Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Community Library Network facing litigation threat

Staff Writer | November 6, 2023 1:08 AM

Litigation may be imminent for the new board of the Community Library Network, while a lawsuit initiated by two former trustees last spring, appears to now be moving forward. 

One of those former trustees, Regina McCrea, submitted a letter Wednesday addressed to the board majority — Rachelle Ottosen, Tim Plass and Tom Hanley — in her official capacity as an attorney.

McCrea was appointed to the CLN board in September 2016, then won reelection in May 2017. She and fellow former trustee Judy Meyer lost their seats to Plass and Hanley during the May election.

McCrea's letter was in response to updated draft policies for the network's materials selection/deselection process, on which the board has been working for several months. McCrea wrote to the trustees that their current undertaking is "ill-advised and undoubtedly will subject the Community Library Network to litigation."

"Since this revision process first began, library staff, the minority board members and the community have been asking whether the new 'harmful to minors' definitions would be applied to the entire collection, rather than simply to minors," McCrea said Friday.

She said previous drafts, including the version trustees considered during Thursday's special meeting, have been poorly worded with unclear intent.

The board majority addressed the issue in part Thursday. They acknowledged an oversight and added clarifying language to the selection process section of the draft policy to state it applies to "non-adult" books and other library materials rather than the collection as a whole. 

In her letter to the board, McCrea said government action must have a legitimate purpose.

"Given that the board of trustees last updated the materials selection policy on Nov. 4, 2022, the board lacks any rationale for its current review and proposed wide-ranging revisions," McCrea wrote. "From what I can surmise from the meetings you have held since June 2023, neither the board nor staff have identified any problem associated with the existing policy. In fact, the board chair has clearly departed from decades of established procedure by unilaterally adding the materials selection policy to the agenda.

"Not once in the past five months have any of you stated in a public meeting a reason for its inclusion on the agenda," she wrote. "Strikingly, every other agenda item has come from the library director or from the board by consensus. Please enlighten me on what date it was discussed in an open session the purpose for revisiting this policy less than a year after its adoption."

In response to a request for comment regarding McCrea's letter, Ottosen shared the following statement Saturday in an email to The Press:

"The Community Library Network Board of Trustees has spent several months working to revise the Materials Selection Policy. During the recent Thursday Board meeting, the Board voted to send a draft to legal counsel for review. CLN’s Library Board will continue to work with counsel and staff before adopting a final policy. The Board has received several public comments, many in support of the proposed changes. The next opportunity for public comment will be during the Board’s next meeting on November 16th at Post Falls Library."

McCrea said Friday that whenever the government implements policy changes that affect the rights of the public, the entity must provide the public with notice and an opportunity to be heard.

"From their conduct, particularly taking up a major policy at a special meeting at which no public comment is offered, this board appears to be purposefully evading hearing from their constituents," she said. 

In her letter to trustees, McCrea informed the board majority she has contacted organizations with "the means and the appetite to seek judicial review of any policy attempting to suppress information and ideas or constituting a prior restraint of speech."

McCrea said the board majority's unwillingness to allow discussion is counter to public policy that government bodies be transparent and "openly deliberate." 

"There is no deliberation when elected officials are not afforded an opportunity to examine, weigh and reflect upon the reasons for or against the contemplated action," she said.

Read McCrea's full letter: Letter to CLN Board 11-1-23.pdf.

Along with Meyer, McCrea filed a lawsuit earlier this year against three Kootenai County residents who distributed campaign literature accusing them of committing crimes against children.

The lawsuit, which was filed in May and seeks damages in excess of $10,000, alleges that Janice Camarena, Anita Dupzyk and Marjorie Desgrossilliers distributed defamatory letters to hundreds of Kootenai County households ahead of the May election. The letters said Meyer and McCrea “allowed graphic books with text and pictures describing every imaginable sex act to be purchased and displayed to children,” an allegation the former trustees have denied.

For months, there appeared to be no movement in the case. Then three declarations of service were filed with the court Wednesday, showing that Camarena, Dupzyk and Desgrosseilliers have been served with the lawsuit.

Camarena and Dupzyk were served Oct. 24, court records show, while Desgrosseiliers was served Wednesday. In Idaho, a defendant in a civil lawsuit generally has 21 days to file a written response to the complaint.

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Kaye Thornbrugh contributed to this article.