The latest twist in a yearlong saga surrounding the Liberty Lake City Council’s authority over the city library is set to unfold during the council’s Tuesday meeting.
Nestled between readings to adopt the city’s budget and capital facilities plan is an ordinance to give the City Council final authority over policies made by the appointed Library board of trustees.
Liberty Lake Mayor Cris Kaminskas recently vetoed a similar ordinance, and the council did not have enough votes to override the veto. But because of election rules governing the terms of appointed council members, a 4-3 majority who support the ordinance tightening governance of the library board will grow to a 5-2 supermajority for a month beginning Nov. 28.
So the four-member block intends to pass the library ordinance, and if it is vetoed, they will have the supermajority necessary to override a veto and assert a new measure of council control over the library board.
Starting Jan. 1, the majority will shrink back to 4-3.
Some council members are questioning the timing of the ordinance.
“It seems like a last-minute end-around to take advantage of the 5-2 supermajority without engaging other points of view,” Kaminskas said. Her earlier veto was the first time in the young city’s history that one was used to shut down a council ordinance.
When election results are certified on Nov. 28, Mike Kennedy will take the seat currently held by Tom Sahlberg, who was appointed. Kennedy supports the ordinance clarifying the council’s authority over the library board, which is contrary to a recent library policy change that gave the library autonomy in this matter. Sahlberg voted against each of the council’s attempts to control library decisions.
During this year’s busy election cycle, in which six of the seven city council seats and the mayor were on the ballot, council member-elect Linda Ball is the sole candidate without prior experience on the board to win her race. She favors leaving the ultimate authority in the hands of the library board. Ball will take office in January at the first council meeting of 2024.
The lag between Kennedy and Ball’s entrance to office creates that window from Nov. 28 to Jan. 1, when the City Council will likely have a supermajority to override a potential mayoral veto that barred them from the authority to make final decisions regarding the city library and instead vested that power to the library board.
Phil Folyer said he reintroduced the topic as a sort of poetic conclusion to his term on the council. He introduced the original ordinance that the mayor vetoed, and he wanted to consider it again before losing his seat to Ball in January.
“The idea to even consider bringing it back was solely based around election results,” Folyer said. “If the voters didn’t like what the council was doing, they would have gone in a different direction.
“I sure as heck wasn’t going to curl up in a ball and whither away. I got to try and finish what I started. If it doesn’t pass, I’ll respect it.”
Council member Dan Dunne, who voted against the ordinance and sided with the mayor’s veto, suspected the timing was intentional.
“It definitely is exploiting what will be a temporary supermajority,” Dunne said.
Council member Annie Kurtz, also on the prevailing side given the mayoral veto, agrees.
“I can’t understand any other reason other than the knowledge that it will pass, hearing that council member-elect Kennedy will be sworn in on Nov. 28,” she said.
Kennedy declined to share how he would vote on the issue. His position is that the Liberty Lake City Council retains final authority over city business, including the library board. He argues a council of elected officials is better equipped to represent the people than a board of mayor-appointed trustees, all of whom are approved by a city council.
“You can’t take the citizens’ vote and voice and give it to nonelected officials. That’s why under our government that is given to council members,” he said.
Kennedy didn’t think the timing was intentional to seize the window in which the opposition to the mayor’s veto will have a supermajority. He expected the topic to return to the council’s agenda.
While the subject is familiar, there are slight differences between the two ordinances.
For one, language saying the council will not have the authority to ban books is removed. Kurtz said she advocated for the provision not to ban books in the original ordinance. She didn’t want the council to be able to restrict access to books.
“My concern is that it follows the national trend of banning books,” Kurtz said, noting the nationwide effort by some groups. Thousands of titles, of which a majority are by or about people of color or LGBTQ people, have come under scrutiny.
Kaminskas said she was concerned that with the adoption of this ordinance, the council could alter a library policy surrounding what books they order and those on the shelves.
“It gives them a back door to possibly ban books or possibly restrict access,” Kaminskas said.
Folyer said his intent was never to ban books.
“People are assuming there’s some other agenda and there’s not,” he said.
Folyer in May 2022 voted to uphold the board’s decision to keep the novel “Gender Queer” on shelves. The vote was 4-2 with council members Chris Cargill and Wendy Van Orman opposed.
Folyer said the ordinance was to underscore the council’s authority as the legislative body in Liberty Lake.
“Not calling out who has the policy decision-making authority really does give nonelected board of trustees the power to make decisions on behalf of the citizens of Liberty Lake,” Folyer said. “That is the City Council’s job.”