Wednesday’s Calloway County Public Library Board meeting was no exception to ongoing tensions between the recently-formed board and some members of the community.
During the public comment period, one member of the community called for new board members to step down. The board changed public comment rules and discussed plans for an upcoming town hall meeting to address ongoing issues. The board also now has law enforcement monitoring the meetings.
Tension In The Air
Tensions have been high since Judge/Executive Larry Elkins’ controversial appointments of new board members Mark Kennedy, Winfield Rose and Joseph Walker. The new board members overturned a decision from the previous board to move forward with an expansion effort, which Elkins has said is too expensive. Elkins has also criticized previous boards for alleged financial mismanagement.
Public comment period at the meetings will now occur at the end of the meetings rather than the beginning. Kennedy said the change is to cut down on the “vitriol and spite” towards the newest members. The public comment period last month became heated after some commenters went over their allotted time.
An online petition created by Democratic Judge/Executive candidate James Gallimore calls for the removal of the new board members. Gallimore had said he’d present the petition at this meeting, and was in attendance, but did not speak during the public comment period and wasn’t on the agenda.
Community member Jennifer Morrison, however, called for their resignations during the public comment period. “There will always be questions of why they are on this board. It is common knowledge that they were hand-picked by the current Judge/Executive and that their application process has been different from previous appointments,” Morrison said. “Members of the public will continue to question if they are truly doing what is in the best interest of the Calloway County Public Library.”
Their appointments came after three board members resigned in April, following the board’s decision to move forward with the $6.4 million expansion project that was first proposed in 2016. The board didn’t have enough members to legally meet after the resignations, requiring Elkins to make appointments.
At the end of the meeting, Kennedy said he and the two other new members refuse to resign. He said they are serving on the board to improve the library and said they all support an expansion but need more time to look over the proposed plan.
Kennedy also responded to remarks made during a public comment period at a previous meeting, where community member Constance Alexander said the board did not have adequate representation for women. The Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives Public Library Trustee Manual calls for boards to be diverse. The five-member board is all white and President Audrey Neal is the only woman.
“You can quit characterizing us all as ‘old white men,’” said Kennedy. “Would it be better if we were all old black guys? Or better if we were all white women or black women? We were the guys who were appointed and we’re going to try to do the best job we can. Thank you for the title, I’m proud to be an old white guy because I’ve lived through a lot.”
Not every community member criticized board members during the public comment period. George James said he believes the new board members are good people and deserve time to consider the options surrounding the proposed expansion. “Considering the previous resignations, controversies and cost, this board should be given ample time to study and sort through the issues surrounding the renovation and expansion of our library,” said James.
The presence of law enforcement at the Wednesday meeting contributed to the already tense nature of the meetings.
Community member Jennifer Morrison mentioned the officer during her public comment, saying, “apparently the new board members are aware that there will always be contention because they invited law enforcement to a public library meeting.”
Kennedy said the officer’s presence was due to other members feeling threatened during public comment periods.
Board member Winfield Rose said after a recent shooting at a video game conference in Florida he prefers having an officer at the meetings. “I’m willing to give my time, and my energy, but not my life for the Calloway County Public Library,” Rose said.
The board said law enforcement will stand-by at future meetings. Walker said he invited the Sheriff’s deputy with the support of Kennedy and Rose.
Neal said on Facebook she does not support the presence of law enforcement at the monthly meetings. She said when it was brought up by a board member through email, she told them that she felt it would be unecessary. She said it was not an action decided by the entire board.
Preparing For A Town Hall Meeting
Board members outlined expectations for a September 18 town hall meeting at the library. Library Director Mignon Reed said they are preparing for an overflow of people and will stream the meeting on TVs in the lobby.
The event will act as a 90-minute public comment period, where board members will listen to concerns brought forth by community members. Each public commenter will be allotted three minutes to speak and must sign-up in advance at the library’s front desk. The board agreed to accept additional written memorandums from community members.
The town hall meeting starts at 6 p.m.
This story has been updated to include comments from Board President Audrey Neal regarding the presence of law enforcement at meetings.