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Council Approves 3M Library Contract, City Manager’s Raise

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Wednesday January 28, 2009 - 07:20:00 PM

In a sometimes testy meeting that lasted until after midnight, the Berkeley City Council approved a compromise two-year agreement with 3M Corporation for maintenance of the city library’s electronic book monitoring system, granted City Manager Phil Kamlarz an 8 percent raise, and told staff that more work needed to be done before complicated modifications to the city’s condominium conversion ordinance can be passed. 

The council also failed—once more—to take action on an appeal from the Zoning Adjustments Board for a 10-antenna Verizon cellphone facility at 1540 Shattuck Ave. If the council does not take action on the matter at its next meeting, ZAB approval of the facility will automatically go into effect. 

In another action, the council referred to the city manager, without comment, recommendations by the Sunshine Committee for a 40-page draft Sunshine Ordinance. The ordinance is designed as a comprehensive law on public access to Berkeley government activities. The council is not scheduled to deliberate on the proposed ordinance itself until later this year, after staff returns with an evaluation of the possible legal and financial implications. 


3M contract 

In the library issue, the Board of Library Trustees and the director of library services were asking the council for up to a five-year contract with 3M Library Systems (three years on the initial agreement, with the option of two one-year extensions) for maintenance of the library district’s existing radio-frequency identification (RFID) book-tracking system. The RFID system uses embedded electronic chips to monitor the library’s book inventory and is used in the library’s checkout and theft-prevention systems. 

RFID has been controversial itself over the years, with detractors charging that the chips can be used by intelligence agencies for various monitoring purposes. The Berkeley library RFID system gained an additional complication last year when Checkout—the company with which the library system originally contracted for the purchase and maintenance of the RFID readers—sold its operational rights to 3M. That company engages in nuclear weapons work, and the City of Berkeley has banned itself from doing business with such companies through the city’s Nuclear Free Ordinance.  

The library has a maintenance contract with Checkpoint through June, but would have either had to contract directly with 3M after that point or immediately find a checkout and book security alternative. 

The library sought the five-year contract with 3M while it explored alternatives, asking the City Council for a waiver to the city’s Nuclear Free Ordinance. 

The waiver was opposed by the city’s Peace and Justice Commission, which said that the library should explore alternatives, including “a replacement system from another RFID vendor, or a non-RFID system, such as the system that was operational in the library prior to 2004.” 

The contract was also opposed by a long list of public speakers who waited late in the night to make their point. One speaker, Berkeley resident Kay Bernier, urged the council to vote against the waiver, saying that unless the council did so, “you’ll be the laughingstock of the whole country” for violating the city’s own Nuclear Free Ordinance. 

Director of Library Services Donna Corbeil said that her office and the library commission understood the opposition to 3M, but saw no current alternative to a 3M maintenance contract. City Manager Phil Kamlarz estimated that it would take two and a half years, through the request-for-proposal process, for a new checkout and security vendor to be found and brought under contract with the city. 

With the council periodically extending the meeting at 15-minute intervals past the 11 p.m. statutory ending time, councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin sought to put off the vote until the next meeting, with Worthington saying that there was “no urgent necessity to vote on this item tonight; before we rush into this we should get our facts right” and Arreguin arguing that there were inconsistencies in some of the cost and time estimates submitted by the library. 

But after Councilmember Daryl Moore accused Worthington of trying to monopolize the short remaining meeting time asking questions of staff and library representatives, Mayor Tom Bates cut off Worthington’s question time. 

In the end, the council agreed with Councilmember Linda Maio’s contention that while everybody involved—the library staff and board included—were unhappy with the 3M contract, the library needed time to develop an alternative and, according to Maio, “We have to be sure we don’t interrupt library service—I’m not willing to do that.”  

The council rejected Worthington’s motion to table the issue until the next meeting on a 3-6 vote (Worthington, Arreguin, and Max Anderson voting yes), and then passed Maio’s compromise motion to grant a two-year contract to 3M on a 6-2-1 vote (Worthington and Arreguin voting no, Anderson abstaining). 


City manager raise 

Earlier in the evening, Bates and Worthington clashed over the proposed raise for City Manager Phil Kamlarz which Worthington had pulled for discussion from the consent calendar. 

Bates, who authored the salary raise request, said he had done so at council’s direction, and agreed with a collection of speakers that it was it was bad timing to give the city manager a raise in such difficult economic times, but said that “the timing is never right to raise salaries.”  

Bates defended the proposal by saying, “We have one of the best-run cities in the country. We are blessed to have Phil Kamlarz as city manager,” and argued that the proposed 8 percent raise was intended only to bring Kamlarz’ salary in line with that of other city managers in the region, and that without the raise, Kamlarz was working for the same amount of money he could get from his pension if he retired.  

“Basically, he’s working as a volunteer,” the mayor said, adding that it would cost the city $50,000 to conduct a national search for a replacement. 

Other councilmember spoke up for the raise, with Maio saying that “we need an experienced city manager to shepherd us through this period. We can’t afford to lose him,” and Wozniak adding that “he’s running a $300 million enterprise and we’re arguing over $20,000; he’s worth every penny we pay him.” 

But Worthington said that while he agreed with Kamlarz’ value to the city, the issue was process. “The City Council has only two responsibilities,” Worthington said, “to pass a budget and to evaluate the city manager.”  

Worthington argued that the council had never done a written evaluation of Kamlarz, calling it “totally irresponsible” to give a raise without such a written evaluation. 

But several councilmembers said that a four-member council team made up of Moore, Maio, Laurie Capitelli, and the late Councilmember Dona Spring had evaluated Kamlarz last year, and though no written report had been produced, the committee’s verbal approval of the city manager’s work was sufficient. The result of that evaluation process was the request to Bates to prepare a salary raise proposal. 

When Bates told Worthington that a written evaluation was not necessary because “we did it orally,” Worthington replied “that’s not professional.” Bates snapped back, “So what?” 

The council approved Kamlarz’ raise on a 6-2-1 vote (Worthington and Arreguin no, Wengraf abstaining with the explanation that while she supported Kamlarz’ work, she was not on the council during last year’s evaluation process and so did not feel competent to vote on the issue). 


Condo conversion 

On the condominium conversion issue, the council has been considering complicated amendments to the city’s existing ordinance for several months. At Tuesday’s meeting, the council received new recommendations of alterations for the Rent Adjustments Board, sending those back to staff for review along with penciled-in suggestions by Mayor Bates. No other action was taken, and the council will revisit the condominium conversion issue next month..