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Liberty Lake council grants itself power to ‘approve, reject’ library policies

May 17, 2023 Updated Wed., May 17, 2023 at 8:57 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

The Liberty Lake City Council now has the power to “approve or reject” the public library’s policies after several months of debate among council members and strong input from the public.

Supporters of the amended ordinance, which passed Tuesday night on a 4-3 vote, have said the council needs to provide “checks and balances” on the library board’s policymaking decisions. Opponents questioned why the ordinance was proposed in the first place because the library has operated well over the years with the library board writing policy and the City Council funding the library.

Council members Dan Dunne, Annie Kurtz and Tom Sahlberg voted against the ordinance.

Many residents, including on Tuesday, have spoken against the amended ordinance, fearing the council’s new authority could lead to banning books. The new ordinance says the council or mayor “will not initiate any book ban” and the council will “confirm or deny any books banned” by the board.

“To me, if you are opposed to banning books, you should be in favor of this ordinance because it says very specifically that the council cannot do it,” Councilman Chris Cargill said.

The council voted last year to keep “Gender Queer,” a graphic novel that explores gender identity and has led to censorship debates at many libraries around the country, at the library after an unsuccessful citizen-led attempt to ban the book.

Erin Zasada, of Liberty Lake, requested the library pull the book from the shelves, which led to the council’s decision to uphold the board’s decision and keep the book.

“It wasn’t an LGBTQ issue,” Zasada said Tuesday. “It was an issue of seeing pornography in a book geared towards children.”

Kurtz said she wanted the ordinance to say the council “will not restrict access” to books at the library instead of “will not initiate any book ban.”

Kurtz, Dunne and Sahlberg voted last month to amend the ordinance to that effect, but the motion failed because council members Jed Spencer, Wendy Van Orman, Phil Folyer and Cargill voted against it.

None of the changes to the ordinance at that meeting were final.

“That is an unresolved issue,” Kurtz said. “We did not get to the middle. We did not compromise. It was a hard ‘no.’ ”

She said that’s why the public expressed concern about the council restricting access in the future.

Councilwoman Wendy Van Orman said the board still makes policies. The council can simply approve or deny them.

“We don’t make the policy,” Van Orman said. “They do. It’s still in their realm.”

Besides book banning concerns, residents worried the amended ordinance would open the city to lawsuits.

“This is a no-win situation. I guarantee you,” former Liberty Lake councilman Mike Kennedy said.

Board member Kim Girard, a former school librarian, said it’s her responsibility as a parent to know what her children are reading, not the government’s.

“There are books in every public library that librarians would not read or do not agree with but they order them because they believe in their mission to serve their public,” she said.

While most residents voiced their opposition to the ordinance, a few supported it.

One woman held up a poster of graphic images in Gender Queer while speaking to the council and was asked to leave by Mayor Cris Kaminskas. A 13-year-old girl called Gender Queer “pornography” and said the council needs to protect children’s eyes, hearts and minds.

The council motioned to extend the four-hour meeting three times before it approved the ordinance shortly before 11 p.m.

Kaminskas can veto the council’s decision and said she expected to make a decision by the end of the week.

Kurtz asked Kaminskas to veto it swiftly so the matter does not “fester” in the divided community.

“We are not Liberty Lake together right now,” Kurtz said.

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