Mat-Su officials weigh formation of new challenged-book committee

PALMER — Matanuska-Susitna Borough officials are considering a new challenged-book committee after suspending the borough’s existing policy in December amid increasingly chaotic meetings.

A proposal scheduled for public hearing early next month before the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly would form a committee of residents tasked with recommending whether books challenged as inappropriate should be removed from borough libraries.

The proposal marks the latest in an ongoing series of challenged book policy debates across Mat-Su.

Panelists would be appointed by Borough Mayor Edna DeVries from “as many assembly districts as is feasible” and confirmed by the assembly, it states.

Under the proposal, the 7-member committee would include borough residents selected “for their expertise and knowledge of the community.” It does not require any of the committee members be librarians or have an expertise in literature or books.

The measure would require the committee to meet at least quarterly to review challenged materials and make recommendations based on a “scoring card” provided by the borough’s community development director, who would also make a final decision on each book, according to the proposal.

There would be no requirement for a public hearing beyond the advisory committee meeting.


The measure, sponsored by Mat-Su Assembly members Dee McKee, Dmitri Fonov and Ron Bernier, is slated for consideration at an April 2 meeting during which the public can provide comment.

The committee is designed to provide “feedback of attitudes and opinions held in the community,” a memo accompanying the proposal states. “It is not the intent of this legislation to ban books, but rather inform borough staff decisions of community perspectives on challenged books.”

While weeks remain before its official consideration, the proposal was the subject of about an hour of sometimes raucous public testimony during a borough Assembly meeting Tuesday.

DeVries, who was overseeing the meeting, initially allowed the crowd to cheer and clap but ended up chiding them to be “respectful” when the outbursts became too disruptive. She also broke up a brief verbal confrontation.

If approved, the new process could effectively replace a current challenged materials policy suspended indefinitely by Borough Manager Mike Brown after a January book review meeting ended in chaos.

That now-suspended policy calls for protested books to be examined in a public meeting by a borough committee whose voting members include borough librarians and library advisory board members. The committee decides whether the books will be removed from the system or relocated to a different library section. The patron who filed the challenge can appeal the vote to the community development director for a final decision.

There are currently no contested books awaiting borough committee review, officials said Wednesday.

The proposed committee is based on a similar 11-member Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District committee, McKee said in an interview.

That controversial committee was assembled by the school board last year and tasked with examining 56 challenged books as to whether volumes qualify as “indecent material” under state law, and whether they should remain on all shelves, be removed entirely or restricted to secondary-schools only.

The school’s citizen committee has thus far made recommendations on 23 books. Based on those recommendations, the school board voted in late February to remove the romance novel “It Ends With Us” by Colleen Hoover from all school libraries.

An ongoing lawsuit filed late last year in U.S. District Court in Anchorage contends the school district violated students’ constitutional rights when officials removed the challenged books from library shelves ahead of the committee’s review.

A hearing is scheduled April 1 on whether district officials must return those books to library shelves pending a final decision on the suit.

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Amy Bushatz

Amy Bushatz is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su covering Valley news for the ADN.