Library trustee appointments remain contentious

Published 10:15 am Tuesday, July 9, 2024

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By Mike Barnhardt

Enterprise Record

County commissioners continued to choose members of the public library board of trustees last week, again not picking any of the recommendations from the library’s trustees.

On a 3-2 vote, the board appointed Glenn Mace and Brent Ward to vacancies on the trustee board. The trustees had recommended current vice-chair Khristen Mears and Lisa Hartness for the positions, with Doris Short as a third candidate.

At the same time, commissioners said they are committed to keeping the library a safe place for employees and residents.

After a patron started moving – and removing – books they disagreed with, the county approved installing an updated security system. And after a recent attack on the library’s director, the county took more steps, including an increased police presence and even more security measures.

“We have heard that there is this movement, this agenda, to remove books from the library,” said Mark Jones, chair of the board of commissioners. “We have no commissioner who has requested a book be removed. Mr. Ward and Mr. Mace have never requested a book to be removed. Has Ms. Bivins (Teresa, the board’s last appointment to the trustees) ever requested a book to be removed? No.

“This board of commissioners has done nothing to slow the growth down, to slow down the wonderful things that are going on at the Davie County Public Library. Nothing.”

Jones went on to say that commissioners have publicly stated they are against violence against any county employee.

“We have no desire to censor or remove books from the public library,” said county commissioner, Brent Shoaf. “If we did, I would stand out there with everybody else saying we can’t do that.”

Shoaf also took issue with the idea that recommendations from the board of trustees always be followed. “No county board should be strictly self perpetuating, especially when the nomination procees may appear to be somewhat arbitrary.”

Commissioner Benita Finney said false accusations had been made about her, and that incorrect information has been distributed “to cause an uproar.”

“A healthy board is made up of many different voices and many different opinions. Everybody needs a voice,” Finney said.

Finney added that the last library trustee meeting lacked respect for all people attending – including a certain trustee member. “When Ms. Bivins asked a question, some other board members immediately jumped on her and were very aggressive. That’s not a healthy board. We do have to represent all people.”

County commissioners Terry Renegar and Richard Poindexter voted against the appointments.

“I’ve got no issues with the two gentlemen (Ward and Mace) on the agenda, but I do have a problem with the process. I think it needs to be duly heard, that’s the problem I have,” Reneger said.

Poindexter said the tradition of taking recommendations from the trustees has served the county well. “That system has worked very well over the years and I think that we should continue to consider those brought to us by the trustee board first.”

These comments came after nine residents spoke during the public comment period, all expressing fears in the way the county is handling the library nad the trustee appointments.

The assault on the director deserved more attention from the county, Wendy Vernon said. “This is solid evidence that the library needs all community leaders to speak up with transparent and bold support for our library and its staff. Our county needs to see support in a huge way.”

Julie Wood is director of a program for the intellectually and developmentally challenged, and those residents use the library regularly, she said. “There are so many skills they can learn there. The poeple at the library are resourceful and kind and make sure no one feels excluded.”

People are being oppressed, she said. “I need to know that my folks are safe. We come there every day.”

Julie Whittaker, a former library employee, said there are two ongoing threats: a multi-year assault on library materials and staff, and the appointment of trustee members. She had hoped the county commissioners would have made a statement supporting intellectual freedom, and said more about protecting employees and patrons.

The nominations from the trustees were the right choices; not “political monitors” appointed by the county, Whittaker said. “It needs people who understand or are willing to uphold the mission and values of public libraries – which is charged with serving all members of the public regardless of their personal circumstances, beliefs, morals and values.”

Whittaker personally endorsed Mears: “There has never been a better advocate for our library … for our children.”

Alice Brown, a past library trustee, said there is a movement and worries Davie may be headed in that direction. “Today, a flood has come with a movement to ban books for various reasons,” she said. “I pray for a congenial and non-partisan board.”

Belinda Brewer is a lifelong library patron, starting when she learned to read.

“I was always allowed to read what I wanted to. I don’t want to be forced not to be able to read something because the library has taken it out. What is the end game? Never have book challenges been on the right side of history.”

Marcia Phillips, the library’s history room director, said she was picked for a similar position in Michigan because – like Mears – she was a mother with school-age children who use the library.

“I’m not sure why someone of that caliber would be replaced,” Phillips said. “I think she’s a voice we need more of rather than less of on the board, as a mother of children who are using the library. I believe she is needed.”

N.C. State University student Nathan Linville said if the trend continues, books will be removed, especially those that depict the LGBTQ+ lifestyle. It’s sad, because those young people are more likely to commit suicide, he said.

“It’s unfair for these kids not to see themselves in the books that they read,” Linville said. “Reading a gay book does not make you gay.”

Vanderbilt University student Hazel Marion said the library needs to be a safe and welcoming place for everyone.

“Through books, I have learned about cultures other than my own and ideologies that I had not previously been exposed to,” Marion said. “Without the library, I would not have the respect that I do for people who are different from me.”

Kevin Marion also voiced support for Mears. The trustees and staff, he said, are best suited to know who would be best as a library trustee. He asked why the recommendations were not chosen, and why the board chose the two they did select.

He mentioned the past removal of a book without going through the proper channels.