Douglas County commissioners push for library changes

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A meeting with Douglas County commissioners went nowhere for library trustees wanting to know what's in store from the county.

The Douglas County Library board of trustees met with commissioners Feb. 25 in hopes of gaining insight into the commissioners' next step with trustee appointments. The three commissioners are expected to vote March 26 on whether they will take over the appointment process.

Earlier in February, commissioners surprised trustees with a resolution to return library board appointments to the hands of county commissioners. For the past two decades, the library board has recommended members in decisions ratified by county commissioners.

Commissioner Jill Repella, District 3, did not provide insight into how the appointment process would change, simply saying the library district should be overseen by elected officials.

The Feb. 25 meeting was the first dialogue between the two boards and ended when Repella left abruptly, vowing to follow through with the decision.

Commissioner Jack Hilbert, District 1, was not at the meeting, but conceded displeasure with the outspoken nature of library director Jamie LaRue.

LaRue has been with the library district for more than 22 years and raised his profile as a feature columnist, blogger and driver of innovative library services.

His most recent project at the district was increasing the library's eBook catalog by advancing a direct link to eBook publishers.

LaRue is also a plaintiff in the case against the Douglas County School District's voucher program. To file the lawsuit, the ACLU needed county taxpayers as plaintiffs. LaRue's was the most recognizable name on the list.

The use of LaRue's name in matters of public discourse ranks among Hilbert's beefs. Hilbert believes LaRue's controversial points of view hurt the library district in the 2008 election, when 52.6 percent of the voters said no to a library mill levy increase.

“I believe that loss was a direct reflection of how people feel about some of the activities of the director,” Hilbert said. “We have an obligation as elected officials to make sure we achieve our greater mission. The fact is that bringing up issues that irritate the community has no benefit. You cannot separate your job title from what you're doing. If you do anything that jeopardizes our mission, we really need to bring that into question. We need to look at that.”

Hilbert said his opinion does not reflect the opinion of the board of county commissioners. LaRue said his actions have no reflection on the library board of trustees.

If the issue is a matter of First Amendment rights, it could be time to ask more probing questions, LaRue said.

“The notion that we are a community of like-minded individuals could be a dangerous proposition,” LaRue said. “Who is the enforcer? Who says what we can talk about? It's not the library.

“If the issue is free speech and the director must be silenced, I think we need to be talking about the deeper role of the public library. What is our mission in public life?”

Library board members support latitude in LaRue's personal expressions and fear the board appointment policy will become a political, polarized process.

“It is going to fundamentally change the nature of this board and by definition the way (the library district) is run,” said Amy Hunt, trustee at large. “That is heartbreaking for those of us who have worked to make this what it is.”