STOCKTON – It will take years for Stockton to recover from bankruptcy, but City Council members agreed Tuesday night that a vibrant library system would play a vital role in the city’s economic recovery.
Responding to public outcry, council members said the city should do whatever it can to improve library services even as Stockton struggles with post-bankruptcy economic realities likely to stretch well into the future.
The council comments came at the end of a City Hall meeting highlighted by a strong turnout of library supporters who urged Stockton officials to repair the struggling system. The shape of those reforms, however, remain to be determined.
“Literacy is really connected to our economic recovery,” Councilman Elbert Holman said. “We need to provide a clear vision as to where the library needs to go.”
The Stockton-San Joaquin Public Library system serves all of the county with the exception of Lodi and has been a casualty of Stockton’s economic hardships in the past five years.
Community members who spoke Tuesday urged the city to freeze the process for hiring a community services director who would oversee the library. The city is accepting applications through Friday for a position that has been vacant for three years.
Speakers Tuesday asked that the city halt the process and make the library its own department, as it was before bankruptcy.
Then, they said, the city should hire a new leader to oversee the library system’s recovery. The past two library directors resigned amid controversy, with Chris Freeman exiting his position under a cloud earlier this month.
Councilman Moses Zapien suggested the council hold a study session on the libraries. His colleague, Paul Canepa, compared the struggles of the library to those of the troubled but currently reforming Stockton Animal Shelter.
Mayor Anthony Silva asked city staff to propose revised organizational charts that would make the library an autonomous department.
“Right now our library needs a leader to accept the challenge of restoring our libraries,” said Ahmed Salim, one of the speakers Tuesday.
Colleen Foster, a long-retired head librarian for the city, said several vacant community-services positions make this “an opportunity” for Stockton’s libraries.
“We need a strong library led by a department head to lead the library into a bright post-bankruptcy future,” she said.
Standing outside City Hall following Tuesday’s meeting, Foster said she was pleased with what she heard from the council.
“We really appreciate that they listened and are supportive of having this conversation,” Foster said. “We really feel we have a partner in the city.”
In other council news:
• The council approved responses to two past reports of the San Joaquin County Grand Jury.
One response was to a 2012-13 report that reviewed Stockton’s financial decline. The response agrees only in part with the grand jury’s findings. The other response largely agreed with findings by the 2013-14 grand jury relating to the retention of public-safety officers in Stockton.
• A Missouri company won a nearly $700,000 contract for repair of more than 3,300 feet of corroded pipes along Ralph Avenue between Airport Way and B Street. The lowest bid by a California-based company was $500,000 higher than the winning bid, according to a staff report. Construction is expected to be finished by the end of 2014.
• The council amended the city’s Municipal Code to establish a department dedicated to Stockton’s information technology systems. The move comes more than five years after the department was eliminated as Stockton moved to slash costs during its descent into bankruptcy.
Contact reporter Roger Phillips at (209) 546-8299 or email@example.com. Follow him at recordnet.com/phillipsblog and on Twitter @rphillipsblog.
This news has been published by title Council: Improved Library Services Key To Economic Recovery
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