On Tuesday, the Douglas County Library Board of Trustees authorized a $30,000 investigation into Library Director Amy Dodson following a meeting agenda item in which Dodson proposed the Board formally support Black Lives Matter (BLM).
Since the agenda was issued, Douglas County has appeared in national headlines regarding the ire of Sheriff Dan Coverley over the proposed statement of support. A subsequent “Black Lives Matter” protest and “Blue Lives Matter” counter-protest resulted in more national attention and as many as three police incident reports, to include alleged assaults that took place during the rally. No arrests have been made.
Many in the community are asking for Dodson to be dismissed, stating that she used the library as a platform for her own politics, and was attempting to single-handedly change county policy herself.
Dodson said that her personal opinions had nothing to do with the proposed agenda item, and that the initial intent was regarding a social movement, not a political one.
“There’s a lot of misinformation going around,” said Dodson. “Honestly, the statement that was written was meant to be for discussion. It wasn’t necessarily going to be adopted or approved, it was only for discussion.”
The agenda item in question included a proposed diversity statement that mirrored many across the country under the guidance of the American Library Association (ALA), which included the line: “We support #Black Lives Matter. We resolutely assert and believe that all forms of racism, hatred, inequality, and injustice don’t belong in our society.”
Many personal attacks have been leveled against Dodson since the agenda came out, but Dodson said her opinions have nothing to do with the diversity statement.
“One of the assumptions the public has made is that this is my opinion and my feelings that were in this statement, and that’s not true at all,” said Dodson. “I tried to write a statement in-line with all public libraries and the American Library Association, and using that as my guideline.”
The ALA recently issued several responses regarding their support for Black Lives Matter, ensuring diversity and safety at libraries, and being inclusive to all patrons.
What many members of the public are confused about is what the library board intends to investigate, and Dodson said she shared that confusion.
“I don’t know what there is to investigate,” said Dodson. “I think what they’re trying to do is convey to the public they’ve done their due diligence in this matter. I think they’re reacting to some of the nasty comments from the public, and they want to be able to say ‘we investigated this, there was no wrong doing and we’re going to move on now.’”
While many have called for Dodson’s dismissal over her proposed support of Black Lives Matter, there have been relatively few residents who have called for an investigation into Sheriff Coverley’s statement condemning Black Lives Matter.
“I think it’s a double standard,” said Dodson. “However, he’s an elected official and I’m not so we have different people that we report to.”
Dodson and Coverley discussed matters following Coverley’s public statement and perceived threat that the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office would no longer be responding to the library’s calls for service, and following discussions he issued another public statement saying the sheriff’s office wouldn’t ignore calls for service.
“I like our sheriff and the sheriff’s office,” said Dodson. “I support all the hard work that they do, I know they put themselves in harm’s way for the public every single day, and I appreciate and respect that very much. But it was [Coverley’s] statement that projected us into the national spotlight.”
Whether or not he did anything wrong was not for her to say, she added, but she knows that she did nothing wrong either.
While there is a specific county code relating to employee participation in political activities, the distinction to Dodson is that Black Lives Matter is a social movement, not a political one.
The difference between a social movement and a political one is explained by Jonathan Christiansen, M.A. in a 2009 essay. Defining what, exactly, a social movement is can be difficult. It is not a political party or interest group, which are stable political entities that have regular access to political power and political elites; nor is it a mass fad or trend, which are unorganized, fleeting and without goals.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel stated that expressing support for the Black Lives Matter movement is not political, and federal employees are allowed to express their support while on the job.
Dodson said the board was already considering adding a diversity statement months before the ALA and other libraries around the nation began discussing support of BLM.
“They said a diversity statement should be one of our goals, and we should work on it,” said Dodson. “It was already on our minds. When all of the events across the country have inspired other libraries to make a statement, we were following suit. We were doing what the profession expects us to do.”
Dodson said that while she understands that the board wants to convey to the public they did their due diligence investigating the matter, in a time when the library’s budgets have already been slashed, it’s not a good fiscal move.
“In a time of severe budget cuts, I don’t think it’s a wise use of funds,” said Dodson.
Specifically, the overall library budget has been cut by 22 percent due to the pandemic, and the book budget was slashed by 75 percent alone.
“We have no funding for the Book Mobile,” said Dodson. “We don’t have money for staff training or office supplies. We’re understaffed by three positions which have been frozen due to the pandemic.”
Presently, the investigation is authorized for $30,000, which will have to come out of the book budget, as all other budgets are for necessities such as internet, phone services, staff members, and more.
“If they find another source of funding that will be great,” said Dodson. “But anything they take from our budget will come from the book budget. We’re taking books out of the hands of people in the community.”
It is not only Dodson as library director who is now facing scrutiny by the investigation, but the library staff as a whole.
“The staff has been really hurt by this,” said Dodson. “They’ve been bearing the brunt of a lot of it.”
Dodson said it is library staff who has been fielding calls and emails and listening to the — sometimes nasty — things the public has been saying.
“Morale is not good,” said Dodson. “They don’t feel supported, and they’re just trying to do their job, and they’re really excellent at what they do. They do an amazing job every day, especially considering we’re shorthanded.”
The majority of the emails and statements sent to the board as well as the library, which can all be viewed in the board agenda packet below, did not use profanities or threats. Many mentioned BLM being a “Marxist” “Maoist” or “terrorist organization.” Some offered their support of the diversity statement.
It is unclear why the board agenda packet is not available online at the time of this publication.
Some were quite personally directed at Dodson.
“Amy Dodson are you out of your mind?” wrote Lori Teakle. “Pandering to BLM, the very same lawless, hateful, lying, anarchist, subversive group that has been tearing our cities and infrastructure down across the nation, and you are coddling and sucking up to them here in Douglas County? Oh, if only you were their target this morning instead of our Sheriff, his office and officers. You should be fired and immediately arrested.”
Mike S. (no last name given) stated he would “make it my life’s goal to see [the library] defunded.”
Lori Teakle wrote to the board twice stating Dodson should be fired and that Dodson “clearly intended to [cause] disruption, riots, anarchy, and destruction in Douglas County.”
“Dear Amy, another liberal, loser, militant lesbian, whatever great accomplishment you think you’ve done in life will always be overshadowed by your stupid statement. I can assure you, your family hates you,” read an anonymous postcard, mailed from Arizona.
Some were blatantly racist and will not be re-printed here but can be viewed within the document.
Many, including Mike S., Susan Davies, Debbie Fleischer, and Liz McGeein, called for the library to be defunded.
Of the comments received by the board and library, statements of support were overwhelmed by statements of dissent, but they were not altogether absent.
George DeBoever gave his support, adding, “Our county is diverse and everyone should feel welcome.”
Camille Bently wrote that BLM is a human rights cause, not a political one, and offered to pledge a $1,500 annual donation to the library.
Dodson said that she has been shocked by the negative response from the community, and the way some residents responded with violence and racist language during the ensuing protest.
“I always thought this was a quiet sleepy community,” said Dodson. “People have always been kind, good neighbors. I never expected the community to respond so much to a discussion on Black Lives Matter, on diversity. Maybe I was naive, but I thought everyone hated racism and discrimination.”
Dodson grew up in the south, and personally witnessed busing (race-integration busing) and it’s—often violent—reaction from the public.
“That was fifty years ago,” said Dodson. “Fifty years later and people are still becoming violent and demonstrative with their beliefs.”
“I’ve seen a lot of discrimination and racism throughout my life,” added Dodson. “This was worse than anything I ever saw in the south.”
During the board meeting, trustees discussed a fear that if they did not go through with the investigation, the county commissioners might cut the library’s budget.
“I don’t think the [board of] commissioners would do that,” said Dodson. “I think it would be unethical if it did happen. They shouldn’t punish the library. It would end up hurting the public the most.”
Following the 3-2 vote, Trustee Lisa Foley stated she would be resigning from the board.
Dodson said that she hopes Foley will reconsider.
“I value her contributions and I hope she’ll stay,” said Dodson.
It is unknown at this time when an investigation will begin and how it will be funded. The logistics will be decided by the board during a later board meeting, according to Dodson.
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.