LEH Voting Rights Grant
In September, LPL staff sought approval from the Parish Council to reapply for a grant distributed by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities on the topic of voting rights. This is the same grant the Board of Control rejected in early 2021 because the moderators chosen by library staff were, in some board members' opinions, too “far-left leaning.” This time, the library has the full support of the board. Why? Because the board has full control over the choice of program moderators.
According to comments given by board President Robert Judge at the Parish Council meeting on September 20, board member Dr. David Pitre has been tapped to “present this in a way that I think is the desire of the board…(to) become a neutral playing field.” He promised the council that such an important topic would be treated fairly, and the Council, after a short discussion, approved the Board’s request with no restrictions.
Now, beyond the fact that I have a hard time believing any board member appointed by this Parish Council in the last two years would choose politically “neutral” program participants, there are several grave issues with the board’s takeover of this grant program. First, the fact that board members have in the past and continue to refer to the program moderators as “speakers” indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the program’s format. This is not a forum, nor is it a debate. There are no “speakers.” This is a moderated book discussion series. In other words, participants sign up to read the assigned book, come to the meeting, and discuss it. The moderator’s only job is to listen to the discussion and occasionally guide participants using questions or expert knowledge.
It's important to note that last bit. This is why it’s crucial that the moderators be scholars and authorities in the fields relevant to the book topics in the discussion – fields like history or political science. The original speakers, Theodor Foster, a professor of African American History at UL, and Chris Edelson, a professor of Government at American University in Washington, DC, were just that—experts. We don’t yet have the names of the moderators chosen by the board, but I’m willing to bet they aren’t of the same caliber.
The second, even more disturbing issue, however, is the fact that the board now has precedent for not only interfering, but actually taking over and running library programming. Think about that for a moment. Until now they’ve cancelled programs (the earlier Voting Rights grant), but never before have we seen the board come in and actually take a program away from a librarian in order to dictate content. The implications for this are truly frightening. With this incident as a model, they can now claim they want ANY program to be more “politically neutral” and therefore in need of their intervention. Storytime books too “far left?” Perhaps the Board of Control needs to mandate a list of ‘approved’ books that can be used. Teen Animanga club showing a movie with LGBTQ themes or characters? Perhaps the Board of Control should step in and design a more “wholesome” version of that program.
I could go on, but you get the point. This is what I tried to convey to the Parish Council in my remarks before they approved the grant. I explained that the Board of Control has no business involving itself in programming decisions at the library, and I asked them to approve the grant with the stipulation that the grant be administered solely by professional librarians. Of course, those pleas went unacknowledged and unanswered, a mistake I fear will have terrible consequences for the future of our library.
LPL Board of Control
Regular September Monthly Meeting
For the September Meeting Agenda, Click HERE.
For the September Meeting Audio, Click HERE.
The biggest free speech issue with this month’s Board of Control meeting wasn’t even on the agenda. Upon arriving at the meeting, attendees were greeted with this sign hung at the main entrance:
This is part of a state statute regarding disturbing the peace, and it was our first indication that the that we would be confronted with a new addition to Robert Judge’s continuing program of conducting meetings in the most combative manner possible. Sure enough, when the public arrived in the meeting room, we found the tables where the board sits at the head of the room now flanked by two uniformed and armed sheriff’s deputies. Now, normally there is a uniformed officer there (one of Judge’s innovations since he’s taken to having members of the public arrested for speaking out of turn), but this was the first time we’ve seen multiple officers flanking the head table like guards around a king’s throne. Truly, it was a spectacle to behold.
The explanation for the sign on the door came when it was time for public comments. Judge explained the new rules, stating that commenters would be required to state their names, parish of residence, and title for the "official record." He then went on to state that "Public comment policy, Louisiana Revised Statute 14:103 must be followed. No debating, confrontational statements, or singling individual board members will be allowed. Violators will be removed." I'm thinking, there's a Louisiana law on public comment in Louisiana? Wow, didn't know that.
What followed was a mockery of the First Amendment, to say the least. Anyone who didn't state their parish of residence was reprimanded. Anyone who even dared to speak the name of a board member was immediately stopped and publicly excoriated. No one in that room (on either the pro or anti-censorship side) was able to truly state their opinions freely.
Mr. Judge seems to think that getting his feelings hurt entitles him to impose actual, true governmental censorship on the citizens of Lafayette Parish. We're not talking about angry remarks about his awful board policies; it's no longer allowed to state something as innocuous as, "On X date, Mr. Judge said X," for example. This is a clear violation of the public's First Amendment rights.
After the meeting I went home and looked up this Louisiana public comment law. Then I looked at the photo I had taken of the sign on the front door. Really, Mr. Judge? Disturbing the peace? That's your "public comment policy?" Nice to see how he values input from the citizens he claims to represent. For context, here's a photo of Mr. Judge at a library board meeting in 2018, back when HE was just a member of the public, protesting Drag Queen Storytime. I'm guessing his little presentation there probably violated the very rules he's now put in place against his fellow citizens.
Image Credit: The Advocate photo by Brad Kemp