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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Liberty Lake voters mostly opt for incumbents in election focused on library issues

Based on Tuesday night’s election results, Liberty Lake residents have mixed feelings about how much authority their City Council should have over their local library.

The 2023 general election was a strange and significant one in Liberty Lake for two main reasons.

First, six of the City Council’s seven seats were up for grabs simultaneously. Second, the entire election was largely a referendum on how the Liberty Lake Municipal Library should be governed.

In all six races, voters had a relatively clear choice: They could pick the candidate who believed library policymaking should begin and end with the library’s appointed Board of Trustees, or the candidate who believed the City Council should have the final say over library decisions.

For the most part, voters appear to have preferred incumbents, regardless of whether they support an autonomous library board.

Dan Dunne, an engineer who has served on the City Council since 2012, fended off challenger Larry Marshall. Dunne, who has said politicians shouldn’t meddle with library policy, took 69% of the vote, and Marshall won 31%.

Incumbent Wendy Van Orman, a former mayor who has argued the City Council should have more oversight of the library, has held onto her seat. She has 58% of the vote compared to 42% for library trustee Teresa Tapao-Hunt. Tapao-Hunt said she ran for council specifically because Van Orman last year voted to ban a controversial book.

Former Liberty Lake City Councilman Mike Kennedy is headed back to the City Council after earning 57% of the vote to Michael Hamblet’s 43%. Hamblet, a Cheney High School teacher whose father serves on the library board, said he believes library policy decisions should end with the library board.

Incumbent City Councilman Jed Spencer has 52% of the vote, leading Travis Scott’s 48%. Spencer has voted in favor of giving the City Council more oversight over the library, while Scott has said he prefers an appointed library board.

Annie Kurtz, an incumbent city councilwoman who has opposed the City Council majority’s efforts to gain control over the library, has won after taking 60% of the vote. Her opponent, Coeur d’Alene city planner Mike Behary, has 40%.

Voters rejected only one Liberty Lake City Council incumbent. Councilman Phil Folyer received 41% of the vote and lost to Linda Ball, who took 59%. Folyer has voted in favor of giving the council more library oversight, while Ball has said she worries the council is trying to restrict freedom of speech.

The Liberty Lake City Council’s focus on library issues began over a year ago after a resident asked the library to pull “Gender Queer,” a sexually explicit graphic novel about nonbinary gender identity, from the shelves.

The council eventually voted against banning “Gender Queer,” but the library board subsequently changed its policies, and library oversight has remained a major topic of conversation for the City Council ever since.