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Public testimony about possibly dissolving Meridian Library District wraps up

After hearing from hundreds of community members, Ada County Commissioners are scheduled to meet March 29 to decide if the issue should be up for a vote in November.

MERIDIAN, Idaho — After two days of public testimony, hundreds of people now await the Ada County Board of Commissioners' decision on whether voters should decide if they want to dissolve the Meridian Library District

Public testimony wrapped up on Wednesday. By law, commissioners have 10 days from that hearing to decide if the issue will go on the ballot. People attended the hearings in response to a recent petition filed by a group called the "Concerned Citizens of Meridian." 

The group is accusing the library district of sexualizing minors by allowing certain books and other materials on their shelves. They also claim the library district board members refuse to discuss policy on the topic and have shut down conversations about "obscene and sexually explicit material."

Monday's meeting was four hours, while Wednesday's meeting was much shorter. Ada County Communications Manager Elizabeth Duncan said Thursday that more than 700 people went to the courthouse to listen or provide testimony over the course of those meetings. Hundreds of people also emailed the commissioners to share their thoughts and concerns on the matter.

During their initial argument, the Concerned Citizens of Meridian addressed what they called "myths" other people believe about their petition. 

Group spokesperson Michael Hon said their number one priority is to protect children. 

He said they do not want to get rid of the library; they merely want to reestablish it with different leadership. If voters decide to dissolve the library, he said they would immediately submit another petition to reestablish the library district with a board that is in line with community standards. 

"The Meridian Library District is a critical part of our community; we love it, we need it," he said. "The real problem lies with the trustee board and the library director."

Hon pointed out various exhibits containing books with sexual material that are "directly accessible to children without parental consent." He said these books harm minors and that library leadership continues denying their existence. 

While rebuking claims made by the Concerned Citizens of Meridian, Megan Larsen, library district board of trustee's chair, said guardians should have the final say on what books their children check out, not the government. 

She also said library staff have sat down with the group and heard their concerns. They've reviewed more than 50 controversial books, some of which are not in the children's section. 

If a library card holder has an issue with a book, there is a reconsideration process. Larsen said it's out of the library board's jurisdiction to decide which books are appropriate; that's up to staff since the board focuses on policy issues. 

Larsen also said she has not read any books in their children's catalog that depict sex. Children under eight in the library must also always be supervised by their parent or guardian. 

Some of the controversial books brought up include "Sex Is a Funny Word," "It's Perfectly Normal," and "Gender Queer." Commissioner Ryan Davidson said he was "pretty surprised" at some of the books' content. 

Almost everyone who testified in support of the petition said they loved the library but would like some sort of system to separate certain books deemed inappropriate. 

Larsen said it's a slippery slope, asking, rhetorically, who gets to determine which books are "appropriate?"

"Some parents are comfortable with giving kids the information to properly name body parts, to be OK with talking about bodies," she said. "That's a style of parenting that some parents want to pursue, not everyone."

Some of the commissioners expressed disapproval that this issue rose above the library district level. They urged both sides to have a conversation with Meridian's mayor about possible compromises.

The commissioners are scheduled to meet Wednesday, March 29, at 10:30 a.m. to deliberate what will happen next. Duncan said there are only two decisions the commissioners can make: Put the issue on the November ballot, or not put the issue on the November ballot. Those proceedings will be viewable online through the Ada County YouTube channel.

Before those March 29 deliberations, "Concerned Citizens of Meridian" and the Meridian Library District both have a few more days to submit additional evidence to the county. 

"At the end of the day, the voters will have the final say on this issue, whether it's on a dissolution ballot, whether it's an election for trustees, election for new legislators who can create new policies; it truly is the people getting involved in all different levels of government that drives policy," Davidson said. 

If voters decide to dissolve the library district, the county will dispose of the district's property.

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