September 14, 2006

The Sacred Herd

There is no more sacred cow in local budgets than libraries.

At least, that's what local politicians would like you to think.

Minneapolis is going through the same flailing spasms that Saint Paul did a few years back over a plan to pare back the number of libraries in the city.

Under pressure to balance the 2007 budget, the city's Library Board scheduled five public meetings starting today to gauge the opinion of library patrons.

They're being asked to choose the best of the worst situations, said Colin Hamilton, executive director of the Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library.

"I think all of these options are terrifying," Hamilton said.

Under two of the three budget-balancing proposals, the Roosevelt, Southeast and Webber Park branches would close Jan. 1.

Hint to Minneapolis residents: think a minute.

Libraries are to cities what teachers are to schools:

  • They are the symbol of the43 benificent good of each institution.
  • They are what their respective institutions regard as sacrosanct, the most important thing they deliver to their least, while the speeches are being made.
  • Then, when budgets "get tight", they are the first thing put on the chopping block. Why? Because they're the part of the city government that everyone sees, everyone uses, everyone loves. It ratchets up the emotions more than, say, threatening to lay off people in Health and Family Support, or some of the school district's plethora of middle managers, or STD programs, or cutting back on soft-skill consultants at the school district, or some other program that most people never see.
No. The whole point is to hit you, the city resident and taxpayer, where you live - by chopping away at the one city (or school) expenditure that doesn't pull you over, tax you, write tickets for the weeds in your alley, stand around holding a shovel as you wait to drive past, or sit in endless meetings to determine consensus on a process for determining consensus for a process to determine a mandate for meeting processes.

And when they've scared you - no, when they've bullied you into acquiescing, then all will go back to more or less normal - except you, the taxpayer, will have been trained. Don't get uppity when it comes to taxes, or mother city's gonna take your library away!

But not, of course, the mayor's police car, or the school superintendant's car allowance. An institution's gotta have its priorities.

Posted by Mitch at September 14, 2006 06:51 AM | TrackBack

What you've described is well known as "Washington Monument Syndrome." Any time an organization's funding is questioned, the first thing to go will naturally be its most visible and popular feature. It was one of my first political awarenesses.


Posted by: Brian Jones at September 14, 2006 02:43 PM

SOP for Minneapolis. A few years ago they fired the lifeguards at Calhoun and Harriet and tried to close the beaches. They expected a huge uproar, instead people swam without lifeguards.

They should close the civil rights office, it's a waste.

Posted by: Tracy at September 14, 2006 03:43 PM

Mitch, you do realize that in Minneapolis the library isn't part of the city government any more than the parks or schools are, don't you? It's run by a separately elected Library Board which is entitled to its very own property tax levy. So whatever stupidity and corruption goes on in the rest of the city doesn't have anything to do with the MPL, which isn't to say they haven't made their share of dumb moves. It's a one-party city, after all.

Posted by: Kevin at September 14, 2006 04:14 PM

Who needs to be mindful of costs to, and effects on, constituents, and who needs to be accountable in how they handle their budget when their revenue is collected at gunpoint?

Posted by: Bill C at September 14, 2006 04:23 PM

Yes, they wouldn't want to put off those all important million dollar bike trail projects.
Nobody uses them.

Posted by: Kermit at September 14, 2006 06:55 PM

Let us call it what it is -- extortion. I find it especially heinous when a school district in gauges in it, which they do on a regular basis. Threatening someone's children is as effective as it is despicable, and I wish there were an effective means for the body politic to sanction these all-to-frequent outrages.

Posted by: J. Ewing at September 16, 2006 12:50 PM
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