The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday rejected three nominees to the Library Advisory Board who were put forward by Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson, amid ongoing tensions between the Assembly and the mayor’s administration and allies centered on the library and the advisory board.
The Assembly voted down Jesse Moody, a facilities manager for Global Credit Union, Robyn Branson, a student success coach at Sand Lake Elementary, and Leigh Sloan, a home-school parent who provides small-group instruction to students, according to their resumes. Sloan, a school-choice advocate, also lost an Anchorage Assembly race for an East Anchorage seat this spring and is considered a Bronson ally.
The appointees sought two-year appointments. The nine-member board currently has four vacancies.
Mario Bird, the mayor’s chief of staff, said that the nominees are qualified to serve on the voluntary board and they know the value of libraries.
“All three of these candidates for different reasons measure up,” he said. “They are active in the library. They have diverse but well-educated backgrounds. They know what a library is. They take their kids to it, but they also have degrees. That means that they’ve done research and they know the value of having American libraries.”
Assembly members who voted against the appointments cited a recent contentious advisory board meeting as a factor in their decision.
In March, the board sidestepped its existing policy for dealing with concerns over library materials, voting 3-2 to send a book on teen sexuality called “Let’s Talk About It” by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan to the city attorney for review, when a board member thought having the book at the library may break municipal code and state statute.
The efforts by some Library Advisory Board members to limit youths’ access to the book stalled in May, when the Assembly passed an ordinance that effectively removed the advisory board’s ability to decide the fate of challenged books — leaving that power instead with Virginia McClure, Anchorage Public Library director.
At the June 8 advisory board meeting, two Bronson-appointed board members, Dennis Dupras and Doug Weimann, expressed outrage about the Assembly’s recently passed change limiting the Library Advisory Board’s authority to a purely advisory role. Weimann stood from the table and sat in the audience in an apparent act of protest, and Dupras got up and left the meeting entirely.
Assembly member Anna Brawley said at Tuesday’s Assembly meeting that it seemed like the advisory board meeting showed that some members of the board may have difficulty separating their personal views from the public’s interest in the library. She said she was concerned about comments made by advisory board members about the library director at the meeting.
“I understand that behavior is not on these appointees before us, but I am concerned that pattern that is continuing and may continue with the expansion of this board,” she said.
Some of the Assembly members who opposed the appointments also raised questions about the candidates’ qualifications and noted that the nominees had been previously rejected by the Assembly.
In August, the Assembly had previously denied Moody and Branson seats on the Library Advisory Board. At the time, opposing Assembly members expressed displeasure over the Bronson administration’s failure to select a library director. They also raised concerns that the administration wanted to keep close oversight of the library.
Later last year, Bronson appointed the current library director, Virginia McClure. She was approved by the Assembly in December.
Bird said Tuesday that now that a library director has been appointed, Bronson decided to present some of the previous nominees again for the library board. He noted that the Assembly has also changed, following the election in April.
Assembly member George Martinez said there must be other people willing to serve on the boards.
“Why can’t we deepen the bench?” he said. “Why are we recycling folks who have been rejected?”
Assembly member Karen Bronga, who defeated Sloan for an Assembly seat in April, said Tuesday that she was concerned the municipality’s library system has been a “hotbed of conflict” and has experienced increasing pressure to ban books.
“My concern is the parent choice movement thinks ‘safe touch’ and personal safety is pornographic,” she said.
Assembly members Zac Johnson, Kevin Cross, Randy Sulte and Scott Myers voted in favor of the appointments.
Cross said the merits of the individuals were most important in deciding who should serve, not their political stances.
He said that library appointments are challenging and that parents are increasingly concerned about what their children are exposed to at the library and on the internet. Conversations about what is appropriate content will grow, he said.
“There shouldn’t be a political litmus test, and that’s my fear,” he said.
Assembly member Felix Rivera expressed doubts that the candidates satisfied his criteria for board service: that they are sufficiently qualified and that they will “do no harm.”
Rivera said he agreed with the administration that library experts are not needed for the advisory board, but he said library advocates and champions are needed.