4 library advisory board seats vacant after Assembly fails to confirm latest nominees

FastCast digital headlines for Thursday, June 22, 2023.
Published: Jun. 22, 2023 at 4:07 PM AKDT|Updated: Jun. 22, 2023 at 4:17 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage’s library advisory council still has four open seats after the latest round of nominations by Mayor Dave Bronson failed to be confirmed by the Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday.

Three nominees put forward by Mayor Bronson include Jessie Moody, Robyn Branson, and Leigh Sloan. Moody, a facilities manager at a local bank, and Branson, who lost a run at the Assembly in April, were previously nominated for seats on the library board in August of 2023 and as recently as last month.

Only five of the nine seats on the board are currently filled.

Sloan, the newest candidate, is a homeschool parent and former public school educator. On the resume provided for the Assembly’s review, Sloane states that she sometimes writes for “local news outlets and occasionally fill in for local radio”. Sloane’s work has been published in the Anchorage Daily News and Must Read Alaska.

As Moody and Branson’s qualifications had already been reviewed during their previous nominations, Rivera moved to bifurcate Tuesday’s motion to appoint the nominees to allow the assembly to assess Sloane’s qualifications separately from those of Moody and Branson.

“Jessie and Robyn have both been rejected by this assembly in the past for this exact same appointment, and so I see no reason why, to me, we would support their appointment this go-around. Ms. Sloane has not been brought forward for this board before, and I think is deserving of more scrutiny separate from the other two appointees,” Rivera said.

The re-evaluation of Moody and Branson also created procedural concerns for the body, with chair Christopher Constant checking with assistant municipal attorney Dean Gates to confirm whether or not their nominations were above board.

“So under parliamentary rules, if a motion has been made and a body has rejected that motion — which would be an appointment to a specific commission — is it proper for the motion to be renewed by the administration?,” Constant asked. ”Is there a time that needs to pass before they can renew the motion? Because I know under Robert’s Rules, you cannot renew a motion during the same session, or I think within a year — I’m not sure what the parliamentary rule there is.”

Gates replied that he would have to check the specifics in the manual of parliamentary procedure used by the Assembly, titled Robert’s Rules of Order, but that the same motion cannot be voted on twice.

“There is a part of Robert’s Rules — and I will need to look this up to make sure I’m advising correctly — I do recall though that you’ve made a motion, it’s been voted on and it’s done, that you can’t make the same motion in the same meeting or during the same, I guess, session. So you can’t simply make the same motion again and try again, that’s what reconsideration is for.”

The mayor’s chief of staff Mario Bird said that previously, the assembly had said it chose not to confirm library board appointments until a library director was named. Bird also said that because the body that is now seated is constitutionally different than the last Assembly body that saw the nominations, the request to confirm Moody and Branson’s appointment to the library board was considered by the administration to be a new issue.

The body then failed to pass the motion to bifurcate the nominees by a 6-4 margin, causing the Assembly to review all three candidates together. Members of the Assembly who were not seated during Moody and Branson’s previous nominations spoke to their concerns about the nominees.

“I’m concerned about all of these appointments. Our library has been the hotbed of conflict and efforts to ban books have jumped four-fold in the past few years,” District 5′s Karen Bronga said. “The libraries are supposed to be a place where we go freely to get access to information without censorship.”

Bronga expressed concerns that the nominees did not have the necessary experience to advice on matters related to the library.

“I do know that it looks like there’s zero qualifications for choosing library books. One is a bank — he works for a bank, there’s nothing about education. The other one likes libraries. I don’t know that they appear to be people who would be able to evaluate a book based on its merit,” Bronga said.

Whether or not the nominees could separate their personal beliefs from those of the library was a major concern of the body, in light of ongoing efforts of parents to override the professional decisions made by library staff.

“I did ask Ms. Sloane about part of the letter of application that she has in the packet, and it says something about that there may be some books that may need to be put in different places,” Bronga said. “And she says ‘I believe that adults should have access to any book, but some books may need to be moved to an area where parents can check them out for themselves and choose those that their children can read’.”

Bronga expressed anxiety about the nationwide trend of parents leading efforts to ban books from libraries or make them inaccessible to children. Most libraries operate under the principle that all patrons are entitled to whatever information they seek, and that parents — not library staff — are in charge of censoring materials they do not wish their children to be exposed to.

“I gave her a list of books that Wasilla is currently attempting to ban — including “The Invisible Man”, “Catch-22″, “The Things They Carried”, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”, et cetera et cetera,” Bronga said. “And she says that she thinks those are classics and would not need to be moved, but she would need to move books that were more ‘overtly pornographic’.”

Bronga said she has concerns that “the parent choice movement thinks teaching safe touch, personal safety, is pornographic”, as well as “where the line of what’s a pornographic book might be.”

District 3′s Anna Brawley shared that she wasn’t confident the nominees could fulfill the duties of the role.

“It is the administration’s purview to make appointments and that it is our purview to confirm them, but find that there’s always this lacking piece, which is, you know — does this individual understand and support the mission of the board or commission that they’re appointed to, and are they prepared to serve in that role?”

The behavior of sitting members of the library advisory council also led the assembly to express consternation.

“I will just comment that based on the performance at the last library advisory board meeting, including some of the newer appointments, I do have concerns that members may have difficulty separating the public interest from their own personal interest,” Brawley said. “And I understand that advisory boards are intended to have a diversity of opinions from the public, but I just want to raise that concern based on the very recent experience that we’ve seen — including a member stepping away from their position and sitting in the audience, which is not in the spirit of serving as a board member.”

Assembly members Kevin Cross, Randy Sulte, Zac Johnson and Scott Myers voted in favor of the appointments.