Censorship? Satanic agendas? Kootenai County Library Board election turns partisan
A four-for-two race on the board responsible for managing the library system in parts of Kootenai County has prompted questions about document censorship and accusations that the local Republican Party is injecting partisan politics into a non-partisan position.
Incumbents Bob Fish and Michele Veale face challenges from Vanessa Robinson and Rachelle Ottosen for their seats on the board of directors of the Community Library Network, an organization controlling a budget of about $ 7 million and a system of seven libraries with branches in Rathdrum, Post Falls, Hayden and Suite. The challengers drew support from the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee and called for the removal of certain documents from the children’s section of the library dealing with social causes, including gender identity, racial discrimination and orientation. sexual.
Fish and Veale say such arguments distract from their service and the scope of the trustees’ mission as defined in state law and district regulations. The issue has drawn unprecedented attention to a board that typically sees few, if any, challengers for the seats.
“I’ve never seen anyone come forward against me,” said Veale, who was originally appointed to the board of the Community Library Network after serving as a director of the Post Falls library. “I am not a politician, I am an advocate for libraries.”
Robinson told the central committee that she was running for the seat “so that I can be proactive in keeping our wonderful community red. In a follow-up email, she wrote in response to a question about the board’s role in selecting materials that they should reflect their community’s values.
“Trustees are elected, which means they must represent the community,” Robinson wrote.
Ottosen did not respond to multiple emails seeking comment and was unavailable for comment at her home in northern Idaho on Friday. On her campaign website, Ottosen said she was pressured to run for the job “because non-partisan positions in Idaho are filled by those who don’t share conservative values.”
Fish was elected to the board in a competitive race in 2017. He said he had worked to bring more tax transparency to the organization and voted in 2020 along with his other board members. for not accepting the 3% tax increase authorized by state law. .
“I thought that would really be a feather in my hat,” said Fish, a retired banker who served on the Republican Party organizing committees in San Diego and Los Angeles before moving to Coeur d’Alene there. is six years old.
Instead, Fish said he found himself examined during the verification process with the Kootenai County GOP on the types of literature he believed should be in the library, telling Coeur d’Alene Press in April that he believed he had been overlooked because he had rejected such an interrogation. Instead, the group sent Robinson and Ottosen. Veale did not participate.
“If a progressive person wanted material in the library, something that I as a curator find terrible, we’re going to get it for them,” Fish said. “That’s what we’re here for.”
“No single person or special interest group can decide what everyone has access to. It’s the opposite of what a library does, ”Veale said.
Brent Regan, chairman of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, said his group was not in favor of censorship and was pushing for transparency in the process of recommending candidates. All of the candidates’ responses to the committee’s questions are available online for review, which other organizations that have approved the race have not done, Regan said.
“It’s a bit of a mystery why everyone gets mad about this,” he said.
Robinson said she supported parents’ choice in what their children should read.
“I believe parents need to be sure their children are exposed to appropriate content when they are visiting the library,” Robinson wrote in an email. “It’s up to them to select books that address social issues / causes and not the library network.”
Ottosen, on his website, says, “I don’t think public libraries should be just an extension of scriptural knowledge, but they certainly shouldn’t force taxpayers to fund satanic programs that lead to the destruction of our nation. .
Regan said he supported the removal of materials from the children’s section of the library, the position held by candidates the committee recommended.
“I don’t think there is anything wrong with having age appropriate material in the kids section,” Regan said.
Each of the sections of the Rathdrum, Hayden and Post Falls library has a section specifically designed for children, whether it is a specific room or corner of the branch.
On Friday some books were on the shelves, their covers clearly visible to any young sailor or their parents. None of the documents presented on Friday addressed gender identification or LGBTQ concerns. A book titled “Weekend Dad”, about a boy getting along with his father leaving home, was on display in Rathdrum, and a book titled “And the People Stayed Home”, a contemporary picture book depicting global activity. during the coronavirus pandemic, was on display at Post Falls. They were interspersed with classics, including the “Madeline” book series, as well as new titles from popular children’s author Mo Willems, creator of the “Pigeon” and “Elephant & Piggie” series.
The proper avenue for document review is contained in council policies, Veale said. The network employs a collection librarian whose job it is to determine what materials should be purchased, she said. A user can file a complaint about an item and it will be reviewed by the Trustees. But such a challenge has not happened in recent years, leading Veale, Fish and Kootenai County Democratic President Evan Koch to conclude the issue is being raised to piss off more Tory voters and create a partisan tendency towards a non-partisan council.
“Our concern as Democrats is that Republicans have politicized the race and it shouldn’t be,” Koch said.
Fish said he appreciated the purpose of the recommendations, noting that it would be difficult for any voter to stay informed of the issues in all corners of the county.
“If they’re doing a good job, that should be a huge benefit,” Fish said. But their recent backing, beyond the race for the library network, has strained the group’s credibility, he said. He highlighted their recommendation from Todd Banducci, the North Idaho College board chair whose alleged aggressive and unprofessional behavior towards college employees and other administrators could compromise college accreditation.
Regan thinks Fish’s comments just weren’t approved by the party.
“This is exactly what you expect from unselected people,” Regan said.
Robinson said she was proud of the committee’s support and noted that she also received other mentions in the race.
“They are just one of many who believe not only can I do the job, but I should do it,” she wrote.
Veale, like Koch, said she was concerned about partisan politics being explicitly interjected into non-partisan positions, including the library network.
“Northern Idaho is a place that loves libraries,” Veale said. “I find it hard to understand how the attitude of the Republican Central Committee fits in with this.”
The top two vote-winners in the May 18 election will win a six-year term on the board. Advance voting is now available at the Kootenai County Election Office, 1808 N. Third St. in Coeur d’Alene. The office is open Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.