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Liberty Lake council delays vote on ordinance that would limit library board’s power

April 19, 2023 Updated Wed., April 19, 2023 at 8:15 p.m.

The Liberty Lake Municipal Library is seen in January 2020.  (Nina Culver/For The Spokesman-Review)
The Liberty Lake Municipal Library is seen in January 2020. (Nina Culver/For The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

After lengthy discussion, several motions and outbursts from audience members, the Liberty Lake City Council delayed a decision on whether to limit the library board’s authority.

“Our citizens have spoken out over and over and over opposing this change in the governance of the library,” Councilman Tom Sahlberg said. “Not even going to address the book banning. And are we really representing them? So, I will oppose any of the changes of the governance.”

The City Council made amendments to a proposed ordinance Tuesday night, but none of the changes are final. The council will continue talks at its May 2 meeting.

Some Liberty Lake council members have said the council must provide “checks and balances” on the library board’s policymaking choices.

Others, along with many city residents, say the library has functioned well for years with the library board making decisions. They fear the council’s authority could lead to banning books.

Joy Moore, a city resident, said it’s “shameful” the council continued to talk about a nonissue, and that other city issues should be addressed instead.

“I would just say, shame on you, City Council,” she said.

The proposal comes on the heels of an unsuccessful citizen-led attempt last spring to ban “Gender Queer,” a graphic novel that explores gender identity and has led to censorship debates at many libraries around the country.

Some council members viewed the award-winning book as inappropriate for children but ultimately, on a 4-2 vote, decided to keep it on the library’s shelf. Council members Chris Cargill and Wendy Van Orman voted to remove the book.

“A strong library includes books like ‘Gender Queer,’ which is how this all started,” Moore said. “Do I want to own that book? No. But do I want it on the shelves? Yes.”

While no decision was made at Tuesday night’s meeting, which lasted until 11 p.m., council members, on a 4-3 vote, recommended allowing the City Council to “approve or reject” Liberty Lake Library Board policies with a majority vote. Councilors Annie Kurtz, Dan Dunne and Sahlberg were the dissenting votes.

The decision led to some crowd members saying an expletive and “shame” toward the councilors. Some attendees left the meeting.

Councilman Jed Spencer said the council would not create or rewrite policy, just approve or reject policy proposed by the board. He said the proposal would also allow the council to approve or reject policies that have already been set.

Kurtz said rejecting policy means removing power from the board that is invested in them by law.

“We are opening up the city to liability and to lawsuits which we cannot afford and we will lose,” she said.

Mayor Cris Kaminskas said the board has always been the policymaker for the library. The City Council funds the library.

“This is a First Amendment issue,” she said. “I do not have a right to decide what anybody else is going to read. End of story … I think this has turned into something way more than it ever should have been.”

Kurtz, Dunne and Sahlberg voted Tuesday night to amend the proposed ordinance so that the City Council or mayor could not ban or restrict access to books at the library. That motion failed because Cargill, Spencer, Van Orman and Councilman Phil Folyer voted against it.

“I’m not aware of anything in this proposed ordinance that allows the City Council to restrict or ban books, so it seems like a moot point to me,” Spencer said.

Folyer expressed concern that if the board were to ban a book, the council could not do anything about it.

“If it stops at the board of trustees, what if they’re making the wrong decision on a book ban?” Folyer said.

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