93.1 F
Reno

Commissioners ask for ‘new blood’ on library board, vote not to reappoint chair after caustic comments by far-right activists

Date:

Additional reporting by Bob Conrad

Two vacancies are now open on the Washoe County Libraries Board of Trustees after the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday declined to reappoint Amy Ghilieri as the libraries’ board chair. Trustee Ann Medaille also resigned Friday, July 7, just one year into her four-year term. 

Ghilieri, whose first term ended June 30, was up for reappointment after volunteering to continue her role on the board and being selected by other trustees to remain as chair. Commissioners Jeanne Herman, Clara Andriola and Mike Clark, however, voted against reappointment in favor of opening up the appointment process to the community. 

“This particular board has been a real polarizing situation in the community,” Commissioner Clark alleged. “I think we need some fresh blood on this particular board. I am absolutely, adamantly opposed to reappointing somebody who has caused such a stir in the community.” 

Clark went on to say that when the volunteer library board was initially created it likely included “a bunch of retired school teachers and librarians,” and now it includes people who he said stoke controversy. 

“I believe this is an indicator of the dangers of what we are allowing on a local and national level, and I am concerned for the safety of our marginalized communities.”-Amy Ghilieri

Ghilieri is a tenured history professor at Western Nevada College and Medaille is a librarian at the University of Nevada, Reno. 

Many argued, however, it is a far-right contingent that frequently dominates public comment at local government meetings that is polarizing.

Commissioner Mariluz Garcia said she disagreed the polarization around the library board was the result of Ghilieri’s leadership. 

“She did not create this. She did not bring this into our chambers. She did not involve 50 people to show up on a day of our BCC meeting when it wasn’t even agendized,” Garcia said. “This is a national issue, a trend happening throughout counties all over the country.” 

“I have been here for six months, and I can’t count how many times we have gone off topic to talk about this issue. This is being politicized, not by our agenda, not by Amy in her role as chair,” she added. 

Garcia’s comments were met with derision and yelling from several community members in the chambers – some of the same people who dominate public comments with far-right conspiracies and attacks on officials they don’t like.

Ghilieri told This Is Reno she is both relieved and alarmed by not being reappointed.

“Without question, the last year has been difficult, and while I’m disappointed that I will no longer be able to support our amazing librarians by standing between them and a very vocal and vitriolic minority, I cannot deny that I am also relieved,” she said. “As I look back at this experience, I believe this is an indicator of the dangers of what we are allowing on a local and national level, and I am concerned for the safety of our marginalized communities.”

Library boards a battleground

Garcia is correct that libraries have become a cultural battleground in an ever polarized society. A quick Google search yields dozens of news stories about banning books, defunding libraries and canceling drag queen story hours and diversity initiatives. 

Rowdy meetings and heated debates are also commonly reported at library board meetings across the country. 

NPR in August 2022 reported, “Across America, fractious debates over free speech in public and school libraries have turned these hushed realms into combat zones.” 

Washoe County Commissioner Mariluz Garcia.
Washoe County Commissioner Mariluz Garcia.

Douglas County Sheriff Dan Coverley in July 2020 created a stir in northern Nevada after telling the library not to call 911 for help after they considered adopting a diversity statement that supported Black Lives Matter.

That controversy led to a small protest that was met with threats and violence from Coverley’s supporters after his personnel forced protesters into a small area that was quickly surrounded by hostile counter protesters.

Washoe County public comment at library meetings, and commission meetings, has become heated or shut down during discussions of drag queen story hour and book bans.

Public comment during Tuesday’s agenda item was temporarily paused as District Attorney Nate Edwards re-read the rules of public comment in response to personal attacks and belligerent remarks. 

“I can’t even get through my statement without being interrupted,” Garcia said, adding that disrespectful behaviors from community members was leading many public servants to resign. “I am an elected official and Amy is not. How do you think it is for her to run or try to run a meeting in a professional, safe manner?”

“I feel like it is my obligation today to stand up for the voices of the five volunteers who sit on this [library] board, out of the goodness of their hearts because they care about our community, that aren’t here today that said they wanted Amy to be their chair,” Garcia said. 

Commissioner Andriola said she wanted to see the opportunity for someone to lead the library board of trustees opened up to more people. She confirmed with staff that Ghilieri, if not reappointed, could reapply to serve on the board.

Commissioners Andriola, Clark and Jeanne Herman voted to not reappoint Ghilieri, while Garcia and Chair Alexis Hill, both democrats, voted to retain her. 

Ghilieri will remain the chair of the library board of trustees until the Board of Commissioners selects a new appointee. County staff says that should take about two months. Both vacant positions will be opened up for the board application process. 

Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth is a freelance editor and communications professional with more than 20 years’ experience working in marketing, public relations and communications in northern Nevada. Kristen graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in photography and minor in journalism and has a Master of Science in Management and Leadership. She also serves as director of communications for Nevada Cancer Coalition, a statewide nonprofit. Though she now lives in Atlanta, she is a Nevadan for life and uses her three-hour time advantage to get a jump on the morning’s news.

TRENDING

RENO EVENTS

MORE RENO NEWS