Call for Vote To Dissolve Meridian Library District Is Denied

After two days of hearings in Ada County, ID, on March 29 the Ada County Board of Commissioners decided against putting a question before local voters that could have potentially dissolved the Meridian Library District. The hearings, held on March 20 and March 22, were convened in response to petitions from a politically conservative local group, the Concerned Citizens of Meridian.

Meridian Library District logoAfter two days of hearings in Ada County, ID, on March 29 the Ada County Board of Commissioners decided against putting a question before local voters that could have potentially dissolved the Meridian Library District (MLD).

The hearings, held on March 20 and March 22, were convened in response to petitions from a politically conservative local group, the Concerned Citizens of Meridian, which has been putting pressure on the library for the past year to restrict access to some of its books for children and young adults. Members of the public crammed the board room and another room where they could view a livestream for both hearings.

Support for the library was not the issue. Speakers on both sides expressed their approval of MLD, which serves one of the fastest-growing cities in Idaho. Last year more than 1 million items were checked out of the library, approximately 30,000 people attended events, and more than 700 programs were held. Rather, Concerned Citizens of Meridian felt that their pleas to the library board of trustees had fallen on deaf ears, giving it no recourse but to ask voters to dissolve the district.

Among other demands, the petition called on the county board of commissioners to appoint an interim board of trustees upon the district’s dissolution—which would not have been possible once the district didn’t exist. Even if the county had appointed new trustees, they would need to stand for election in May of the next odd-numbered year.

The petition also called for the newly formed board of trustees to reinstate public comment at board meetings. Idaho open meeting law does not require public comment, but it may be added to a meeting at the discretion of the board chair; the county commission does not have the authority to require it. The board of trustees removed public comment at the end of 2022 because meetings had become unruly.

However, the only item that would have been reflected on the ballot was a measure on whether to dissolve the district. In that case, under Idaho law, the commissioners would have had to sell all the district assets and it would cease to exist. Remaining funds would have been turned over to the county general.

The petition received more than 50 verified signatures, requiring the board of commissioners to hold a hearing. However, the board did not have the power on its own to dissolve the district, only the authority to put the question on the ballot.

“Only voters can create a library district and only voters can dissolve a library district,” Commissioner Rod Beck explained. “We also have no authority to reorganize the district. We cannot appoint new trustees, change bylaws, or anything else. The library district is a separate taxing district, and we have no oversight or control over it.”



In April 2022, Concerned Citizens of Meridian provided the library with a list of titles that it felt should be restricted. The reasons listed ranged from “LGBTQIA+ content” to “discussing gender identity and sex education” to promoting “anti-police views.” At least one of the books, the graphic novel Gender Queer, was in the library system’s adult section, said library board chair Megan Larsen during her testimony before the commission.

Library board meetings became contentious, said Larsen, and a police presence was required. The library board removed the public comment period from its agenda at the November 2022 meeting because of previous disturbances. “You have the right to object to an item, and you have the right to recommend a reconsideration of an item that you don’t like,” MLD Director Nick Grove said at the time. “You do not have the right to ban books or segregate access to books that you do not like.”

In February, Concerned Citizens of Meridian submitted the petition, which had garnered more than 90 signatures, to the Ada County Clerk's office. In a Facebook post, the group wrote that “having the petition [initiative] on the ballot will compel the Meridian Library District trustees to work with our group to come up with a simple solution to resolve the direct access, by minors, to sexually explicit material.”

Speaking on behalf of the Concerned Citizens of Meridian, town resident Michael Hon said the group’s number one priority was to protect children by putting the petition initiative on the ballot, giving “the people of Meridian, as part of the democratic process, [the option] to reestablish our library district. All we ask is that you put this decision in the hands of the voters.”

Rather than get rid of the library district, he said, the intention was to “reestablish this library through a democratic process with a trustee board that is in line with community standards.” If the petition initiative had succeeded, he said, the group would have immediately submitted a petition to reestablish the library district.

“The real problem lies with the trustee board and the library director,” Hon continued. “We have a stand-alone taxing district with a trustee board...that has no accountability to the city, county, or state.”



One of the county commissioners, Ryan Davidson, asked Larsen why the library couldn’t use a rating system like those used for movies and comic books, “to keep adult materials out of the hands of children?”

In response, Larsen and the board referenced First Amendment principles and the right of parents to make choices for their own children, rather than the children of others. “Public libraries are governmental entities and are required to uphold the First Amendment freedom every American—even Americans under 18—enjoy,” she said. “We trustees take our constitutional duties very seriously and stand together in opposition to censorship, but in support of every family having the opportunity to make their own choices for materials.”

She also noted, “We know that the books with sexually related passages are just the beginning. They will continue to demand restrictions of any books that don't fit with their specific worldview and ideology.”

Apart from freedom to read principles, Larsen pointed out the logistical nightmare that would follow on the heels of a successful bid to dissolve the library, which she called a “convoluted, loopy scheme.”

The steps were outlined on Ada County’s website, which states that “Should a dissolution occur, all property and assets of the library district shall be disposed of by the Ada County Board of Commissioners. Any indebtedness must first be retired. Any remainder will be placed in the county general expense fund.” This would include the debt MLD took on in 2019, when Meridian voters gave the district the authority to levy $14 million to renovate, expand, and modernize libraries, including the renovation of the main branch on Cherry Lane. The district’s new Orchard Park branch opened on April 28.

If the Concerned Citizens feel the MLD trustees should be replaced, rather than dissolve the library system, Larsen noted, “they can follow the recall process.”



In its March 29 order, despite concerns raised by the petitioners that “minor children had access to inappropriate material without parental permission,” the county board agreed that MLD “is unique, very popular, provides valuable services to the community, and that no one on either side wanted to see the District dissolved.”

It also ruled that “the time, cost, and uncertainty of dissolution, along with potential absence and reinstatement of a new library district, would be substantial to the public and not in its benefit.” Commissioner Rod Beck added there were 1,072 emails opposed to the dissolution, as opposed to 55 in favor.

At one of the public hearings, Beck pointed out that the Concerned Citizens of Meridian “said there's only a few books that they believe that children shouldn't have access to,” noting that the petitioners “suggested that if they could just make those books only available to a child with a parent’s consent, that they’d be happy.”

“A parent must consent to get their child a library card to begin with,” Larsen said. “We have lots of tools available to parents to monitor what their kids are checking out. They can receive an email every time a book is checked out by their child. They can log into their child's account and see what materials that child has checked out. Every item in our collection is on our catalogs. They can look up a book and see what it's about.”

“I see folks using the library very successfully with their kids or selecting their own materials, participating in programs, the library being that third place where the community can connect and come together,” Larsen told LJ. “To hear folks describing the library in these negative terms, it's surreal, because I’m there all the time and that is not the library that I experience.”

She and her fellow trustees were delighted by the outpouring of support from the community, she said. “It just reaffirmed our experience every day. The library is a beloved institution here in Meridian.”

If the commissioners had decided to put the measure on the ballot, Larsen added, she was confident that “the Meridian community would have just stepped forward and supported [MLD].”

She does, however, see libraries facing challenges from state legislation. Lance McGrath, president of the Idaho Library Association (ILA), mentioned several bills that could have impacted libraries were introduced this year. Lawmakers passed a House bill that would have allowed parents to sue libraries if staff gave their children “harmful” material or failed to take reasonable steps to restrict access to such material. The governor vetoed it, and the veto sustained a challenge vote in the House by one vote.

“We had a lot of turnover in our legislature this last year,” he told LJ. “The folks who gained seats tended to be those who were more extreme in their conservative or right-wing ideology than the traditional conservative Idaho Republicans.”

McGrath said a counter-bill written by ILA and allied organizations would have directed public schools and libraries to limit the potential for minors to access materials parents might determine to be age-inappropriate. It would require those institutions to put in place a process for parents to challenge library books during a public meeting. Parents who consent to their children having a library card would also acknowledge their responsibility for oversight of materials their children access.

“We wrote our own bill that would have codified best practices in librarianship as a countermeasure,” he said. “We kept hearing that what was wanted wasn’t a book ban. They wanted reasonable action to be taken to protect minors from the more challenging material that was intended for an older audience, so children wouldn't accidentally encounter it in libraries, and this would have codified that.”

However, “It died in committee,” he noted. “There was a committee hearing on it, and then there was a motion to adjourn, and it could not be debated.”

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