Hushed in the library

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It’s a pretty clear message: if you’re a public servant, the government doesn’t want your input. It’s also a little strange; you’d think that a government, and more particularly, MHAs and cabinet ministers, would want to have input from as many people as possible, especially those who are on the front lines of government service.

But the message from the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries executive director, Shawn Tetford, was a clear one.

“Recently, a local staff member wrote their MHA, the minister of Education and the premier criticizing the budget cuts. … Such action by public servants is unacceptable.”

Tetford said in the same memo that there is an internal process for raising concerns, and that’s for public servants to raise the issue with their direct supervisor. Interviewed later, Tetford said it was a management issue: “If all our staff started writing letters to politicians criticizing the decisions that are made, then it becomes uncontrollable and unmanageable.”

Fair enough — to a point. Tetford might not want politicians to hear about concerns without having them winnow their way through library management, but you’d think those same politicians would welcome input about their decisions. The provincial government recently cut $1 million from the provincial library budget, resulting in 17 layoffs and reduced hours at some libraries, so you can probably guess the letter involved was not blindly supportive.

Remember: this is not a case of provincial employees washing the government’s dirty linen in public: this is the ability of library staffers to write to their MHA, cabinet ministers or the premier directly, something that pretty much any other citizen can do at any time.

The minister of Education’s office says the minister was not involved in sending the memo out.

Fine and good.

At the same time, in an open and accountable government (something the Dunderdale administration regularly professes to be), you’d think the minister would countermand the memo. (That being said, someone had to have contacted Tetford to complain about the letter being received, or else he would not have known about it — and that list has to be pretty short and filled with politicians.)

In this case, the minister’s representative said the minister welcomes input — but through “proper channels.” That sounds a lot like the same proper channels that Tetford was describing — but stop for a moment and ask, if you were a politician charged with making budget decisions, would you rather have information processed and homogenized through proper channels, or the raw material?

You could be funny about this: imagine, we have a government that feels threatened by the unfettered opinions of librarians.

But on the serious side, pretty much any librarian in the province could remind you of this little ditty: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Politicians aren’t generally precious and gentle flowers. You’d think they’d be willing to withstand a letter or two.

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries

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  • Carbonear
    July 13, 2013 - 07:05

    "Proper channels"??? HAHA it's because of these "proper channels" that Vicki Kaminski doesn't have a clue why her budget is blown out of the water every year. These "proper channels" sugar coat everything and hide what the real problems are. If the public only knew what goes on in health care they'd think twice about which hospitals they're going to visit. It's complete mismanagement. The public's money is wasted each and every day and then there's no money in the budget to hire on any much needed extra staff. Many days there's not even the bare minimum staff requirement to run a floor. Safety is in no way a priority when you work short every single shift. These "public channels" are the problem and the fact that the public service staff aren't reporting/complaining enough to their MHA's. Something has to be done before something serious happens and then it's too late.

  • a business man
    July 12, 2013 - 20:45

    Every citizen, regardless of who their employer is, has a right to complain to the government about anything they want. I shameless advocate for my interests without regard for anyone else, and public servants should be able to as well. While the internal mechanism is apporpraite for compaints regarding work, writing letters is appropraite for complaints made by citizens. I see nothing wrong with public servants criticizing the government when off work. All that said, I support the cuts to the public sector. More over, I especially agree with cutting the jobs of librarians.

  • Freespeech Sockpuppet
    July 12, 2013 - 18:47

    “If all our staff started writing letters to politicians criticizing the decisions that are made, then it becomes uncontrollable and unmanageable.” If public servants exercise the right to critique through letter writing it somehow leads to chaos? Government paranoia seems to have progressed beyond the fear of seditious art or even blasphemous archeology, to the critical letters of public library staff. Since these people are not public figures, only public servants, they seem to be given all the respect of an malcontent internet troll or inciteful grafitti artist for sharing their critical ideas with our government via a letter. Criticism when giving correctly and recieved openly can help a person improve themselves and/or their work. Since members of government are public figures, as well as servants, we expect them to accept and acknowledge input from their polis, and fellow servants. By not doing so, the untrusting amongst us will assume that after 10 years of reprehensible irresponsibility, incompetence, and self-interestedness in the conduct of their responsibilities, our government has given up and now expects a giant cane to shoot out from the wings, or a gong to sound.

  • sparsons
    July 12, 2013 - 11:27

    I too am an avid library user. The staff at the a&c library are truly superb. It's outrageous that government employees are forbidden to express opinions or concerns. What's next? 50 lashes? . If the employee did not follow protocol it's no doubt because that method is known to be futile. Also, the staff are in contact with the public and are obviously passing on the concerns of library users, people that the government should be listening to.

  • Anna
    July 12, 2013 - 08:17

    As an avid library user, I find it offensive that Mr. Tetford would stoop so slow as to criticize his staff for speaking up. The library staff is the most dedicated group of public service people I have come across and they go out of their way to help the public. To have their budget cut by over a million dollars was tragic as they were just building up the library from all the budget cuts in years gone by. I suggest Mr. Tetford stick to his day job and give thanks for having such a loyal staff.