An Old Tactic

At the local level of government there’s a reason why, when budget times are tough, elected officials so often threaten to cut back police and fire services: it’s because no one’s going to protest if they threaten to close the records office one day a week or give every elected official one less patronage employee.  No one cares if the truck that collects their trash has three people throwing your garbage into the truck or two, no one cares if the town says city employees will have to continue using slow, outdated computers for another year, but threaten police and fire services and people are up in arms.  It’s a great way to soften up the public for a tax increase or a reduction of city services, possibly including lay-offs:  let the public express outrage – outrage! – over proposed cuts in essential public safety services and then rise to the challenge and meet its demands by making cuts elsewhere that in comparison don’t seem so bad.

It’s an old tactic.

When it comes to such tactics Philadelphia’s elected officials take a back seat to no one, but this year they added a new twist to mistreating the people who elected them to office and instead of threatening police and fire services they announced that they’re cutting back library hours.  This fall, the city announced that half of its 54 public libraries will be closed on Saturdays.

The Welsh Road branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, where The Curmudgeon spent many an hour through junior high school, high school, college, and even beyond, is no longer open on Saturdays

It’s an obvious way to save money:  close libraries for a day and you don’t have to pay staff for those libraries for that day.

But wait a minute:  doesn’t logic suggest that with schools closed and many people not working, Saturday is an especially busy day at public libraries?  Of course it does.  If you don’t believe it, go to your closest public library on, say, a Monday around 1:30 and then go to that library on Saturday at noon and ask yourself  “On which day is the library busier?”

The answer, of course, is Saturday:  show The Curmudgeon a public library and he’ll show you a library that is at its most bustling on Saturday.

So you have to wonder:  why would Philadelphia close half of its libraries on Saturdays to save money when it could close them on, say, a Monday or a Tuesday, save just as much money, and inconvenience fewer people?

You know why, of course:  because the outrage over Monday closings won’t be nearly as great – if anyone would even object at all – because the public will roll over and passively accept less troubling cuts elsewhere instead.  That, in turn, enables elected officials to avoid making the hard decisions they were elected to make about where to cut spending and risk public dismay, disagreement, and outrage.

But sometimes the public finds a way to win.  In this case, protesters brought the library closings to the attention of the city’s mostly invisible mayor, who – of course – feigned total ignorance about the closings.

Closing libraries?  On my watch?  I can’t have that, the mayor insisted. After all, he considers himself an “education mayor.”  Don’t they all?

So what did he do?  He directed the library to fill 62 vacant positions – enough people to keep most of the branches of the library open six days a week.

And where did the mayor and the library find the money to do this?  How did a cash-poor city come up with the moolah to hire 62 new employees?

In the library’s own budget:  it was right there all along.

This whole thing requires a special kind of manipulation, but that’s child’s play for the kind of in-it-for-themselves, selfish people who run the city of Philadelphia.



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