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

Liberty Lake City Council incumbent faces library trustee in November election

By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

One of the two Liberty Lake Council members who voted to ban the book “Gender Queer” from the city’s library is now being challenged for her seat by a member of the library’s board of trustees.

Trustee Teresa Tapao-Hunt said she’s been interested in how City Council works since she became a library trustee two years ago, but it was Wendy Van Orman’s vote to ban the controversial book, as well as her subsequent votes to put the City Council in change of approving library policies, that pushed her to run against Van Orman.

“It was becoming so much of the rhetoric that we’re seeing nationally,” she said. “That’s what prompted me to run.”

A resident filed a request to remove “Gender Queer” from the library, which the library board of trustees denied in early 2022. The resident appealed that decision to the City Council, the majority of which voted in May 2022 to uphold the trustees’ decision to not ban the book.

As part of its normal policy updates, the trustees discussed making changes to the library’s book challenge policy for months before approving changes in the fall of 2022, Tapao-Hunt said. The council was aware the discussions were taking place during public meetings, she said.

“We spent four months going over policies in detail,” she said.

The newly changed policy, which included a longer, more detailed book challenge form, also made the library trustees the final decision -makers in book removal decisions, not the City Council. Tapao-Hunt said the trustees made that decision after consulting with the city attorney, who said the city had budgetary control over the library but did not have any authority to set policies.

In early 2023, Van Orman was one of four council members who pushed to have a new city ordinance written that would give the City Council final approval over any “bylaws, rules and regulations” adopted by the board of trustees. The trustees are appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council.

Van Orman said she believes the council should have the final say in deciding library policies because they are elected and the trustees are not. She said she also doesn’t like that the trustees took away the ability for citizens to appeal book challenge decisions to the council.

“The library board took that voice away,” she said.

Van Orman was one of four council members who voted to approve the new ordinance, but it was vetoed by Mayor Cris Kaminskas.

In response to the veto, Councilman Chris Cargill announced his intention to vote against any appointments made by the mayor in protest. Tapao-Hunt said the city bought a building to house a new expanded library in 2022, and she worries that Cargill and like-minded council members will retaliate by blocking budget approval for renovations to the new building.

Van Orman said she disagrees with Cargill’s actions and said he shouldn’t be interfering with the appointment of qualified people who want to serve their community.

“I don’t believe in making a stand that way,” she said.

Van Orman is no stranger to the Liberty Lake City Council. She served on the council for six years before serving as mayor from 2007 to 2011. She was appointed to fill a vacant seat in January 2022. She said she was asked to apply for the seat because of her experience during a time when key staff members had left and several new people were on the council.

“They just wanted a little stability and background,” she said.

Van Orman said she’d like the city to work on improving the amenities it offers.

“I thought by now we’d have a pool,” she said.

She believes traffic will be an ongoing issue as the city continues to grow, though the opening of the new overpass over Interstate 90 will help alleviate some issues by adding a second north-south route over the freeway. The city is in the midst of considering creating a Transportation Benefit District to collect money, potentially through a sales tax, to be spent on roads, which Van Orman said she supports. The goal is to replace the city’s utility tax, which Van Orman said was meant to be temporary.

Tapao-Hunt said she also likes the idea of a Transportation Benefit District.

“I’m in support of it, especially because we are growing,” she said.

Tapao-Hunt said she believes the city needs to focus on offering more affordable housing options for young families. She said she’d also like to see the City Council put more effort into seeking public input and listening to the needs of residents.

“There isn’t a collaborative spirit among the seven,” she said.

Her goal in running is to ensure that the city is fiscally responsible, and she said she already has experience in working with the City Council.

Van Orman said that her experience and history are needed on the council .

“It takes vision to know not only where we’ve been but where we’re going,” she said.

Tapao-Hunt and Van Orman will face off at the polls Nov. 7.