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

Liberty Lake council race centers on ongoing town debate over library powers

By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Liberty Lake voters have a choice come November between an incumbent councilman who voted to take decision making power away from the city’s library or a freelance journalist who spoke against the plan endorsed by a majority of the council.

Last year’s sometimes heated debate over whether the library’s Board of Trustees should continue to set the library’s policies started in 2022 when a resident filed a request to remove “Gender Queer” from the library, which the board denied. The resident appealed that decision to the city council, the majority of whom voted to uphold the trustees’ decision to not ban the book.

Later that year, the trustees discussed making changes to board policies for several months. One of the changes took away the ability of residents to appeal book removal decisions to the city council. In early 2023, Position 1 incumbent Phil Folyer was one of four council members who began an effort to write a new city ordinance that would give the city council authority to approve or deny any policies created by the library’s board of trustees.

Folyer and the other three council members approved the new ordinance restricting the power of the trustees, but the ordinance was vetoed by Mayor Cris Kaminskas.

During the months of debate, many people flooded city council meetings to express their concerns over the plan, including whether it was being done to make it easier to ban books. Folyer said he believes that debate sidetracked the issue, which he saw as clarifying the city council’s role in the library.

“In trying to fix that gray area, it got derailed into ‘The council wants to ban books,’ ” he said. “That’s not what it was about. We literally put in the ordinance that we were not going to ban books.”

Linda Ball said she spoke out about the issue frequently and said she believes banning books is unconstitutional.

“I testified at least four times about it,” she said. “It’s a violation of the First Amendment to say what we can and can’t read. If you don’t want your kids reading a particular book, go in with them.”

Ball said she was pleased that the mayor vetoed the ordinance that would have taken decision making power from the Board of Trustees and given it to the city council.

“That was a heated, heated issue,” she said.

Folyer said he still strongly supports the library, which is set to expand into a building that the city purchased in 2022.

“If any of us was against the library, we wouldn’t have approved the purchase of a new building,” he said.

After the veto, Councilman Chris Cargill announced his intention to vote against any appointments made by the mayor in protest. Ball said she doesn’t think that’s productive.

“I think he’s out of line,” she said. “I think he’s just being obstinate.”

Folyer said Cargill’s protest hasn’t resulted in any positions being unfilled.

“Since he’s made that statement, he’s voted accordingly, and that’s his prerogative,” Folyer said.

Folyer, who has served on the council for four years, said he originally ran for the seat because he knew big projects like the rebuilding of the Trailhead clubhouse and the overpass over Interstate 90 were coming up and he thought his construction background would be useful. The city’s in much the same position now as it prepares to remodel the new library building.

“The next four years are going to be very similar,” he said. “That’s why I’m running again, just to be a part of that process.”

Ball said her background, which includes reporting on the Issaquah City Council on the west side of the state, has taught her how city councils work. She also attended the city’s inaugural Liberty Lake Academy earlier this year, which included detailed information on how the city works.

“I have a lot to offer with my background,” she said. “It’s not typical.”

She said she thinks some members of the council are disconnected from the community, and said she would listen to the wants and needs of the residents.

“I think they need to start listening,” she said. “I want people to have a conversation.”

Editor’s note: The candidate background information for this story was changed on Sept. 15, 2023 to correct the length of Linda Ball’s tenure at Sound Publishing.