Posts belonging to Category Keller Library

Election Thoughts

I just came back from voting, and had a few thoughts about the issues and process.

First, I got over there about 8:15 and while there were several cars in the lot at the Lion’s Club, it turned out they were all election judges.  I don’t know if I was the first voter of the day, but I was the only one at that time.  While I was there only one other person showed up, and it turned out he was at the wrong location. 

This year Tarrant County replaced the complete-the-line optical scan ballots with a new fill-in-the-box optical scan system and they also offered the Hart InterCivic (the one I call “The Etch-a-Sketch”) for anyone who wanted to use it.  Despite (or perhaps because of) working in IT, I want nothing to do with computer-based voting systems.  I prefer paper ballots, and I find that the optical scan system provides a good middle-ground between automation and creating a paper-based physical record.  My only gripe about the new system is that filling in the box (at least with the pen they provided) seems to take forever.

I noticed two R-n Pa-l (one dare not speak his name online, lest his groupies be summoned forth like lesser demons from the pits of hell) signs out in front of the Lion’s Club.  I was a bit perplexed by this, since there was nothing concerning him on the ballot.  But I suppose it was a chance to try to advance awareness of his existence.  [ Note: Should my obfuscation above fail to work, I want to make it known right now that any and all comments regarding the afore-unmentioned candidate will be summarily deleted.  My blog.  My rules. ]

Of the constitutional amendments, I voted against the $3-billion cancer research item.  Not that I don’t worry about cancer, nor is it not a worthy cause.  I just don’t see it as the business of the State of Texas to be funding this sort of research. 

Really, the only puzzler for me on the ballot was the library bond issue.  I’ve flip-flopped back and forth several times over the past month or so, but I finally decided to vote for the bond.  It will probably raise our taxes a bit (once we get to the point of considering the big infrastructure issues), but I think it’s time to get started on doing something with the library.  I’m still concerned that the whole thing was rushed and a bit too sparse on specifics, but I think that can be managed by watching the final proposal closely and making my thoughts known to the council.

For reference, my thoughts on the whole sordid library affair can be found in the Keller Library category.

Finally, I’m a bit annoyed at the City of Keller’s misuse of my email address(es).  I signed up for the Police Department’s E-SAFE mail program several years ago.  When the city created its own “enews” service, I signed up for it using a different address.  I also specified that I wanted email in TEXT format (I’m not a big fan of HTML emails).  Lately, someone at city hall has decided to appropriate Scott Bradburn’s E-SAFE list and subscribe everyone on it to the city’s newsletter.  It’s quite obvious and annoying, since I now get TWO copies of every city emailing, one in Text and another in HTML.  I should also note that their Text version looks like ASS.  It’s obvious that they aren’t paying any attention to their Text-based users.  This is related to the election in that they sent out a missive at about 6:45 this morning reminding us about the ballot issues.

For those who might be interested, if you’re on the city’s enews service and you get HTML-based emails, you are being tracked.  The city is using Constant Contact, and the email contains web-bugs (tracking images) as well as tracked links.  If your email client automatically loads images in HTML-based emails, Constant Contact will know that your email address is active, that you opened the email, when you opened the email, as well as logging your IP address.  If you click any of the links in the email (such as to get more information about the bond proposal), they will know that you did so.  There’s nothing really nefarious going on here, but I just thought I’d point it out because most people do not know it’s happening. 

Library: Remixed

I attended the town hall meeting last night to hear the proposals for expanding the library and to hear what people had to say.

There was some back-and-forth concerning using school libraries, and I can understand the viewpoint, as we pay large sums of money for our schools, and it seems like such a waste to have so much duplication.  I really have no opinion on the topic, though, other than that I expect that there would be problems trying to come up with the optimum mix of materials for each school library in order to serve the entire population without significant duplication.  That’s one area where a single, municipal library certainly has advantages.  The comment by the lady who home schools, though, did get me to thinking that there might be cause to force the schools to open their libraries to home schoolers, since despite not sending their children to the school have to still pay school taxes.  But that’s a rant for a different time.

The only two comments that had me gritting my teeth came from Julie Tandy and Gene Stockton.  First, Ms. Tandy kept referring to an “anti-library” campaign, which I find at best to be disingenuous.  Mr. Stockton somehow found it necessary to insert a reference to a “full build out library in Town Center” in his remarks, which was annoying, in that I’d hoped that we’d finally driven a stake into the heart of the Town Center foolishment.  Anyhow, Mr. Stockton’s remarks seemed to egg on the fellow who came later who said he’d vote against ANY proposal that wasn’t in Town Center.  So much for killing that particular beast, I guess…

Before I get into my thoughts on the current proposals, I suppose that I need to review my reasons for voting against the last proposal (although it’s been covered in detail previously):

  • Town Center: Bad parking, bad traffic logistics in general
  • Insufficient footprint space at Town Center seemed to be driving an unnecessary second floor, which increases costs and decreases staff effectiveness.  Experts suggest libraries should not be two stories until they reach 50,000 to 60,000 sq ft.
  • Critical infrastructure items (roads, fire stations, etc) not funded or committed by council at the time.
  • Concerns about the tax rate in relation to the unfunded/uncommitted items mentioned previously.

So, now that I’ve got that out of the way, some thoughts on the presentation.  I liked the general ideas that were being put forth, although I would have liked to have seen more specifics with regards to the layouts of the expansion plans.  If we can afford it, I’d like to see the full expansion to 37,500 sq. ft.  If we’re going to go through the trouble to upgrade the existing library (and it’s going to be a hassle while it’s happening), it seems best to go ahead and expand it to the maximum.  Although I might temper it a bit by holding back on the expansion of the collection and the automation until it’s required (unfortunately, though, these are still only a small part of the overall costs for the expansion). 

Given the above, it just leaves the question of what the city can afford.  Kevin Lahner gave us some information about how the library bond costs would impact the debt burden and the tax rate, and it would appear that we could absorb if it were just the library that had to be funded.  However, as I understand it, we will need one more fire station beyond the new one being planned for Hidden Lakes.  Also, the recent flooding has increased the priority on some significant infrastructure issues.  All of this will require significant expenditures both near and long term.  Which translates into tax rates and debt burdens.

Now one of the other things that bugged me about the last proposal was that I got the impression that people were selling us a bill of goods when they said the new library wouldn’t affect the tax rate.  Perhaps it wouldn’t, if you just considered the library.  But you can’t view the library in a vacuum.  And, from my point of view, it was this disingenuous spin over the tax rate that was worse that simply coming out and saying taxes would increase.  While I may be pretty wary of increasing taxes, I will at least consider it as an option if it’s necessary.  So, ultimately, I think the library supporters hurt themselves more by trying to steer around the issue than if they’d confronted it head on.

I’d like to see some detailed analysis done of the various options (infrastructure AND library options) showing the overall effect on debt burden and the tax rate.  Perhaps people would still choose an expanded library, even if it raised taxes, if they thought that the required items were being handled first.  I can’t answer 100% that I’d support library expansion right now, since I don’t have the kinds of numbers I’d like to see.  But I’d be willing to give a proposal serious attention, even if it raised taxes, provided it addressed my concerns.

Update:  I see that Jim Carson has taken a stab at estimating the city’s debt burden after needed capital improvements.  It doesn’t include the new drainage issues, nor does it include the library, but it’s still informative.  The drainage issues and library would be in addition to the numbers he shows, which is kind of scary, as he’s already showing payments on $50M in new debt.

And The Answer Is…

A resounding NO!

The results are in from yesterday’s local elections:

Voters resoundingly shot down a proposed $7.6 million library in Town Center and booted out three City Council members who had supported financing the library without public approval.

In record turnout, residents defeated the library bond, 61.5 percent to 38.5 percent, according to unofficial results.

Those who supported the new library need to understand that those 61.5 percent of the voters are not regressive knuckle-dragging thugs who hate the children.  We want Keller to have a good library that meets the needs of the community, but we want to make sure that our priorities are in order.  Anyhow, I don’t want to rehash that whole thing here.  My reasons for being against the proposal that was put before the voters can be seen here.

Maybe I’m still a bit grumpy today, since I’ve been sick, but I couldn’t help but comment on the rest of the article.  I can’t help but think that certain elements of city government are being a bit obtuse.  As an example, consider this:

“The voters have spoken, and there will be no new library,” Mayor Julie Tandy said, adding that she hadn’t analyzed the numbers and didn’t know why it failed.

First, this doesn’t mean that there will not ever be a new library.  Just that there won’t be one in Town Center any time soon.  Further, it’s not hard to understand why it failed.  We’ve only been talking about this for the last five months.  Is it really possible that she hasn’t heard one single argument against the Town Center proposal?

And then we have the same-old-same-old:

Despite their defeats, Lake and Roberts said they didn’t regret voting for the certificates of obligation.

“I still think it’s the right thing to do,” Lake said, adding that there was a lot of misinformation about the library.

Roberts said the council is charged with making such decisions. “A lot of what happens is basically a total misunderstanding by certain voters out there who didn’t understand why we did what we did.”

I still haven’t heard any specifics on this “misinformation.”  Further, we didn’t misunderstand what the council did and why.  I completely understand that the council had the statutory power to issue the bonds.  What I contest is that they had the authority to do so.  The voters spoke loudly in 1999 on this issue in such a way that it should seem obvious that the voters had revoked their delegation of authority to the council.  Don’t insult the voters by claiming that we don’t understand.  I submit that it’s you who doesn’t understand. 

Further, I’d like to see the law (or at least city policy) changed such that the council never issues bonds or certificates of obligation above a certain amount (perhaps $1,000,000) without approval of the voters.  But then I’m “gridlock is good” kind of guy.  I don’t trust government and I think it needs to be constrained at every level.

Last Call for the Library

Early voting for the Keller and Tarrant County elections ends today at 7:00 p.m.  Otherwise, you’ll have to wait for Saturday to cast your ballot.

I went yesterday and there were people camped out just beyond the no-campaigning DMZ line.  The “Vote YES Committee” had staked out the right side and the “No Meant No” folks were on the left.  Later in the day, while walking the dog, I went by there and ran into Jim Carson and also met Monty Snow in person for the first time.

Ultimately, after considering all the issues, I decided to vote against the library proposal.  I did so because of the following concerns:

  • I was not convinced that we were hearing the whole story on financing.

    Interest-only payments are a red flag to me that indicates that we really can’t afford the library.

  • I think the library proposal was a case of “wrong time, wrong priority.”

    Let’s get the critical infrastructure items (firestation, roads, etc) funded before we start considering anything else.  I get the impression that the proposal was put forward ahead of those items so a tax increase could be sold as being for critical items, instead of for the library.

  • I am not convinced that all the options were considered.

    So far I’ve only heard two options:  Expand the existing one -or- Town Center.  Why weren’t other sites considered?

  • Parking logistics.

    Parking at Town Center already sucks.  And it is my considered opinion that whoever designed the traffic circle should be dragged off and shot.  Adding library patrons to the mix won’t help things.  Oh?  And nose-in spots on Bear Creek Raceway?  Does the designer who proposed this have stock in Service King?  And how long will it be until some speeding a**hole kills someone trying to cross Bear Creek to get to the library from Town Center?

  • I’m not convinced that the library design is properly optimized.

    The L-shape would appear to increase the overall perimeter footprint without buying internal volume.  Also, the choice of a two-story building adds cost for stairs and elevators.  It is my understanding that library experts recommend that a library should not be multi-story until it passes 50,000-sq.ft. in area.

I’m not unalterably opposed to a new library.  I like libraries and I absorbed countless books from my local library when I was growing up.  But I will not allow that to override logic for a bad proposal.  Let’s get our priorities straight, get the necessary infrastructure items in place, and then we can consider all the options for a new library.

An Admittedly Emotional Reaction

Sometimes “gut” reactions may be unfair, but there’s no denying that they exist.  Something about the “thumbs-up” logo on the Vote Yes Committee website was bugging me.  I just figured it out.  The superposition of the bar code over the hand makes it look like the person has been branded with it.  That is a powerful and disturbing image for me because, unfortunately, it conjures up thoughts of RFID and privacy invasion.

It’s not rational or fair, but imagery is very important.  I’d advise losing the bar code.  I understand what they were trying to imply, but the actual impression that resonates with me is overwhelmingly negative.

Previous posts in this series:
Location O’ Doom
One Library Comment
So That’s How It’s Going To Be, Huh?
Democracy In Action
The Arrogance Is Mindboggling
Library ‘O Doom
The Library Thing

Location O’ Doom

On Jim Carson’s site there’s an interesting comment from someone named Monty Snow about the argument for having a library in Town Center.

The Vote Yes Committee states categorically that libraries should be located in a retail environment. That’s debatable and there is a handy case in point. The Southlake library is located in Town Square, a lead-pipe cinch retail environment. Based on the Vote Yes Committee’s assertion, you would expect library attendance there to be higher per capita than Keller’s library located in a park next to a playground. Guess what? Based on the latest figures available from Texas Public Library Statistics, Southlake has 3 visits per capita. Keller has 6.98. So you can forget about the Town Center location increasing library attendance.

So it would appear, at least on a per capita comparison, that Southlake’s Town Square location is not driving increased usage.  Nor is it driving increased revenue, given the low utilization.  But that’s not exactly surprising, as this throwaway parenthetical bit from the same comment highlights:

You really should visit the Southlake library and see what can be done with 12000 square feet (if you can find a parking place, that is).  (Emphasis added)

That perfectly highlights my problem with Town Center.  I loathe it because it’s hard to get around.  It’s neither car-friendly nor pedestrian-friendly.  The drivers are maniacs, intersections have poor sightlines, and there is insufficient parking for the “strip” stores (i.e. everything besides Tom Thumb and Starbucks).  The only reason I go there is to visit the bank or for the occasional visit to Radio Shack.  And if I can find a reason to go elsewhere, I’ll do so (i.e. to the Chase branch on 377, since it has a drive-up ATM, which is more convenient than a walk-up ATM with only three regular parking spots out front). 

And then there’s Bear Creek raceway.  The speed limit may be 35MPH, but my visual speed comparator suggests that many drivers are moving in excess of 45MPH.  I’m given to understand that they’re hoping that existing parking near Town Hall will be sufficient for the new library.  Let’s hope they’re correct, as I’d hate to see someone killed trying to cross that street to get to the library.

Previous posts:
One Library Comment
So That’s How It’s Going To Be, Huh?
Democracy In Action
The Arrogance Is Mindboggling
Library ‘O Doom
The Library Thing

One Library Comment

Proponents of the new Keller public library have put together a slick marketing campaign under the name “Vote Yes Committee.” 

Their primary talking point is that no tax increase is necessary to build the library.  That’s true to some extent, but as with all such claims, one must look beneath the surface to see what the future effects will be.  Consider this tidbit from their FAQ:

  1. How much will the new library cost and what effect will it have on my taxes?
    • The new library is projected to cost $7.6 million.
    • The tax rate will not increase by building the new library. The financial forecast model shows no increase will be required in the current tax rate of 0.4431 per $100 of valuation.
    • Depending on Council priorities after the May election (emphasis added), resources will be available for completion of Rufe Snow Drive and building a $2.5 Million fire station in Hidden Lakes (including a million dollar fire truck).

I emphasized what I consider the weaseally part.  It’s certainly truthful, but it’s phrased in such a way as to hide the fact that critical infrastructure items may require a tax increase if we spend bond money on the library now.  So, what I want is someone from the city to definitively cut through the obfuscatory language and tell us flat out whether we can fund infrastructure items without a tax increase should we approve this discretionary item now.  If the answer is “no,” then that will be my answer on the library.  If “yes,” then I might consider the library, but I also want to know why we’ve been overtaxed.

Previous posts:
So That’s How It’s Going To Be, Huh?
Democracy In Action
The Arrogance Is Mindboggling
Library ‘O Doom
The Library Thing

So That’s How It’s Going To Be, Huh?

There’s going to be a library design charrette this Saturday (02/04/2006) at Keller Town Hall.  It claims to represent “stakeholders,” but citizens will NOT be allowed to provide input.  So it appears we are going to be given a choice in the election of a new library in Town Center or nothing. 

Last Friday’s Keller Citizen had a few choice comments on the subject from Mayor Julie Tandy.

If the bond fails, she said, “I think it would send a very strong message about what our community thinks about its future and how it much it believes in its citizens.”

She said a library is an important part of fostering a vibrant, well-read, articulate and educated population.

“My goal for the short-term is to get the information out,” she said, citing some complaints that it has not been available.  “We’re going to try to solve that.”

While the city cannot promote the bond election itself, she said officials’ responsibility is to provide that information.  It’s up to the citizens to read it.

“I am confident when they get the information, that they will vote in favor of it,” Tandy said.  “When it passes, I hope it will be accepted.”

Lovely.  So if you don’t support the bond package that they concoct you’re obviously against a “vibrant, well-read, articulate and educated population.”  Or perhaps you didn’t read the information.  Because obviously if you did you’d have voted for it.</sarcasm>

As for the information that has been available so far, I’m less than impressed.  I want access to source documents.  I want to see third-party, impartial studies that show actual economic impacts from where this has been done (the library update documents hint at this, but don’t show sources).

Whether this will be accepted, as Mayor Tandy hopes, will depend on whether they really listen to public feedback.  So far, I’m not getting that impression.  What I’ve seen so far has been a very grudging acknowledgement that they need to open up the process to the public, yet I’ve not seen any real openness.  I suppose I’ll wait and see what comes out of all this.

In the meantime, a couple of thoughts on the library issue:

  • Costs.

    I can’t help but think that there’s a bit of public-service-itis here, as I’m not getting the feeling that the taxpayer is being respected.  I want to see serious consideration given to cost at every level of the design and planning.  And I can’t help but think that a Town Center location will drive up costs.

  • Hasn’t this already been approved?

    I’ve heard a lot of talk about “consultation” with citizen groups after the failed 1999 bond issue.  Supposedly, these meetings allowed them to hear objections and address them in the new proposal.  However, it doesn’t take the place of an election.  It also doesn’t take into account the input of those who moved to Keller after 1999 and who pay taxes.

Previous posts:
The Arrogance Is Mindboggling
Library ‘O Doom
The Library Thing
Democracy In Action


Democracy In Action

The Keller City Council decided last night to send the library issue to the voters, as per the petition that was submitted.

I’m glad to see this happening, since I thought that the council’s previous approach was a bit high-handed (and had a bit of back-room dealing odor about it).  Now I want to know why the cost seems so high.  I know that construction costs are going up (due to energy costs, higher demand, and exchange rates), but $8.5 million for a 37,000 sq.ft. building seems really excessive to me. 

Here’s what library supporters need to do between now and May 13, 2006 if they want me to even consider supporting a new library:

  • Publish the plans for the new library (including all new equipment).
  • Explain what is driving the cost (including what other alternatives were considered, and why those alternatives were unsuitable).
  • Provide an exact cost for the impact on our tax rate of the bond issuance.
  • Provide details on ongoing maintenance and support costs, along with an accurate assessment of the impact on the tax rate.
  • Resist the urge to demonize those who have questions and concerns about the library (including those who don’t support a new library).
  • Explain why the library has to be in Town Center.  What other sites were considered?  Why weren’t other sites considered, if none?
  • Why was expanding the existing library not an option?  (I know that it won’t support a second floor, so I want to hear sound reasons why the library can’t be expanded, other than it would encroach on park land.)
  • Provide proof (preferrably in the form of an impartial, third-party study) that the library would drive sales in Town Center.  In lieu of an impartial study, real-world results from another, similar city would be helpful.  But pie-in-the-sky guesstimates are unacceptable, since any shortfall in proposed sales-tax revenues would have to be made up out of our property taxes.

The onus is on the supporters to provide compelling, and factual, reasons for a new/expanded library.  I’ll be watching and waiting.

More info:
Star-Telegram article on last night’s meeting.

Previous posts:
The Arrogance Is Mindboggling
Library ‘O Doom
The Library Thing

The Arrogance Is Mindboggling

As I’ve previously written, the Keller city council has decided to go forward with a plan to issue $8.8 million in bonds to fund a new library.  The latest issue of The Keller Citizen had some interesting quotes from various council members with regards to the reasoning behind their decision to not allow a vote on the issue.  Of all the reasons, though, the following one struck me as the most arrogant.

Councilman Russell Lake said the council has so much information on the library that it would be hard to convey it accurately to the citizens to prepare them to vote.  Also, he said council members work hard to spend city money wisely and keep the tax rate low.

I interpret that as a round-about way of saying that we voters are too stupid to understand the reasons and that we can’t be trusted to be properly “prepare[d]” to give them the desired outcome.

Interestingly, from the ways that bonds are differentiated, it appears that the city council has the authority to issue these without voter approval.  Which seems to me to be a root issue that needs to be addressed.  I don’t think any city should be able to create any significant amount of new debt without voter approval.  Further, there needs to be some level of accountability with regards to the long-term liabilities for operations that will be incurred.  Until I hear definitively that the city can fund staffing and operations for the new fire station, I will remain implacably opposed to a new library.  Books are nice, but they’re not much fun if you’re reading them by [house]firelight…