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North County Report: Escondido Weighs Privatizing the Library

Ahead of a vote by the Escondido City Council on Wednesday, City Manager Jeff Epp produced a report urging Council members to outsource operations at the city’s library, the Union-Tribune reports.

Epp argues that the city will save money in pension obligations and annual operating costs, could expand library hours and better position itself to construct a new library. He also counters arguments made by opponents to privatizing the library and defends the proposed contractor’s practices.

This week, some Escondido residents received a call touting the benefits of privatizing the library and asking whether they supported the plans. That poll was paid for by Mayor Sam Abed, according to the U-T.

In the report, Epp says the city could save about $400,000 per year in operating costs if it contracts management of the library to Library Systems and Services Inc. He says the savings would help the city give the image that it makes prudent decisions if it sought voter support for a bond initiative to pay for a new library, and the savings could even be applied toward that debt.

One popular criticism of the plan to privatize the library is that volunteers and the public wouldn’t feel any affinity with the new operators, so they wouldn’t feel compelled to offer their time and money to help a private company, and wouldn’t support a bond measure for a new library.

Epp says it’s “ironic” that a volunteer who helps the library and its patrons would suddenly abandon the “same needy patrons simply in protest of this proposed decision.”

He also criticizes the use of the word “privatize” in describing the plan, and compares it to other outsourced services, like management of the California Center for the Arts, garbage collection and street paving.

The American Library Association, a professional group for librarians, makes a distinction between outsourcing some services – like running payroll, or rebinding books – and broadly privatizing the whole library.

Whatever you want to call it, the group comes down firmly against plans like the one Epp proposes.

The only Council member to make a firm statement on the proposal is Councilwoman Olga Diaz, who opposes it. (Disclaimer: Diaz sits on Voice of San Diego’s board of directors.)

Poway Unified Still Vulnerable to Fraud, Abuse

Nearly a year after firing Superintendent John Collins, the Poway Unified School District is still vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse, Ashly McGlone reports.

That assessment comes from a report that was just made public, which said an internal auditor and a whistleblower hotline could help prevent future abuses, and noted the district’s lack of consequences for people who violate its policies.

McGlone writes:

Among the issues flagged: tracking vacation time and improper use of credit cards and the revolving cash fund, generally reserved for small or emergency payments. Collins is accused of exploiting some of the same deficiencies to enrich himself, according to his July 2016 termination documents and the district’s civil lawsuit against him. Leave time and credit cards are also at the center of the criminal case against Collins.

One startling finding identified 53 internal control deficiencies – gaps in the policies surrounding vacation time reporting, cash handling and reimbursement.

The report identified several ways to improve the policies, but the board isn’t commenting on the findings just yet. The district has already moved to stem off future issues with sick time and vacation accrual, and eliminated the controversial “me-too” pay raises that were part of Collin’s contract, for future administrators.

Solutions for Change CEO: ‘Housing First’ Punishes Providers

Solutions for Change, a Vista nonprofit that works with homeless families, is still speaking out about the so-called “housing first” policy favored by the federal government.

In the latest installment of the fight, Solution for Change’s Chris Megison responded to a Union-Tribune op-ed touting housing first written by homeless advocate Michael McConnell.

The housing first model requiring providers to take in clients without conditions on their residency, if the provider wants to receive federal funds. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has made this a condition of receiving federal funds in recent years.

Megison says that approach amounts to punishing providers for their method, instead of focusing on their results.

Solutions for Change is in a bit of a bind, because its program works by choosing families to enter their housing, where the parents can be offered a job and workplace training at the organization’s farm. They’ve had to pass on nearly $225,000 in grants as a result.

As Lisa Halverstadt reported in May, Solutions for Change has been accused of cherry picking its clients to maximize results. Megison says the nonprofit needs flexibility in criteria in order to provide a safe environment for families.

Megison’s organization is a local conservative darling, which is why people like Rep. Darrell Issa are trying to get HUD to loosen its policies. Theprogram reinforces the idea that hard work and ending dependency on programs are the solutions to homelessness.

McConnell says the housing first approach is flexible, and overall, it’s cheaper. He says that model is in danger of going away if “ill-informed politicians” – like Issa, who recently penned a letter against housing first to HUD Secretary Ben Carson – have their way.

Also in the News

• Street improvements for Camino Del Mar are moving ahead without lane reductions. (The Coast News)

• Vista will remove a median on Vista Village Drive to make way for a six-acre car dealership next to downtown. (Union-Tribune)

• The lawsuit blocking the water treatment plant in Escondido has been settled. (Union-Tribune)

• Housing prices are the most out-of-whack since World War II, and local policies across the state – especially in suburban places like North County – are largely to blame. That hurts renters and local economies. (CALMatters)

• Encinitas can accommodate its housing goals with two-story buildings, as long as residents are willing to let buildings go up without setbacks. (The Coast News)

• Customers who have paid their utility bill through the city of Oceanside’s website have been warned of a possible hack. (Times of San Diego)

• John Oliver details the national failure to address our nuclear waste problem, and San Onofre makes a brief cameo. (Last Week Tonight)

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