Liberty Lake Council Poised to Give Itself Veto Power Over the Library
A Lesson in Civics, Procedure, and Power--A Resurrection of an Ordinance Assumed Dead
It all started in Liberty Lake in early 2022 over an award-winning book in the Liberty Lake Municipal Library called “Gender Queer”. One Erin Zasada, who admitted that she hadn’t read the entire book, requested of the library in late 2021 that “Gender Queer” be pulled from the shelves of the library. (Note: even before that request the book was housed in the “adult” section.) When her request was denied, Zasada appealed to the library board, an appeal the board rejected. (The Liberty Lake Library Board is appointed by the City Council, but, once appointed, makes its decisions independently of the City Council.)
On Tuesday, May 3, 2022, the City of Liberty Lake City Council voted to uphold the library board’s decision to keep the book after a fiery meeting with a great deal of public input against the idea of the council banning books. The vote was 4-2 to uphold. (The Liberty Lake City Council is composed of seven members. The Spokesman article covering the controversy and the vote does not mention why there were only six votes.) At the time council members expressed discomfort with the content of the book but greater discomfort with the idea of the council banning a book and overruling the judgement of the library board. Notably, one of the two votes to overrule the library board came from Council Member (CM) Chris Cargill. Cargill was formerly employed by the Washington Policy Center in Spokane and is now the president and organizer of the Mountain States Policy Center, a new right wing think tank based in North Idaho. Cargill is a frequent writer of “Guest Opinions” for the Spokesman. In short, he is employed to express right wing opinion. The other vote in favor of banning “Gender Queer” came from CM Wendy Van Orman.
The book banners, led by CM Chris Cargill, were not done. Rather than openly voting on whether to ban individual books, in early 2023 they proposed an ordinance that would codify the council’s power to “approve or reject” Liberty Lake Library Board policies with a majority vote. The Spokesman covered a Liberty Lake City Council meeting in April that was consumed by tensions around this proposed ordinance. While the ordinance was discussed as a technical shift in Liberty Lake’s governing structure, given the prior controversy about “Gender Queer” and book banning, it was clear to those paying attention that this was a power grab by the council. No one seemed able to adequately explain why this power grab by the council was necessary or why it had come up at this time. This was the dodging and weaving offered in the Spokesman by proponents of the ordinance:
“I’m not aware of anything in this proposed ordinance that allows the City Council to restrict or ban books, so it seems like a moot point to me,” [CM Jed] Spencer said.
[CM Phil] Folyer expressed concern that if the board were to ban a book, the council could not do anything about it.
“If it stops at the board of trustees, what if they’re making the wrong decision on a book ban?” Folyer said.
On May 16, after many hours of council controversy and public input, the vote was 4-3 in favor of this disingenuous power grab. CMs Chris Cargill, Wendy Van Orman, and Phil Folyer cast three of the four Yea votes. (Is there anything that riles up humans more than sex, religion, and who gets to tell whom what to read, think, and do?) Then on Monday, May 22, 2023, Liberty Lake Mayor Cris Kaminskas vetoed the ordinance.
She argued that the library board has much more collective experience and expertise than the City Council to write library policy.
“The board is made up of educated and trained professionals,” she wrote. “Let them do what they were appointed to do.”
Chris Cargill and company were not happy, and Cargill reached into the national right wing Republican playbook for some threats:
Cargill said it seemed the only recourse was to dismiss some of the library board members.
Until there is more oversight, Cargill said he will not vote to approve any mayoral appointments nor any budget requests from the library. He said he will be “very skeptical” of proposals that come from the executive branch. [Is Cargill the local version of U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL)?]
“I wish I didn’t have to take these steps, but I think a major trust has been broken,” Cargill said.
Cargill and company weren’t happy—and, it turns out, they weren’t done. They knew they couldn’t come up with a fifth vote to override the mayor’s veto (5 of 7 would be the required 2/3 supermajority), so they waited.
Incumbency and name recognition, especially in non-partisan municipal elections, is a powerful force. Six of the seven seats of the City of Liberty Lake City Council were on the general election ballot on November 7th. As the Spokesman article put it, “For the most part, voters appear to have preferred incumbents, regardless of whether they support an autonomous library board.” Only two of the six seats changed hands. (Note that, unlike Spokane, all the council members in Liberty Lake are elected “at large”, i.e. there are no districts or district residency requirements.) So did the balance of power on the board on the issue of the library change? CM Phil Foyer, a proponent of the power grab lost to Linda Ball, an opponent of the ordinance, while CM Mike Hamblet, an opponent of the ordinance, lost to Mike Kennedy, a man with the name recognition advantage of a former council member. Mr. Kennedy’s is, very likely, a vote for the council’s power-grabbing ordinance, but, like a good politician, he was a bit cagey about saying so prior to the November election.
So that balances—and nothing changes on this power-grabbing, potentially book-banning ordinance, right? There is no supermajority to override—and Mayor Kaminskas’ veto would still stand if the ordinance came up again, right? Well, not so fast. Chris Cargill’s college degree in political science comes in handy.
The swearing-in details and the window they offer
Thanks to a quirk in Washington State law the two new City of Liberty Lake City Council members, Mike Kennedy and Linda Ball, will be sworn into office in staggered fashion. Because Mike Kennedy in Position 6 will take a seat currently held by an appointed rather than an elected CM, Tom Sahlberg, Kennedy will be sworn in and have a vote as soon as the Spokane County Auditor’s office certifies the election on November 28th. Linda Ball, on the other hand, because she will take a seat that is currently still filled by elected CM Phil Folyer, won’t be sworn in until January. As a result, for the month of December (plus three days) there will be a potential veto proof supermajority (5 of 7) serving on the Liberty Lake City Council likely in favor of Cargill’s power-grabbing ordinance.
Given Cargill’s political “science” background (an education in civics and tactics, but, perhaps, not in ethics?), it should surprise no one that the offending ordinance is already on the agenda (Item 15C) for tomorrow, Tuesday, November 21, for a “1st Read” at the council meeting. (The text of the ordinance, Ordinance NO. 119-D, starts on pdf page 209 of the 217 page agenda. The proposed changes are featured in red.) It reappearance signals intent is to use the quirk in the timing of seating council members to ram through Cargill’s ordinance. Unfortunately, while resurrecting an ordinance that many presumed dead might seem really sleazy and undemocratic, it is, nonetheless, technically legal under the existing quirks of state laws that govern the timing of seating of elected officials.
This ordinance will not have a vote tomorrow. (They won’t have the possibility of the needed supermajority of votes until November 28.) An outpouring of interest and outrage might still sway one or more of those votes. Civically-minded citizens might still have some influence. Petra Hoy has put together details for those who have the time to attend the meeting in person or on Zoom or to write. Petra’s work is copied below with permission.
Keep to the high ground,
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2023
HELD REMOTELY & IN PERSON AT CITY HALL
22710 E COUNTRY VISTA DRIVE LIBERTY LAKE WA 99019
If you wish to provide oral public comments during the Council meeting, you may do so in person
at City Hall or virtually via zoom. If you wish to speak in-person, please fill out a yellow
Request to Speak Form. If you wish to speak via zoom, please join the zoom meeting using the
meeting information above. The Mayor will invite public comments during the appropriate section
of the agenda, at which time you can send a request to speak to our meeting host using the chat
function within the zoom meeting.
WRITTEN PUBLIC COMMENTS
If you wish to provide written public comments for the council meeting, please email your
comments to firstname.lastname@example.org by 4:00 p.m. the day of the council meeting and include
all the following information with your comments:
1. The Meeting Date
2. Your First and Last Name
3. If you are a Liberty Lake resident
4. The Agenda Item(s) which you are speaking about
*Note – If providing written comments, the comments received will be acknowledged during the
public meeting, but not read. All written comments received by 4:00 p.m. will be provided to the
mayor and city council members in advance of the meeting.
To view the meeting live via Zoom Meeting, join the Zoom web meeting:
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Meeting ID: 848 2389 1942
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