The Douglas County Library Board of Trustees voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve an investigation into the library’s director Amy Dodson and the staff of the library regarding their proposed support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
On July 22, the Douglas County Public Library Board of Trustees issued an agenda for their July 28th meeting which included a discussion item on a proposed addition to their Diversity Statement.
However, that meeting was cancelled after the library, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, and the county as a whole were thrust into the national spotlight.
In response to the diversity statement, Douglas County Sheriff Dan Coverley issued a largely plagiarized letter to the library board on the sheriff’s official website.
Many perceived the sheriff’s letter as a threat to no longer provide emergency services to the library.
“To support this movement is to support violence and to openly ask for it to happen in Douglas County. Due to your support of Black Lives Matter and the obvious lack of support or trust with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, please do not feel the need to call 911 for help. I wish you good luck with disturbances and lewd behavior, since those are just some of the recent calls my office has assisted you with in the past.”
Black Lives Matter supporters rallied outside the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office on August 8 to protest the sheriff’s letter. In response, hundreds of counter-protesters, many of them armed, held signs that read “Blue Lives Matter” and “Stand with Dan” and “We Support our LEO’s.”
Counter protesters taunted BLM marchers with vulgarities and overt racist language. Some BLM activists were assaulted.
While many expected the Aug. 25 Library Board of Trustees meeting to pick up the diversity statement for further discussion, instead, an agenda item proposing an investigation into Dodson and her staff had taken its place.
The action item was presented as follows:
Discussion to authorize the Douglas County Human Resources Department to retain the services of an independent firm to investigate recent events and communications that have resulted in multiple complaints to the Library and Douglas County, direct the Library Director and staff to fully cooperate with the Human Resources Department and the independent investigator, and authorize Chairperson Garrahan to issue an Administrative Directive to that effect.
The board, Dodson, an HR representative from the county, a representative from the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office, state officials, and the public discussed the agenda item for over an hour prior to the vote.
Attorney General Aaron Ford spoke at the beginning of the meeting during public comment.
“I am calling in to voice my support for the library board’s diversity statement which arguably could be reworded more as a proposition than as support for a particular organization, but one that could acknowledge that Black lives matter,” said Ford. “As Attorney General I’ve expressed the need for better relations between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
“To say that Black lives matter is to acknowledge at a minimum what Attorney General William Barr recently recognized,” Ford continued. “No one would mistake Mr. Barr for a liberal. But even he acknowledges the widespread phenomenon that Black Americans are ‘treated with extra suspicion and maybe not given the benefit of the doubt.’ That’s from our top law enforcement officer in the nation.”
Ford said that supporting Black Lives Matter does not reflect a belief that all law enforcement are corrupt and racist.
“Anyone who continues to ascribe to that frankly I believe is being purposefully obtuse,” said Ford. “Saying Black Lives Matter does not connote a support of violence and ask for it to happen in any particular community. Quite to the contrary it expresses a desire to eliminate violence.”
Ford said every Nevadan has a constitutional right to voice that position, including the Douglas County Library.
“Therein lies one of the unnecessary and unfortunate difficulties,” said Ford. “Standing and voicing support for something that should be an unremarkable proposition, and then risking misinterpretation or, worse, reprisal by those who are sworn to uphold the law. I think it’s a false choice.”
Support for Black Lives Matter and support for law enforcement are not mutually exclusive, said Ford.
Several citizens offered comment. Jan Muzzy called for Dodson’s dismissal.
Linda Miller said the Black Lives Matter movement is a “Marxist organization” intent to remove men from the home.
Deborah Caldwell-Stone, Director of the American Library Association offered comment.
She asked the trustees to review the letter sent to the board by Julius Jefferson, the ALA’s president, Forrest Lewis, president of the Nevada Libraries Association, and David Paige, president of United for Libraries.
“The letter explains and reiterates the fact that libraries have been engaged in the important work of ridding libraries of racism and policies that reflect racism either implicitly or explicitly for a number of years,” said Caldwell-Stone. “This is a particular goal of the ALA and other library associations, to ensure that everyone receives fair treatment and equal access to the library, and finds the library to be a welcoming and inclusive institution in the community.”
Caldwell-Stone said this is not a political stance, it’s a very important mission and goal of libraries around the country.
“We have stated our support for the diversity statement and offered the support of the ALA in the form of resources and workshops for the community,” said Caldwell-Stone.
The board, which consists of five members, Kathryn (Kate) Garrahan, Elizabeth (Lisa) Foley, Jill Harper, Mark Jensen, and Bonnie Rogers, discussed authorizing an investigation into Dodson and her staff following public comment.
It was revealed during the discussions that an independent investigation by a third party would cost the library, and by extension the Douglas County taxpayers, at maximum $40,000 to complete the “fact-finding” review of circumstances leading to the disruption in the community.
What was not clear, however, is what exactly they are investigating.
Trustee Elizabeth Foley stated her opposition to the investigation.
“The Douglas County Library Board should not and must not launch this investigation,” said Foley. “The investigation wastes taxpayer dollars and there’s nothing to find here, nothing to discover. Firing or investigating the library director at this moment will make us a national pariah and put us on the wrong side of history.”
Foley continued, saying that an expensive investigation would be a drain on an already strained budget at the worst possible time, as the library, as well as the county, are in the midst of a budget crisis.
“This will demoralize and further distract the staff from their jobs, and what would this investigation prove?” asked Foley. “In all likelihood, nothing that we don’t already know.”
Foley said that an investigation would be viewed as an attack on their director for promoting diversity.
“We’ve already gained national notoriety because of the director’s support of Black Lives Matter, which is not a political organization, but rather a movement for racial equality,” said Foley. “If we now investigate the director we will be widely seen as defending racial intolerance and punishing a person who wants to speak out against it.”
Foley recommended the Trustees take the ALA’s advice.
Bonnie Rogers, vice chair of the board, advised they move forward with the investigation.
“It gives us an opportunity get an objective viewpoint about what happened and to be able to directly answer any comments from our community,” said Rogers. “Most of all I think it shows that the library takes this seriously on each side. That way they can’t say ‘you didn’t do anything.’”
Rogers said that it’s important the board shows it is concerned, and that they are taking action and will find out what the facts are, and will then know what to do after the report comes out.
Trustee Jill Harper questioned the cost and expected outcome of an investigation.
“Is it going to change anything?” asked Harper. “Like Bonnie said, maybe it will make us look like we’re being more responsive to the community, and I get that. But I don’t think there was ever any intention of making a political statement, it was a human statement.”
Harper, along with Foley, both voted against the investigation at the end of the discussions.
Librarian Amy Dodson said that there were no extra funds in the budget this year and any money for an investigation would be taken directly from the book budget.
“We’re in a severe budget crunch,” said Dodson. “Any money we would need to spend on this would have to come out of book money. Which means whatever we spend is fewer books on the shelves and fewer books in the hands of the community. This is a really important consideration.”
The current budget, said Dodson, has already been halved.
“I think when we say we want to do this to show the community we’ve done something, it sounds as if the primary concern is how the board looks,” said Dodson. “I don’t think that should be a factor.”
Dodson also pointed out that even if there are 100 or 200 people in the community that are angry, the library serves 49,000 residents, and the ones who are angry are a tiny minority.
“I’d like to have a library budget next year,” said Rogers. “I think if we can say to the commissioners and the community ‘we have looked into this and this is a factual report,’ we might get our budget reinstated somewhat next year.”
“Are you saying you think the commissioners might not give us an adequate budget because of this circumstance?” Asked Dodson.
“I think it’s a real possibility,” said Rogers.
Kate Garrahan said the board and the library had lost public trust.
“I feel if we don’t go forward and do this, I don’t know if the library’s reputation can ever be untarnished by this,” said Garrahan. “They’re calling for our resignations, Amy’s resignation, defunding the library. People have said they’re never going to visit the library again.”
Garrahan said it was the board’s responsibility to perpetuate the library for future generations.
“We have to protect the resource for everyone in the community,” said Garrahan. “This has nothing to do with a diversity statement. Our public library is for the public of Douglas County, and if we don’t do something to appease people’s fears that we’re sweeping it under the rug, we’ll see the library suffer.”
In the end, Jensen, Rogers and Garrahan voted in favor of the $30,000 investigation, while Foley and Harper voted against it. The motion passed 3-2.
Later in the meeting, Trustee Foley stated she would be resigning from the board. Other trustees, along with Dodson, asked her to think it over.
The investigation will be handled by Douglas County Human Resources, along with an independent third party.
The Ally has secured an interview with Douglas County Library Director Amy Dodson and will file a followup report.
Kelsey Penrose is a native Nevadan journalist covering everything from hostage crises to dog parades in the Northern Nevadan region. Support her work in the Ally.