On Tuesday, June 17th at 1:15pm an important conversation will take place regarding the future of two vital parts of Inyo County: the Inyo County Free Libraries and the Eastern California Museum. Kevin Carunchio, the Inyo County Administrator, is proposing significant cuts to both programs that would severely impact the ability for the Library and the Museum to operate properly. These cuts, as he explains, are necessary because of the current financial situation the county finds itself in. These proposals, however, raise serious questions and concerns about what our administrators and elected officials consider important and necessary parts of Inyo County.

Franklin D. Roosevelt once remarked that “libraries are… essential to the functioning of a democratic society.” Roosevelt’s comment focuses on the vital role that libraries have in our culture – an informed and educated society historically plays a more active part in the functioning of that society. Libraries are, and have been for millennia, places of learning, education, and information, and in the United States they are free to the public. Libraries create equality; the information contained within their revered book stacks are available to all, regardless of income, class, race, or gender. It is easy to see, then, that a library provides a service that no other entity can. When times are tough financially, we expect that cuts need to be made, but we do not expect that an institution which provides a vital and completely unique service to the public will be the first to go. If that happens, the priorities of those in charge are severely mixed up.

Museums, and the experiences found within them, are some of the most important cultural institutions humans have created in society. No where else can the momentous occasions of human history be experienced more intimately than in a museum. Any trip to places such as Paris, London, Washington D.C., and countless others are not complete without a visit to the museums there. Without fully understanding their importance, one may be quick to dismiss a comparison of the museums of Paris or London to the museum found in little Independence, California, but this dismissal would be in error. The value of a museum is not found in its size or international recognition, but in the depth and detail of its content and its cultural relationship with the place in which it exists. The Eastern California Museum is an incredible resource as it pertains to the unique history of Inyo County. Our local history is a vital part of California as a whole and the stories told at our county museum show how Inyo County shaped the future of California, the 8th largest economy in the entire world. If we are to entertain the idea of closures, cuts to resources and negative impacts to our museum, we are entertaining the idea of undermining our own historical importance.

The difficulty in considering these issues is that, in large part, they are intangible. It is difficult to measure the knowledge gained at our libraries, or the cultural understanding we derive from visiting a museum. The results of our experiences in our libraries and museums live in the worlds of culture, philosophy, art, critical thinking, and knowledge. These are not items that can be easily displayed in a budget spreadsheet or a bullet-point list prepared for county supervisors. Yet, the benefits of these institutions are vital to the well-being of our society, our culture, our government, and our future. It seems services that provide such important experiences would be at the impenetrable core of any county plan, at no risk whatsoever. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case currently here in Inyo County.

So then what are we to do? If we are truly faced with budget shortfalls that need our attention, how should we move forward? Past Inyo County Administrator René Mendez made a decision with the county that supervisors and officials would give back five percent of their salary in the face of potential budget gaps. This was a good-faith effort by the county, even if the total amount may not have equaled the budget shortfalls – it showed that county leaders were willing to make a sacrifice before they considered slashing essential services.

Today, we find ourselves in a situation where county administration and elected officials have approved for themselves a number of pay increases and additional allowances, as other county employees further down the ranks fight for simple cost-of-living increases. Now, county administration is proposing severe cuts to essential services as a way to address budget gaps. It seems painfully obvious, given these realities, where their priorities lie. But this still isn’t the most concerning part of the situation.

If you want to find out for yourself the details regarding county governmental decisions or the record of what administration proposed and how elected officials voted, where would you go? Well, the free, universally-available resource at your disposal is the Inyo County Free Library. If you want to find out how our history has shaped our county, where would you go? The Eastern California Museum is free, and has enough information for you to fill weeks of perusal and research. (Keep in mind that our decisions now are also part of the continuing story of Inyo – our actions today will be the ones future generations read about, as long as they still have a museum and library in which to do so.) But the most terrifying part of Tuesday’s conversation is how cutting these services impacts our ability to hold our administrators and elected officials accountable.

It should raise bright, unavoidable red flags when those in charge want to limit the public’s ability to be informed about their actions and those of the county in which they operate. They may argue that cuts in funding, staffing, operating hours and resources to these services are not the same as closing them, which is true. But cuts are equal to limitations, and in this case those are limitations on your ability to be informed. The questions that should be asked at Tuesday’s meeting are not how we should cut these services, but instead why our administrator sees limiting the public’s access to knowledge as more important than increases to his salary.

If you can be present this Tuesday at 1:15pm in Independence, make a point to support our libraries and museums – by doing so you support your right to knowledge and learning. The library director has proposed an option that would set funding at the board-approved 2012-13 levels (before they were cut 27%) and insure your ability to have continued access to the important and unique services the libraries and museum provide. The board agenda is available online, and the details regarding this issue – agenda item 34 – are on page 208. Call your supervisor to express your support, and don’t be afraid to question your county administrator on his priorities. An informed electorate is a more effective electorate, and unfortunately it just might be the case that this idea is guiding the proposal to limit your access to knowledge and information. Our Sierra skyline is filled with red flags.

One Response

  1. Paul Fretheim

    I am in favor of combining the County Administrator position with the Dump Manager position. Due to budget cuts necessitated by salary increases our landfill in Independence has reduced services now. We now have to dump our trash into large metal shipping containers instead of just dumping on the ground as previously. This is more difficult and less safe, especially for our older residents.

    It would be an excellent use of limited resources to have the County Administrator/Dump Manager assigned to be on duty 5 days a week at the landfills to help citizens empty their trash into those problematic dumpsters their high salary, in part, necessitated. This could save hundreds of thousands of dollars $$$ annually.

    The CA/DM, who is widely known to be fond of high fashion, as an added perk, could be provided with designer liesure suits and they could hang out at the dump 5 days a week, “doing their thing!”

    This seems like a much better idea than closing the library.

    Reply

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