Wednesday, July 24, 2024

editorial: Lord have mercy on library board

| August 23, 2023 1:00 AM

The muddled, possibly illegal attempt of the Community Library Network’s board majority to close its two largest libraries on Sundays has grabbed national attention — and that’s saying something, considering how many religious and political ideologues have taken over public library boards nationally.

CLN board chair Rachel Ottosen may have scored points for honesty by declaring that, in her view, the Lord wants libraries closed on Sundays. But when you’re holding public office, that’s a prayer that will be answered by an indefensible lawsuit.

“I know many people at these tables don’t subscribe to this, but the Lord blesses people when we keep the Sabbath day holy,” Ottosen preached during a July meeting and has echoed at other times. “I think having people work on Sunday is actually to our detriment.”

Sure enough, Americans United for Separation of Church and State noticed. The nonprofit sent a warning letter this month to the CLN board.

“Ms. Ottosen is entitled to her religious beliefs, but she is not entitled to use the power of the government to enshrine those beliefs into law and to thereby force them on her constituents,” the letter said, referring to the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. “The board has a legal obligation to refuse to act on Ms. Ottosen’s religious grounds.”

But that’s not what the board majority did. Last Thursday they voted for the closures anyway. Later during the same meeting, after attorney D. Colton Boyles warned that litigation might be headed their way, they agreed to table that proposal — the proposal they had already formally approved.

Without going back to undo the original decision, the board could be in violation of state law. They also flunk the basic test of looking like they have even a foggy idea of what they’re doing.

The Ottosen-Tom Hanley-Tim Plass board majority, all candidates backed to the teeth by the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, provided further causes for real concern during the six hours of meetings.

Akin to their brethren running North Idaho College into the ground, the CLN trio either does not understand its roles and responsibilities or does not care.

Micromanagement and fiscal foolishness are on full display; the former as trustees consider anointing themselves arbiters of all library materials, and the latter by their aversion to accepting some $42,000 in Post Falls Urban Renewal taxes already collected on the network’s behalf.

Any argument that the Hayden and Post Falls libraries should close on Sundays to save $27,000 a year collapses when considering that the $42,000 in refused tax funds would keep the doors open and save materials and programs now on the chopping block.

Which all lends weight to the idea that maybe the board majority does know what it’s doing — and just doesn’t care whether it’s legal or even logical.