City's FY11 Budget Passes, Buying Time to Keep Branches Open, Reducing Layoffs & Introducing New BPL Governance Rules; Big Win for Library Advocates

The People of Boston Branches reports tonight that the Boston City Council today passed the mayor's budget for FY11, with library closings solidly postponed for nine months, reduced staff layoffs from the more than 100 envisioned earlier, and revised rules for governance of the BPL by an expanded board of trustees that will include five new members. FOSEL was unable to stay at the City Council budget meeting for the vote, which proceeded slowly due to last-minute negotiations between the mayor's office and the council. The council chamber was filled with library supporters, many from organized labor, who loudly and passionately applauded and yelped each time someone uttered the words "Boston Public Library." Brandon Apps, the post-doctoral psychology fellow who forged the citywide library friends group out of the firestorm that erupted late this winter when the BPL proposed to close up to a third of its branches and lay off more than 100 library staff, sent the news brief (in italics below) this evening. I am posting it in a (very slightly) edited version. Heeere's Brandon.....

Well, the budget passed with a lot of running around City Hall today.  It was a hard vote for all the councillors, and some of the councillors we worked with closely had to vote YES on this budget even though they wanted to do more for the library.  They had to vote this way to save jobs and keep the mayor open to working with the community.  No one believed that this was the best outcome possible and everyone working with us wanted desperately to do more.

To the very end, Councillor Felix Arroyo fought hard for more jobs for our library staff and got them.  The final numbers are not actually known, but the central branch may ultimately be looking at fewer than 30 layoffs.  Arroyo was joined by Councillor Maureen Feeney in his attempts; both were fierce defenders of the Central Library.

On the BPL trustee front, a home rule petition to improve the governance of the BPL passed unanimously, meaning it moves on to the state legislature without a hearing, where it is expected to pass and come back to the mayor.  The petition gives the trustees the power to fundraise and increases their number to 13.  There are currently eight trustees on the nine-member board, so we are looking at five new members.  It is a major transformation of the board; we will be around to watch the mayor's appointments to the board and object to unqualified appointees, if necessary.

The mayor and BPL chairman Jeffrey Rudman are both in favor of the petition, so all of this should go through before the end of the month. City Council President Michael Ross and Councillor Ayanna Pressley joined Councillor Arroyo on this measure and should be commended for their leadership and for transforming the board as we know it.  Again, this petition gives us a chance to transform the way that the BPL board of trustees does business, as well as get some new people involved in overseeing the library.

On the citizen's side, Councillor Pressley is very concerned that we continue to have a voice in this process and we will work with her to make sure that we do.

The branches still have a guaranteed nine months more thanks to District Councillor Mark Ciommo.  With fundraising and community support, we can extend this process beyond nine months, so we'll be getting to work immediately on that.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not point out that our staunch supporters Councillors Chuck Turner and Charles Yancey stuck with us to the end and voted NO on a budget that they did not believe in.

I want to quickly point out that the state budget also passed with the amendments to restrict $2.4 million in library funding if the branches slated for closing (Faneuil, Washington Village, Lower Mills and Orient Heights) do not remain open through FY11.  Here is how this is going to go down:  The state appropriates the money quarterly and, as long as the city is complying with the law when the appropriation occurs, the money will likely be appropriated.  No branch closure will be scheduled before the last quarterly appropriation at the beginning of the fourth fiscal quarter (April 2011).  Thus, the BPL will still receive the full $2.4 million.  In theory, the state could withhold the money, knowing that the city intends to break the law in the fourth quarter, but that is unlikely to happen.

Your advocacy and support brought this issue to the attention of so many councillors and state legislators.  I know that we all were looking to plug the full $3.6 million gap and be on our way, but we also know now that the library leadership wanted to close libraries to impose its vision of a library transformation, not necessarily because of a shortage of money. The battle we fought was much bigger than we ever expected, and these results are big wins for us.  We earned the attention of a lot of councillors and legislators, and will save branches and jobs in FY12 because the BPL likely would rather not pick a fight with us again.

Thanks to everyone for their support.  Over the next few months this campaign will also be re-organizing and changing shape.  I'll keep in touch and let people know how to stay updated and stay active as we figure that out.