Large showing of support for controversial board pick at ImagineIF meeting
The ImagineIF Board of Trustees met for their July meeting on Thursday July 21, 2022. (Taylor Inman/Bigfork Eagle)
Bigfork Eagle | July 27, 2022 12:00 AM
Supporters of newly appointed ImagineIF Library Trustee Carmen Cuthbertson lauded her ascension at Thursday’s board meeting, thanking her and her colleagues for their efforts at removing materials they deem offensive.
Cuthbertson was the first to challenge the now controversial book “Gender Queer,” which set off a heated debate around what belongs on library shelves. Cuthbertson’s recent appointment led to the resignation of Trustee Marsha Sultz, which the board accepted at the meeting.
Those who spoke during the meeting’s public comment portion described themselves as “dads concerned about toxic library materials.” Jim Riley was the first of many to speak and he found the availability of books like “Gender Queer” embarassing — and potentially dangerous. Riley sits on the Smith Valley School Board in Kalispell and is a vocal advocate of the ‘parent’s rights movement.’
“It is a proven fact that locations that provide these types of materials foster perversion and predators that look for curious readers to become victims,” he said. “This library has already published board notes about the problem in the hallways in the bathrooms. What happens when that problem becomes rape or victimization of a child?”
Riley referenced security issues on the second floor of the Kalispell library, where some patrons have been caught using drugs or participating in sexual acts. Those security issues were a result of lack of oversight on the second floor, not related to materials in the library.
Library Director Ashley Cummins said her staff has received many comments from patrons praising the changes they’ve made to improve safety on the second floor, which includes manning the area with additional employees and rearranging furniture. She said the changes have largely resolved the security issues.
Riley was also one of a couple public speakers who criticized Adam Tunnell, director of the ImagineIF Library Foundation. Tunnell has spoken out against controversial board appointments and decisions, citing its impact on fundraising efforts.
Tom Finkel, another public speaker, thanked trustees for their efforts to remove “Gender Queer.” He said he believes LGBTQ people are prone to having “mental problems” and suggested materials like “Gender Queer” potentially exposed more people to mental illness.
“I feel very strongly that all this LGBTQ+ and this transgender push that's been on our nation is a real negative thing for the children,” he said. “If you look at the data, the statistics, these children have a higher rate of mental problems. They have a higher rate of issues and it just should not be normative. And we can't make it normative by putting this material in the public library.”
Many in attendance also gave donations to the library after they spoke, which will go into the library’s gift fund. In a follow up email submitted to the Daily Inter Lake, Riley wrote that he and his compatriots believe that Tunnell and local media outlets highlighting the loss of funding is “punitive in nature.” They donated to help make up for the loss.
During the meeting, Riley referred to himself as the “tip of the spear,” a term commonly associated with various military branches and units. He later wrote that he meant the phrase as a metaphor for being the first of his group to speak up to the board.
“We have been quiet for too long during the erosion of our culture here locally,” he added.
Also during public comment, Riley’s wife Samantha introduced herself to the board and told them she plans to file for the vacant board seat.
Later in the meeting, trustees accepted the resignation of Sultz, who was absent. Sultz previously told the Daily Inter Lake that she resigned out of “disappointment,” adding that she didn’t like the direction the board was heading with the appointment of Cuthbertson.
Vice Chair Doug Adams said he asked Sultz to stay on the board but she couldn’t be convinced. Board Chair Heidi Roedel said they are sorry to accept her resignation.
Trustees also continued working through updating library policies. They amended policy 2011-06: Safety For Children in the Library to raise the minimum age a child can be unaccompanied in the library without an adult from 9 to 11 years old.
“That was based on recommendations from one of our professional librarians,” Cummins said. “She just thought welcoming and encouraging unattended children was probably not in our best benefit. We absolutely can accommodate them and encourage their use of the library, but we don't want parents just dropping off their kids.”
During a discussion about Policy 3001: Borrowing Privileges, the board batted around the idea of requiring a parent or guardian’s signature for a child to get a library card — so they could be held accountable for missing materials. Currently, they send a postcard to parents to let them know their child has signed up for a library card. Assistant Director Sean Anderson said they do not have an insignificant amount of kids who come to the library unaccompanied and want access to materials.
“Just as a philosophical belief, a lot of the services that we do and the way that we approach library services is based on radical trust in the library, and that that's extended to children. In this case, we trust that they are at least minimally communicative with their parents, that the parents are somewhat aware that they're bringing library materials home,” Anderson said.
Cummins said in her experience, this is a common situation across most libraries, adding that “the kids who are in that particular situation are the ones who probably need it the most.”
She said they are also starting to give out information to parents when they are present for their child’s sign-up, including what their rights are and how to access their account.
After learning of their postcard mailing procedure, the board held off on making any major changes to the policy.
During public comment, Bigfork Capital Campaign member Giordana Dores thanked the board for their acceptance of the Ark Building. She described it as “a huge step forward.”
“Because of this progress, we anticipate being able to restart the Capital Campaign, which was put on hold last year. It is your willingness to accept on behalf of the county the gift of a fully paid for, refurbished, newer building that gives our potential major donors one of two reassurances that their legacy gifts will be utilized as a public library,” Dores said.
The second reassurance, Dores said, needs to come from county commissioners. She asked the board to reach out to commissioners and ask them to commit to funding the additional $40,000 of operational costs incurred by the facility annually once the project is completed. Adams has said in previous meetings that commissioners will not take on operational costs.
During the Foundation report, Tunnell said a letter of support from commissioners could go a long way. Adams said the board is fully committed to seeing the project through, even without county support.
“I called Ashley before we even had to vote on it, and asked, ‘Are you committed to see to it that we find it in our existence budget, because we're going out on a limb here?’ and I think we can do that. So to me, it'd be great to have the money, but it's not going to stop us,” Adams said.
Tunnell said even though the board has been vocal in its support of the project recently, “it’s not only about reality, but also perception.” He said the last letter the commissioners sent about the acceptance of the Ark Building, where they said they “will not commit to assuming any property responsibility for the library system at this time,” could give hesitant donors cold feet.
Adams chalked that letter up to a miscommunication. He suggested a letter from commissioners acknowledging the board’s right to accept the building on behalf of the county could serve the same purpose.
The trustees also took on board officer positions and committee appointments, making Adams board chair and Roedel vice chair. The next Board of Trustees meeting is scheduled for Aug. 25.
Trustee David Ingram moved to make Adams board chair and Roedel seconded. Roedel said it is customary for trustees to rotate through the position so everyone has a chance to serve as chair. Adams moved to make Ingram the vice chair, which was seconded by Cuthbertson. Both decisions passed unanimously.
Since there is currently a vacant board seat, trustees assigned committees to whoever will fill Sultz’s seat.
Committee appointments are as followed:
Finance/Budget Committee: Adams and Ingram
Personnel Committee: Roedel, new trustee
Policy and Bylaws Committee: Cuthbertson and Ingram
Tamarack Representative: Roedel
Foundation Representative: Adams
Foundation Alternative Representative: Ingram
Facilities Committee: Cuthbertson, new trustee
The next Board of Trustees meeting is scheduled for Aug. 25.