Kern County supervisors decided Tuesday to take a deep breath, slow down and take this whole library privatization thing a bit slower.
County Administrative Officer John Nilon presented supervisors a proposed public survey and community meeting schedule that aimed to gather input on what library patrons want from their library.
Supervisors thanked Nilon but told him to go back and rework the whole plan.
They ordered him to redo the survey, making sure to get better input from county library staff before doing so.
And they directed him to scrap a two-week public hearing schedule and plan to spend several months gathering and analyzing public input on the issue.
"The survey that Mr. Nilon provided to us -- I think there are some improvements that should be made -- but there are some important questions there," Supervisor Zack Scrivner said. But, he added, "I don't think it's ready to go out on the street as is."
Library supporters who spoke at the meeting said the meeting schedule was inadequate and called the survey a thinly veiled effort to gloss over the controversy triggered last month when Nilon launched discussions of privatizing the Kern County Library Department.
The survey contained no questions about privatization.
And speakers repeatedly said the survey wasn't worth doing if it didn't address the question that started the fuss.
Community member Mary Helen Barro called Nilon's proposal duplicitous.
"John. I've known you for decades, I trusted you. I've lost that trust," she told him.
Dave Burdick of the Friends of the Ridgecrest Library urged supervisors to take more time exploring all possible ways to reverse the damage done to Kern County's libraries over the last few years.
"A survey is a good idea but it shouldn't be used to divert attention from the real problem -- the chronic underfunding of libraries," he said.
Nilon made it clear the decision to ax the privatization question from the survey was his.
"It was contemplated but removed by me," he said.
He said he believed including the question would compromise the purpose of the survey -- finding out what services Kern County citizens want thier libraries to provide.
And he didn't want to overstep his authority, he said, and bring forward other options like a library tax that supervisors have clearly indicated they do not support.
But Mandy Walters of pro-library activist group Advocates For Library Enhancement questioned Nilon's characterization of the survey.
"We object to the fact that what the community actually wants in their libraries are a footnote in this survey," Walters said.
Supervisor Mick Gleason said the public's distrust of the county's process so far is misplaced and he supported Nilon's work so far.
But all four of the supervisors in attendance Tuesday -- Supervisor Mike Maggard was absent -- voted to take more time to work through a public process.
And Scrivner said all options for library funding should be in the survey.
"I don't want it to appear that the county is dodging the question," Scrivner said.
Supervisors also directed Nilon to plan for public meetings in all communities where libraries are located.
"I haven't seen a public outcry like this as a supervisor," Supervisor Leticia Perez said. "We need a substantial amount of time to flesh these issues out."