El Paso Public Library

We Need to Reopen Our Libraries: A Detailed and Comprehensive Plan for Reopening the Libraries is Needed

This letter was sent to Mayor Oscar Leeser and our eight El Paso City Council Representatives

By Gretchen Trominski

We, supporters and volunteers of the eight active Friends of the El Paso Public Library groups on behalf of the furloughed employees of the city’s Library Department, are seeking your  action. As the city continues to address the COVID pandemic and economic fallout, which has led to the ongoing furlough of employees from Quality of Life departments (of which library employees constitute the vast majority), we believe that the measures promoted by the City Manager and Chief Financial Officer have been misguided at best and misleading to the public.

Despite the initial forecast of drastic revenue shortfalls due to the pandemic fallout on the city’s finances, the city reported a budget surplus for FY2020. While the furlough may have directly contributed to this and the city grapples with other urgent budgetary concerns, a surplus does show that the immediate state of the city’s finances does not seem to be as dire as predicted. When the FY2021 budget was finalized, Robert Cortinas, the city’s CFO, mentioned that furloughed employees turned down a reassignment opportunity to serve as contact tracers for COVID relief; he also claimed that he did not understand why. What he failed to mention was that the Human Resources Department, which at the time was under his direct supervision, stipulated to the furloughed employees that in order to take the temporary position they would have to resign from their original jobs and forfeit all of their benefits, seniority and pension.

Since then, furloughed employees also received guidance that they cannot take another full- time job, even on a temporary basis, without first resigning and surrendering their pension.

As the furloughed employees now enter their ninth month of official furlough status and almost eleventh month technically out of work since the pandemic hit in March 2020, the city has still failed to provide any formal or informal guidance about reopening plans for the library. This leaves the furloughed employees increasingly anxious about their jobs and benefits as the furlough draws out to its one year mark on May 5. Many of these employees have been loyal and faithful employees of the city for over five, ten or more years of service. These same employees have also helped the city gain numerous awards and prestigious recognition as recently as last year, including the Baldridge Award and All America City distinctions.

With the COVID vaccine now a reality to get the pandemic finally under greater control, we urge city leadership to provide these furloughed employees, along with the public at large, a detailed and comprehensive plan for reopening the libraries. An initial phase of providing curbside service last summer was suspended in November due to the last community COVID spike; we request curbside service be reinstated immediately or as soon as possible.  Tracey Jerome,  who oversees Museums and Libraries, had proposed opening up certain library computer labs on an appointment only basis, but no further guidance has since been provided. We also request that, before library services are fully restored, leadership seriously reconsider hiring back furloughed employees to temporarily assist other departments for seriously needed  efforts such as COVID relief without any loss of benefits or status as permanent city employees. Finally, we strongly urge that all furloughed employees are restored to their original positions, when possible, without having to reapply and lose seniority with the city.

While they may seem like more of a luxury during tough times, libraries along with the zoo, museums and recreations centers play a vital and active role in enriching our community. Libraries especially provide valuable, positive economic impact that can be measured in many ways including educational and labor output. For many disadvantaged citizens, libraries also serve as a lifeline for access to services and technology. As El Paso attempts to become a more competitive city to retain a talented workforce and draw in new industries and people, libraries along with other Quality of Life services cannot be left behind lest we leave our citizens, both young and old, behind.

Thank you for your attention and consideration.   Gretchen Trominski.  gtrom@aol.com

Gretchen Trominski is currently on the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Westside Libraries and has been a library advocate in El Paso since 1976. To contact Ms. Trominski: gtrom@aol.com

If you are in support of opening our libraries, please consider writing a letter. Please email your letter and include a short biographical note to: miguel@elpasonews.org. Thank you!