerton Library Board of Trustees instead of each appointing a constituent to it. Her comments during the recent council meeting on August 7 revealed a possible reason for her April remarks about replacing Library Board members with the council itself.

On August 7 Ms. Fitzgerald was responding to a “Receive and File” report entitled “DISCUSSION ON BUDGET STRATEGIES TO INCREASE STREET INFRASTRUCTURE FUNDING” prepared by the office of the City Manager:

“What I don’t find in this staff report is any kind of, ah, recognition that we can’t do business the way we’ve always done it before. So, the conclusion here is that we have to cut services, and cut employees, and, you know, just the way that you’ve laid everything out here, it looks like you’re going to be telling us that we’ll have to lay off so many fire and police, and so, what I want to look at is doing business differently, and the only, services, the services you point out here, for contracting out are very small. I want to look at, you know, wholesale changes to the way we do business so the city can be sustainable into the future. Our library, for instance, the county runs libraries…do, should be we in the library business?

Like her move to displace members of Library Board with herself and other members of the council, the suggestion that the city shouldn’t operate its own library was left to dangle in the wind, receiving no vocal support from any of the other members of the council present that evening.

Some might argue that turning the century old Fullerton Public Library over to county library system is a valid option to explore in times of fiscal desperation, the kind presided over by Jennifer Fitzgerald during her six years on the Fullerton City Council,  but note that she is responding to the report’s recommendation to cut fire and police personnel by instead suggesting the outsourcing of IT and the library system. Of course, if she really wanted to consider all possibilities, the Fullerton Police Department, whose budget is much higher that that of the library, could be turned over to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to save money. But the last time anyone suggested even getting a bid from OCSD six years ago Fullerton’s police union set up a booth on public property in the city hall parking lot and gave out free hot dogs to rally the public against the idea before flooding the council chambers with its booing and cheering members.

If Jennifer Fitzgerald really wants to outsource Fullerton’s government to save money, how about starting with the biggest source of spending in the city? According to this chart form the city’s adopted 2018-2019 budget, the police and firefighters take up 49% of General Fund expenditures while the library gets just 4%. If she really wants to explore all options to save money, all city departments and services should be on the table, not just those without powerful unions who spend large amounts of money to support or oppose City Council candidates.

Total Expeditures City Budget

Police: and Fire 49%, Library 4%.

Oh, and “we’re getting ready to start a paid parking pilot program, hopefully, if this council votes for it in our downtown,” she concluded, so now you will have to pay to park downtown.

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The Library Ad-Hoc Committee prepares to convene after the meeting was moved to the Hunt Library’s front porch to accommodate an overflow crowd.

Matthew Leslie

The new Library Ad-hoc Committee held its first meeting on July 11 at the Hunt Branch Library. The committee is charged with presenting options to the City Council for the ultimate disposition of the Hunt facility, now closed to the public, and leased out to neighboring Grace Ministries International (GMI), for the sum of $ 1,500.00 per month. Library Director Judy Booth, who serves as an ex-officio member of the Ad-Hoc, led dozens of members of the public on a tour of the historic William Pereira building before announcing that the meeting would have to be moved outside to accommodate the overflow crowd. Chairs, tables, microphones, and speakers were transported to the mid-century modern building’s spacious front porch where the meeting proceeded for hours through the warm summer evening.

The Library Ad-Hoc Committees mission is to ‘determine “what funding might be available to fund the (Hunt Branch Library) property as a Library or other opportunities for use of the property,” according to the meeting’s agenda. The five members of the Ad-Hoc directly appointed by City Council were first charged with the selection of a Chair and Vice Chair before selecting four additional members from a pool of nearly twenty applicants. During a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting, however, applicant and former Fullerton City Council Member Jan Flory suggested reversing these two agenda items so that the additional four members of the Ad-Hoc could be seated before the Chair and Vice Chair elections. After other public comments, all five members of the Ad-Hoc (Peter Beard, Fern Richardson, Michael Williams, Egleth Nunnci, and Barbara Kilponen) voted to adopt Ms. Flory’s suggestion to reverse the order of the committee appointments and officer elections, taking up the former first.

Applicants were invited to introduce themselves to the committee members and respond to questions about their qualifications. In addition to Jan Flory, applicants included Rafael Avila, Scott Bryan (who withdrew his application on the spot), James Cho, Arnel Dino, homeless activist Curtis Gamble, former City Council Member and current NOCCD Board Member Molly McClanahan, Judith Milan, Kristie Prince, former Ladera Vista Principal Randa Schmalfeld, and nearby resident James Wolvert. Several applicants were not present for the meeting.

Ad-Hoc member Fern Richardson questioned applicant Jan Flory about her own role in failing to fund the Hunt as a Library and approving the lease to Grace Ministries during her tenure on the City Council. Jan Flory blamed the decision to “terminate library services” for the Hunt Branch on the economic downturn and the need for funds for the then-newly renovated Main Branch. She characterized the low monthly rental rate of $ 1,500.00 charged to Grace Ministries per month lease that she herself voted to approve as “shameful,” but explained that she supported it at the time because it was only supposed to last eighteen months, and that a plan was supposed to have been formulated for the Hunt’s future.

Each Ad-Hoc member rated a full list of applicants, with Library Director Booth serving as the de facto facilitator and elections committee. One audience member suggested that any applicant not present should not be considered for the position, but another noted that the date of the committee’s first meeting had not been advertised enough in advance for prospective members to alter prior commitments. The committee members agreed to consider all applicants, present or not. Ultimately, the four additional members selected by the committee were Jan Flory, Molly McClanahan, who was not present at the meeting, Kristie Prince, and Randa Schmalfeld.

Selection of a Chair and Vice-Chair ended in a deadlocked vote with four members supporting Peter Beard and four supporting Randa Schmalfeld. The eight present members agreed to proceed with the meeting with Peter Beard acting as Chair for the night, but postpone the decision on a permanent Chair and Vice-Chair until the next meeting, when a ninth member would be expected to break the tie.

The committee then addressed the scope of work it would perform, with respect to its City Council mandate, requesting materials and information for consideration at least three days in advance of their next meeting. Specifically, the committee directed the library staff to provide a spreadsheet and analysis of the projected costs to operate the Hunt once again as a library, including the estimated costs to update the facility to meet current requirements for publicly accessible buildings. Additionally, Committee Member Schmalfeld requested a detailed map of the property to help define which parts of it actually constitute the grounds of the Hunt with respect to the adjacent dog park surrounding tracts. Jan Flory went so far as to request all materials collected by SavetheHunt.com, a community group dedicated to keeping the facility in the public realm. The Ad-Hoc also committed to exploring other “beneficial uses of the building and grounds,” as well as possible funding sources for such uses.

The Library Ad-Hoc Committee will next meet at 5:30 p.m., Monday, August 6 at the Conference Center Room of the Main Library, located at 353 W. Commonwealth Ave.

Hunt Flyer color

Matthew Leslie

Save the Hunt invites you to Hunt 101, a free presentation about the past, present, and future of the Hunt Branch Library.

Monday, June 25, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Orangethorpe United Methodist Church – Chapel Hall, 2531 W. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton, CA 92833 (Near the northwest corner of Gilbert and Orangethorpe).

Featured speakers will provide a history of the facility, its architectural significance, and place in the community for over fifty years.

This event is organized by concerned community members, and is not affiliated with either the City of Fullerton or the Fullerton Public Library.

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