Election Section

Commentary: It’s Not Too Late to Pull the Plug On the Library’s RFID Boondoggle By GENE BERNARDI

Tuesday October 18, 2005

On June 24, 2004 the City of Berkeley, a Charter City, entered into a contract with Checkpoint Systems Inc., New Jersey, to “deliver, install and make operational the Intelligent Library System (radio frequency identification technology) at the Berkeley Public Library...” for $643,000.  

This City of Berkeley contract for RFID, allowing the expenditure of $643,000 (plus interest on the $500,000 borrowed for the purchase) of Berkeley taxpayers’ money (about 95 percent of library money comes from property taxes) was signed by only Jackie Griffin, director of library services, a deputy city auditor and the city clerk. The space provided for the city attorney’s signature, titled “Approved as to Form,” is blank, i.e. unsigned. This is a violation of article XI, sec. 65 of the charter of the City of Berkeley which states that all contracts shall be drawn under the supervision of the city attorney. 

Furthermore, the $643,000 expenditure for the RFID system violates the Berkeley Municipal Code, in that it exceeds the amount set by ordinance of $50,000 for the purchase of supplies, equipment and materials [BMC. sec.7.18.010C] [Ord. 6786-NS#1(part), 2003]. Each purchase of supplies, equipment and materials “which exceeds the amount set by ordinance...shall be done by contract authorized by resolution of the City Council” [Charter Article XI sec. 67(a), p.37]. This $643,000 contract never came before the City Council and therefore it violates the City Charter by not having been authorized by a City Council resolution. Of course, this gross violation precludes any public knowledge of, and therefore public input regarding, a huge expenditure of taxpayers money for an “Intelligent Library System” (RFID) with the potential to snoop into Berkeley library users’ reading habits, an insult to the world renowned city of the Free Speech Movement, and a bonanza to Patriot Act enforcers. 

To those who say “But the library trustees held public meetings,” please note that the one and only notice of a Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) meeting is posted on the bulletin boards outside of Old City Hall. (But we don’t know if that was so in 2003-2004.) Do you know when the BOLT meets, and therefore when to make a special trip to Old City Hall to check the agenda? And what about special meetings? Check the website daily, if you have a computer. The trustees have thus far failed to insist that the library director place a stack of trustees’ meeting agendas on information and reference desks in the Berkeley Public Libraries so that patrons will know when the board is meeting and what is on the agenda.  

SEIU 535’s Sept. 21, 2005 memo to Berkeley City Council members and the Board of Library Trustees reveals that the cost of RFID to Berkeley citizens is not just the initial “$650,000” but is estimated to be as high as $2.5 million dollars! Their estimate doesn’t include the cost of the Aug. 1, 2005 Community Forum on RFID for which they hired a KQED producer for M.C. and had other scientists and experts present, apparently solely a PR attempt to convince the public that RFID is beneficial, rather than to give some open-minded reconsideration to the RFID system, which all 25 community speakers fervently condemned. 

Why is it that the library director has spent at least $1.7 million on library staff and temporaries’ wages for the installation and operation of RFID tags in library materials when the contract with Checkpoint Systems states that Checkpoint “will deliver install and make operational the Intelligent Library System”? At the Oct. 12, 2005 BOLT meeting, we learned that the RFID tags for DVDs and CDs are still not operational, coming loose and in some cases damaging patrons’ players. 

All contractors with the City of Berkeley must comply with the city’s Living Wage Ordinance and its’ Equal Benefits Ordinance for domestic partners. How do we know whether Checkpoint System is paying its New Jersey workers a living wage? We do know that they were not in compliance with the Equal Benefits Ordinance when they signed the contract. Who is monitoring the contract to see whether or not they are now in compliance? 

Could there be a connection between the huge expenditures on the RFID system and the move toward hiring intermittent library assistants (20), part-time employees (15 hours/week) and contracting with a non-union janitorial service? Who is checking that all these employees are getting a living wage ($12.87/hour without medical benefits)?  

Come to the City Council Meeting at Old City Hall Tuesday tonight (Tuesday, Oct. 18) before 7 p.m. Sign up to speak and raise these questions. Please ask the councilmembers to support agenda item 23 on the consent calendar titled: Questions Regarding RFID. 

Protest the $2.5 million and ballooning boondoggle, a privacy invading RFID system with potential long-term health effects from chronic low level radio frequency radiation.  


P.S. The RFID contract is cancellable! 


Gene Bernardi is a member of Berkeleyans Organizing for Library Defense (SuperBOLD).