City Council dismisses library board members, passes Pathway Project

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Berkeley City Council made an unprecedented decision to remove the president and vice president of the Board of Library Trustees midterm at its regular Tuesday meeting, in addition to passing recommendations addressing Berkeley’s homeless crisis, among other items.

The Berkeley Public Library has been at the center of a controversy that began in 2015, when the removal of approximately 40,000 books from the library was first reported. This process, known as “weeding,” was repeatedly protested by librarians and community members.

The Berkeley Librarian Whistleblowers, a city advocacy group, held a protest in March, calling for the removal and replacement of Board of Library Trustees President Julie Holcomb and Vice President Jim Novosel. The group alleged that Holcomb and Novosel were responsible for the extensive “weeding” of book collections. They also alleged that the two often ignored staff and harassed employees.

Holcomb and Novosel were originally set to finish their terms on the board in May 2019, but the council passed a resolution to remove them from their positions on the board — a contentious decision that Councilmember Susan Wengraf said has “no precedent in the history of Berkeley.”

“I’ve been on boards and commissions most of my adult life,” said Councilmember Ben Bartlett at the meeting. “And I can tell you … I’ve never in my life seen a board this disrespectful, and exhibit this much vitriol to the people.”

The council also discussed the Pathways Project, which it unanimously passed. The project is a recommendation intended to provide stability, navigation and respite to homeless individuals. According to the recommendation, the project intends to provide pathways to permanent housing and centralized services to the homeless community of Berkeley.

Paul Buddenhagen, director of health, housing and community services, said the city will also be creating a new position called “homeless coordinator” by May 1. According to Buddenhagen, the coordinator will be solely dedicated to addressing issues of homelessness in Berkeley.

“As I’ve said many times times before, this is our homegrown humanitarian refugee crisis,” said Councilmember Sophie Hahn at the meeting. “It is intolerable for those who are experiencing homelessness, and it is a moral imperative for us … that we take concrete bold measures to address the crisis.”

A recommendation to draft an ordinance related to equal pay was also passed unanimously on the consent calendar at the meeting. The recommendation will direct staff to draft an ordinance that will give preference to city contractors who demonstrate equal pay for male and female employees.

In addition, the recommendation will involve an audit of the salaries of city employees to investigate gender pay gaps among the workforce and develop an equal-pay certification program for city contractors.

Contact Shayann Hendricks at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @shayannih.