Rio Rancho’s governing body unanimously approved a resolution supporting its library staff in face of a push by an extreme right-wing conservative group to have certain books removed from its public libraries. And while a resolution is no more than a statement of the governing body’s position on an issue, some deemed the vote a small win for democracy.
City Manager Matt Geisel said he sees public libraries as the embodiment of the Bill of Rights, and was grateful to the governing body for its unanimous support. The right for freedom of expression has been challenged lately by a group called MassResistance, which has called for the Rio Rancho Public Library to remove books the group considers pornographic or otherwise offensive.
Geisel said the conversation and public comments heard during the last three meetings had “stretched out thinking and pulled us into uncomfortable areas, but I also think it helped move us forward as a community.”
The resolution, introduced by Mayor Greggory Hull and city councilors Karissa Culbreath and Bob Tyler doesn’t do much more than reaffirm current library policies. It says the governing body supports the Library and Information Services Department and its staff; believed sufficient procedures are in place regarding age-related accessibility to materials; states the current Request for Reconsideration Policy is appropriate for addressing concerns over library material; and it states that “the responsibility for children at a public library, and decisions about what materials are suitable, rests with the parent or guardian.
Culbreath said after the vote that the resolution spoke to the core values of the community – cooperation, respect and stewardship – and noted only a “tiny fraction” of people were calling for books to be removed.
City Clerk Rebecca Martinez reported that the city had received 85 letters of support for the resolution, and just one opposing it.
And the vast majority of people speaking during public comment were also against banning books.
While a few people did say that banning certain books was necessary to protect children, the loudest voice only got in a few words.
Michael Jackovich, the leader of MassResistance’s effort in Rio Rancho, was removed from the meeting for speaking out while Mayor Hull was laying out the ground rules for public comment.
“Shut up and obey. That’s the edict from the governing body and mayor,”Jackovich yelled in protest.
He promised to say what he had to say at the next meeting while being shepherded from the room.
Jackovich and another man exchanged words at the April 28 meeting, causing the mayor to call for a recess until decorum was restored.
Jackovich, who at another meeting promised his group would inundate library staff with petitions to remove books, has used provocative words and language at past meetings. At the last meeting, he called "satanic" those who have argued against him by noting the Bible contains passages describing incest and bestiality.
Mayor Hull said having the sergeant at arms remove Jackovich was the first time in nine years he’s had anyone removed from a meeting.
Public comment was preceded by an overview of the library, its policies pertaining to children's access to materials, and an explanation of the types of library cards available to children, presented by Geisel.
With Jackovich out of the room, Tanya and John Watkins Jr. were the only people to speak in favor of removing some books from library shelves. They have previously represented themselves as supporters of the Coalition of Conservatives in Action.
Tanya Watkins said the group was trying to get pornography removed from libraries, and the groups wasn’t attacking the community. But she questioned the city’s statement that a taxpayer funded library serves “diverse interests.”
“Do diverse interests include perversion and grooming?” she said.
While Mass Resistance says its goal is to protect children, several people have noted that the book bans often target books with LGBTQ characters or themes.
Caroline Bell also called it an attack on democracy.
“It’s clear this effort to ban books is but one tentacle of many by people dedicated to overthrowing our democracy and instilling a different type of government. As such, you will be challenged again and again in the next year to stand firm, to stand up, and to stand for our democracy and Constitution,” she warned, adding that people like her will be there to support them. “I want you to know that under these circumstances we’re going to have your back, and, likewise, we expect you to have ours.”
Another man said he didn’t have to think hard about whether it was appropriate to ban books.
“I’m totally against banning books because I know that’s what Fascists do and what the Nazis did,” he said.
Councilors may not have felt a need to explain their vote.
Councilor Paul Wymer said he was there to represent his constituents and the overwhelming majority opposing a ban made it clear what they wanted.
Councilor Bob Tyler criticized people who he said were spreading false claims and said the city shouldn’t have to use its resources to defend itself.
Earlier in the meeting, Assistant City Attorney Alexandra Lopez was asked to dispel misinformation suggesting that housing sexually oriented material in a public library that children have access to subjects the city to a fourth degree felony.
She said the city would likely be the subject of civil lawsuits if it were to start banning books.
“If we were to remove books from library shelves based on content, it would likely result in a large amount of litigation,” she said.
“This is a slippery slope. And if we ban one book, where does it stop?” Tyler said. “The public library is a public library for a reason, and that’s the way we’re going to keep it.”
Councilor Jim Owen suggested there were more supporters of banning books than were speaking out. He said there were a lot of people on both sides of the issue but only book ban opponents were coming to meetings to speak out.
Still, he supported the resolution because he felt the library was doing enough to protect children.
“A community should not be in a position where we become the police for the rest of the community,” he said. “Some of the things that they’re reporting are revolving, but you have the freedom not to (read) it.”
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