2012-04-13 / Front Page

Judge delays ruling on library suit

By Carissa Marsh

While work is still moving forward to officially establish the Simi Valley Library as a municipal-run facility, the question as to whether the city’s act of withdrawing from the county library system was lawful or not has yet to be answered.

On April 9, a Ventura County Superior Court judge heard the lawsuit filed by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 721 challenging the City Council’s decision to withdraw from the Ventura County Free Library System late last year.

Interim City Attorney Marjorie Baxter said she believed Monday’s hearing went well.

“I think our attorneys, our side, did a good job defending it,” she said, referring to the city’s outside legal counsel, the Los Angelesbased firm of Colantuono & Levin, which is taking the lead on the case.

However, after both sides stated their arguments and answered the court’s questions, Judge Harry Walsh was not ready to make a ruling. Instead, he took the matter under submission.

“We tried to get him to give us a date and he said he had a very busy calendar and he couldn’t even tell us when he would get to it because there’s so many documents to go through,” Baxter said.

When asked if Walsh seemed to be leaning one way or another, Baxter said it was impossible to tell.

“He seemed to be going back and forth but I feel optimistic,” she said. “He didn’t really show his hand, he just seemed interested in hearing each side restate their case . . . There wasn’t anything new that came out (during the hearing) it was just going over the pleadings that have been on file for some time.”

On Dec. 12, the City Council voted 4-0, with Councilmember Steve Sojka absent, to adopt a resolution to abandon the county library system and establish a municipal library.

Less than a month later, on Jan. 10, SEIU—which represents Southern California public service workers, including employees at the Simi Valley Library—filed a civil petition against the city.

SEIU argues that the city’s move to leave the county system was unlawful because it should have adopted an ordinance approving the withdrawal instead of passing a resolution. Since an ordinance doesn’t go into effect for 31 days, the city’s decision would not have been passed in time to avoid complying with Assembly Bill 438, a piece of legislation that imposes strict requirements on a city or library district that intends to withdraw from a county library system.

Union representatives believe the city should abide by the rules laid out in AB 438, which went into effect Jan. 1.

The city attorney’s office, however, is standing by the City Council’s actions, saying it followed the proper protocols in pulling out of the county library system.

With no decision coming out of Monday’s hearing, the court’s injunction prohibiting the city from awarding a contract for library services to a private, non-governmental agency is still in effect.

Despite the pending lawsuit, the city issued a request for proposals from agencies interested in managing the transition of the library from a county-run to a city-run facility and managing its day-to-day operations thereafter.

Three entities submitted bids for the job by the Feb. 29 deadline: the City of Thousand Oaks, the County of Ventura and Library Systems and Services, LLC (LSSI), a Marylandbased firm that currently provides services for both the Moorpark and Camarillo public libraries.

The proposals are being reviewed and ranked. City staff had hoped to bring a proposed contract to city leaders for approval by the end of the month, but with no court decision—and no timeframe for one—that may no longer happen.

“We are still in the process of reviewing the three proposals so we have not come to a point of making a recommendation to the City Council,” Assistant City Manager Laura Behjan said. “It was our goal to have something by the meeting of (April) 23 but we certainly understand the judge needs to take time to review the matter and render his decision.

“So while it may be problematic in terms of our timing, we’ll make the adjustments we need to make to respond to the time needed (by the court).”

Jesse Luna, spokesperson for SEIU 721, said the union was pleased that the judge continued the injunction barring Simi Valley from granting a private company an operational contract, but was perplexed by the thought that the city may go ahead and award a contract to a public entity.

“This is a complex legal issue and the City of Simi Valley should wait for the judge’s ruling before taking further action,” Luna said. “Anything that Simi Valley does in awarding the (request for proposals) would have to be undone if the judge rules against them and that wouldn’t be a good use of public funds.”

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