Transparency & Accountability
The Altadena Library Board of Trustees are our town's only directly elected representatives empowered to spend your tax dollars. They have an obligation to be both transparent in their dealings and decision making, and accountable to the community. As a Special District, Altadena's library does not fall under any other jurisdiction; it is functionally independent, making Altadena residents the only group that oversees the Board's activity. The Library Board is also a deliberative body, which means it should discuss and problem solve publicly, rather than behind closed doors. The community has a right to know what's going on, why decisions are being made, what criteria are being considered, and how those choices will affect them and their lives. The current culture of the Board has for too long been characterized by secrecy and illegality.
I will work to change the culture of the Board, and to actively and openly communicate with the community. There is a way to both follow the law and to openly deliberate, and I will strike that balance. If I am elected, Altadena will know what's going on with its Library, and why. Trust must be earned.
Strong Community Partnerships
Nothing great is ever achieved in isolation. Yet the Library Board has isolated itself both from its own community and from the communities that surround Altadena. The Library staff has made efforts to reach out and engage Altadena through a series of community conversations, which are an outstanding starting point, but much more remains to be done. Trustees should be actively engaged in the community, and as of now, they are not.
I will build strong partnerships both within Altadena and without. My first and highest priority as a Trustee will be to repair the damaged relationship between the community and the Board. I will listen to the concerns of citizens and do my best to address them actively. I will reach out to those members of the community who have not been engaged by the Library's efforts so far, and ask them to share their needs, their wants, their experiences, and their frustrations.
I will reach out to partner organizations, both governmental, non-profit, and civic, and work creatively to find solutions to the challenges that face our Library and our town. I will be constantly working to further the Library's goals, to promote the Library's agenda, and to be a relentless advocate for the Library and the community it serves.
Innovation & Vision
As an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County, and as a Special District, we in Altadena enjoy a unique freedom. We have no overarching bureaucracy to whom we must answer, which allows us to be innovative and creative at our Library in a way that larger systems simply could never do.
Whatever your opinion of the events of the past three years, it is undeniable that more people are using and engaging with the Altadena Library today than ever before. That speaks to the success of an excellent Library staff, and to the value of trying new ideas and approaches.
But the very nature of libraries are changing, as information and technology and the way we access it changes rapidly. I will advocate for a progressive and innovative plan for the library. I will be a champion of creativity. I will constantly push us to ask the question, "what does this community need, and how can the Library play a part in that?" We have an incredible opportunity to be a leader, to create a new vision for what a library looks like in the twenty-first century.
A Sustainable Plan for the Future
One of the Library's most desperate needs is for a strategic plan. The current plan expires in 2018-2019, and no plan has been created to take its place. The conflict between the Director and the Board, among other challenges, has meant that the strategic planning process has been almost entirely sidelined. This leaves the Library staff without a direction for the future, and it also makes the work of supporting organizations (like the Friends and the Foundation) very difficult.
In many ways, a sustainable future for this Library depends on a clear roadmap for how to get there, an ongoing source of reliable funding, and a community and a Library that can work together to achieve great things. There is also a dire need for better systems surrounding the Board, lest the Library end up in a similar situation some years down the road.
I will prioritize a planning process that takes into account the realities on the ground as well as the potential that this Library has to be truly innovative and to serve more Altadenans better than it already does. I will push for a process that engages the entire community, that asks for public input, and that listens actively. I will work to develop helpful and enduring systems that will ensure the Library's stability both now and for years to come.
There has been no shortage of controversy surrounding the Altadena Library lately. Although everyone in our town must come to his or her own conclusions about events and their impact on this election, it is helpful to outline the basic contours of the debate. This is an election with very high stakes for the Library, and it is important that all of us understand the context of what's taken place. Below is a brief history of what's happened at the Altadena Library to date:
2013: Only ~3000 people vote in Library election
This was the last time that Trustees were elected to the Altadena Library Board. Traditionally, Library Board elections were held in odd-numbered years. But in this election, fewer than 3000 residents voted (about 9% of Altadena). Because the turnout was, and had historically been, so low, the Board voted to change Library Board elections to coincide with presidential and midterm elections, which meant that the next election would not be until 2018. Because five years have passed, vacancies arose on the Board, with the result that presently, four of the five members of the Board have been appointed rather than directly elected by Altadena. The 2018 election will mark the first time that a Library Board election appears on a "large" ballot (e.g. a presidential or midterm election ballot).
2014: Parcel tax passes overwhelmingly
Measure A ensured the continued funding of the Library with property tax dollars from Altadena homeowners, and had broad-based support. It appeared on the November ballot in 2014, and due to an active campaign on behalf of the Library, the measure passed with over 85% approval. The parcel tax adjusts every year to reflect cost of living and property value increases, but it must be renewed every ten years (which means that the next renewal will be coming in 2024).
2014: Mindy Kittay is hired as Library Director
One of the core responsibilities of the Library Board is to hire a Library Director who then oversees the staff and the operations of the Library. In 2014, Mindy Kittay (who is still Director, although she is currently out on administrative leave) was hired by the Board, and controversy ensued fairly quickly thereafter. Some felt that Ms Kittay was too aggressive in her pushes for change at the Library, while others felt that she was simply responding to the changing nature of libraries and bringing Altadena up to date.
2015: Altadena Library applies for and is awarded major grant for Latino history programming
In 2015, the Library was awarded a prestigious grant jointly issued by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association. The funding enabled the library to present several programs, including film and lecture series with scholars including Roberta Martinez and Dr. Francisco Balderrama, special presentations in partnership with Altadena Heritage and Altadena Historical Society, and a Latino Festival in April highlighting local Latino culture.
2016-2017: Library continues to change
Major changes continued to take place at the Altadena Library between 2014-2017, represented here in this video from the Library summarizing the Annual Report for the 2016-2017 year.
2018: Conflict between the Director and the Board erupts publicly
2018 has seen a series of public controversies surrounding Director Mindy Kittay and the Board of Trustees. She has been on leave effectively since January. Below are a series of reports on what's taken place (although of course individual participants will have their own accounts):
- Altadena library board president resigns after attorneys allege board members routinely violate state law (March 30, 2018)
- In Altadena, Attorneys For Library District Executive Director Allege Harassment, Brown Act Violations (March 30, 2018)
- Altadena Library Trustees called out for attack on Director (April 19, 2018)
- Altadena Library Director Ready to Come Back? (April 30, 2018)
- Allegations of Brown Act violations by Altadena’s library board continue to mount as legal battle escalates (June 8, 2018)
- Altadena Library Director Kittay Given 90-day Contract Extension at Tense Hours-Long Meeting (June 12, 2018)
- Altadena’s library director takes step closer to suing library board over alleged violations of California’s open-meetings law (June 11, 2018)