EDITORIAL–Library Neglect: Supervisors use grand jury as political tool to blame the victim

The Kern County Board of Supervisors has systematically choked off adequate funding to its public library system, depriving it of the basic oxygen it needs to serve the public well. Now the Kern County Grand Jury is being used as a political tool to blame the victim.

The thousands of citizens who watched Supervisor David Couch, Supervisor Maggard and colleagues methodically reduce the library system’s budget to 20% of the state per capita average for similar sized systems should be asking this question: Why did the grand jury fail to mention that the source of the library’s problems is  the board’s systematic defunding of this beautiful community asset?

Rather than offering a comprehensive inquiry into facts, this incomplete grand jury report appears to be part of an orchestrated effort to justify closing down much of the library system and then privatizing what is left. We will not be surprised if it comes out that an LSSI consultant contributed to this hit job.

What stunning lack of investigative rigor allowed jurors to provide a color bar chart of dropping library circulation figures without a parallel color bar chart comparing that with the disastrous drop in  funding for new books and basic services to the Kern County Library System compared to libraries in the rest of the state?

This pattern of reporting reveals an intellectually bankrupt leadership culture in Kern County, unwilling to make the investment necessary to support knowledge-based innovation to reinvent the economic future for Kern County citizens.

Anyone who is investing here, or raising children in this county, should be very concerned. In 2016 David Couch was invited to the Frazier Park Library to explain his vision for funding the libraries. It was a shallow, vacuous combination of “selling coffee” and “renting out space.”

Look elsewhere for any grand vision about the real value and leadership that libraries offer our communities. We need to invest in nurturing the intellectual capital of our citizens.

We have watched the Kern County Grand Jury used as a political tool before.

Ironically, it was a shameful episode under David Couch’s predecessor in District 4, when Ray Watson’s office was warned about failure of county oversight in the building of the Frazier Park Library.

The Mountain Enterprise discovered contractor Tilton Pacific was not held accountable to terms of its contract to secure the safety of the heritage oaks at the library building site.

Tilton Pacific had been paid to place protective barriers around the oaks and their root systems. Instead, the contractor killed two healthy trees that were alive during the American Revolution and capable of living hundreds of years more—two irreplaceable treasures of this community.

On Aug. 24, 2010 Ray Watson led a consent agenda vote to pay Tilton Pacific $103,142 to haul away stumps of the trees it had killed, the very trees it had already been paid to keep alive.

The Kern County Grand Jury, rather than examining the contracts as the newspaper had done, decided—with coaching from a Watson staffer—to come up with a wacky theory that the people of the community and the newspaper were at fault for this misfeasance!

Now it is happening again. The finger of blame needs to be turned squarely on the Kern County Board of Supervisors for squandering the most hopeful asset of the taxpayers of this county.

Strangling excellence in the library system to serve a shallow ideology of privatization has created a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure, and has undermined the grand jury system to do it.

What is without dispute is that it is the Kern County Board of Supervisors and nobody else that has put this library system “on the path to extinction.”

This is part of the June 9, 2017 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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