Douglas County Library Board hears the results of diversity statement investigation

Merely suggesting the library board of trustees consider a pro-BLM diversity statement prompted inquiry

BLM and anti-BLM protesters clash in Minden, Nevada on August 8, 2020 - photo: Kelsey Penrose/the Ally

On June 24 of this year, the Douglas County Public Library posted a diversity statement to its Facebook page. The county’s legal counsel immediately ordered Library Director Amy Dodson to remove the statement in support of Black Lives Matter, which she did under protest.

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 the library’s Diversity Statement. 

The meeting was cancelled after Douglas County Sheriff Dan Coverley published a largely plagiarized letter to the library board on the sheriff’s official website.

“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,” the letter read. “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.”

On August 8, a handful of Black Lives Matter supporters rallied outside the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. 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.

Anti-BLM protesters in Gardnerville, NV – photo: Kelsey Penrose/the Ally

During the virtual library board of trustees meeting on August 25, in the wake of the fracas earlier in the month, many expected the trustees to pick up the diversity statement for further discussion, but instead, an agenda item proposing an investigation into Douglas County Library Director Amy 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. 

Today, during a special board of trustees meeting, trustees heard a presentation of the investigation’s findings from Molly Rezac, a labor attorney for Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart.

The trustees budgeted up to $40,000 for the investigation.

Rezac described a document-intensive fact-finding process. She said the scope of the investigation was focused on “the facts surrounding the posting of a diversity statement on behalf of the library.”

Numerous witness interviews were conducted to include all board members, library Director Amy Dodson, and eight other library employees.

Rezac said that the American Library Association, the Urban Libraries Council, and Public Library Association called on libraries to publish diversity statements.

Director Dodson researched and wrote a diversity statement and asked library supervisors to review and revise it, according to Rezac.

When the statement was final, Director Dodson directed the diversity statement to be posted to social media.

Soon after, Dodson heard from Douglas County legal counsel.

“She (Amy Dodson) was contacted by legal counsel for the county and was asked to remove the statement and told that if the library wanted a diversity statement posted, the board (of Trustees) should review that statement,” Rezac told trustees in an online meeting earlier today.

“At the time there was a question whether or not such a diversity statement would be considered political in nature. It’s important to note that the Douglas County policies, as well as the Hatch Act, prohibit public employees from making statements or supporting political activism or political groups,” Rezac continued. 

Rezac noted that on July 14 of this year, the US Special Counsel issued its memorandum related to the Hatch Act finding that Black Lives Matter terminology and the Black Lives Matter group was not political and not prohibited by the Hatch Act.”

Director Dodson did remove the post when requested but did so under protest, according to Rezac.

“In the email that she sent to Board members, she (Amy Dodson) specifically stated that she has authority to do this (post the diversity statement) and that she did not think that she needed to remove that,” Rezac said.

As part of the investigation, Rezac studied what other libraries in the region and around the nation were doing regarding the publication of diversity statements.

“What I find interesting about this is the Washoe County Library System did the exact same thing, and that they felt that they had the authority, the director felt that he had the authority to simply post the statement and then subsequently notify his board in the meeting related to that statement, and that is what occurred there.”

The question for investigators was whether posting the diversity statement to social media was a violation of policy. Rezac pointed out that the board has no history approving or disproving social media posts, though most social media posts are traditionally related to events at the library and not matters of policy.

Rezac emphasized that the diversity statement is effectively a restatement of existing library policy regarding equal access to information, policy grounded in state statute.

“The posting on social media of the statement itself reiterating that the Douglas County Library welcomes all was not the posting of a new policy so to speak and was within the authority of Director Dodson,” Rezac told trustees.

Armed BLM counter protesters in Minden, Nevada on August 8, 2020 – photo: Kelsey Penrose/the Ally

The problem, Rezac continued, was a failure of the library director and board of trustees to communicate and that some trustees were caught off guard. But Rezac emphasized that the agenda item was merely to discuss the diversity statement. 

“It could have been revised. It could have been determined that there was no need for a separate diversity statement because, as we noted before, we already have the Library Bill of Rights … we already have those … those were things that unfortunately this board never got to, to be able to have that discussion based upon the facts and circumstances that occurred after the posting of the diversity statement and the response from the public.

“I don’t think anybody, the director or any board member could have necessarily foreseen exactly what happened with the sheriff writing his letter and the national media attention that this garnered.”

In public comment, some citizens were disappointed that the diversity statement was controversial at all. Jen Wilson left a voicemail comment for trustees.

“I want to address the Douglas County Library Board of Trustees and express my disappointment in the decision to move forward with the very costly investigation into Director Dodson and the Douglas County Library for simply sharing her draft of a diversity statement that says Black Lives Matter and for taking the action of signing off on the Urban Library Council’s statement of social equity. I want to thank her for taking those steps.

“Because it was so clearly necessary in our community as evidenced by the level of backlash she received when she came down on the right side of history. Racial and social equity are principles which are key to the stewardship of any library. And it shouldn’t be controversial for her to state those publicly.”

The investigation considered Dodson’s interactions with the media, to include the Ally.

“It has to be noted that Director Dodson, part of her job description is that she does represent the library in front of the media. However, throughout this instance, she had indicated to the board that the public information officer had advised her to stop those media requests. She initially did so, and then she changed her mind and continued with those types of media requests in responding to the media. She does not take orders from the public information officer. 

“However, I think this again highlights some of the issues with respect to communication between the director and the board in that she had told the board that she was not going to engage with the media any longer. When she changed that decision and decided to then engage with the media moving forward, then she should have informed the board of that as well.

“It has to be noted that there wasn’t a public meeting and she was not directed by the board not to talk to media, but the public information officer said it would probably be the best idea. It should also be noted that the sheriff was also told not to engage with the media but did so around the same time as the director did.”

Anti-BLM militia took up position outside the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office – photo: Kelsey Penrose/the Ally

So did Amy Dodson violate policy or break any laws in suggesting that the library board of trustees consider a diversity statement, a statement that the library posted on social media? Molly Rezac said no.

“So, the bottom line is that I feel that while I do not find with respect to these instances itself that there were violations of policies related to what occurred with the diversity statement and the subsequent events, including the protest and media outcry, etc. 

“However, it is clear that the board and … some of the board members do not feel that they are adequately informed with respect to all matters of the library. Again, they are not within the library industry. Had they been more informed that there was a call to action amongst libraries to put these kinds of statements, they may have had an opportunity to have a discussion prior to the drafting of such a statement to make a determination as to whether or not was it completely outside or a violation of policy to draft that statement and post it? 

“I don’t think so, particularly given what library associations were doing, what current policy is with respect to social media posts, what other libraries in the same statutory scheme, what their authority allows, the same type of authority of their director, and that their conduct was very similar.” 

Public librarians are noted as nonpartisan information activists. Rezac told trustees that by virtue of being a purveyor of accurate information, the Douglas County librarian and librarians everywhere are on the forefront of many controversial and important issues.

Charles Macquarie spoke in support of Amy Dodson and the original diversity statement drafted in support of Black Lives Matter.

“It is utterly dismaying that in this particular climate that the library board has not provided all their support for such a statement. And it seems to me that if Douglas County cannot support such a basic statement, it’s hard to consider it anything less than a sundown town.

“The fact that many spoke in opposition to the library’s statement are themselves blatant white supremacists, and it can only lead me to conclude that the board members who do not support this statement are white supremacists.

“The library’s previous statement was completely based in library professional practice and in the larger national conversation about countering police violence in the United States.

“The actions against Amy Dodson not only constitute a deliberate action to interfere with a professional library practice, but also amount to what basically seems to be tacit support for White supremacists who are seeking to build a base in northern Nevada.”

Requests for comment about the investigation to the Douglas County public information officer have not been returned. The board of trustees took no action on the presentation at today’s special meeting.


Brian Bahouth is a career public media journalist and editor of the Sierra Nevada Ally. Support his work between now and the end of the year, and NewsMatch will match you one-time or ongoing donation.