There were so many people who wanted to share thoughts on a proposed public library book review panel, they could not all fit in the Fresno County Supervisors chamber.
As soon as the clerk called the Parents Matter Act for discussion, dozens of people swooshed to the public speaker’s podium. Chairman Sal Quintero had to slow the roll of LGBT advocate Jennifer Cruz, who was ready to speak.
Several more would-be speakers lined the hallways of the Hall of Records. Only 12 were heard — Quintero limited speech to just two minutes apiece and 20 minutes total.
Many in the chambers did not like what they heard. After some modifications, the board passed the plan by a 3-2 vote. Pending one more vote, the county will establish a committee with the power to review and remove books from the children’s section of county libraries.
Supervisor Steve Brandau brought the motion to the floor. He said he was responding to concerns from parents who complained about images depicting sexuality, especially in health-related books. He showed several examples on the dais — books about anatomy and sex, using illustrations designed for children.
Split Vote on Creating Panel
Supervisor Nathan Magsig joined Brandau in supporting the motion. Buddy Mendes was concerned.
He suggested three changes to win his support — all agreed to by Brandau. The committee will now be 11 members, instead of the proposed 15. Each supervisor will select two, with now the County Administrative Officer selecting one.
Also, any book removed from the children’s section will be listed and posted at the library. And, the county will establish an appeals process.
“There are no winners on this issue,” Supervisor Brian Pacheco said. He voted no, along with Quintero. “This committee is a slippery slope.”
— David Taub (@TaubGVWire) November 7, 2023
Standards to serve on the committee include living in Fresno County and being 18 years or older. Although the focus is flagging age-inappropriate material for children, being a parent is not a criteria to serve.
Brandau: Not About Banning Books
On Monday, several free speech groups including the ACLU and First Amendment Coalition sent the county a letter. They opposed the measure on First Amendment grounds.
“The Resolution is an invasive and unconstitutional form of censorship that targets books based on seemingly disfavored speech, namely references to bodily autonomy, ‘sexual content,’ and ‘gender identity,'” the letter said.
Brandau countered the narrative.
“I’ve already heard this word ‘ban.’ I’ve heard that word ‘ban’ 10,000 times. There’s no ban here. Every one of these books is still going to be in the library. Still there. Where is the proper place for it to be displayed?” Brandau said.
Former Librarian Speaks
Michelle Gordon Hartman spoke during public comment, opposing the Parents Matter Act.
“It is the parent’s right to and their responsibility to monitor what their children read. But it’s not their responsibility to monitor what my children read,” she told GV Wire after the vote.
Gordon Hartman quit her job as a Fresno County librarian in September, in part she said, because of impending direction from the supervisors.
“I decided for my personal health and well-being and my job security, that I needed to go to it to somewhere else,” Gordon Hartman said.
She said the library offered a presentation to supervisors, who declined. During the meeting, new interim library Sally Gomez was introduced. She answered a question or two during the debate.
Gomez said that there already is a process in place for library books to be challenged.
Gordon Hartman said she handled those challenges, about 10 this year during her time with the library.
“It’s not up to me or the librarians that work in the collection development department to decide what is or is not acceptable. Their job is to provide as much access to as much information as possible, and then it’s up to the patrons to decide what it is that they want to look at what it is that they want to check out,” Gordon Hartman said.
She is concerned that litigation may follow.
Clovis Councilwoman: A Great Day
Clovis City Councilwoman Diane Pearce attended the discussion, but time ran out before she could offer a public comment. She started the most recent debate about age-appropriate books at the library when she made social media posts in June.
Pearce followed it up with a discussion at Clovis City Council, but conceded that libraries were a function of the county and had to be dealt with there.
“I think today was a great day for parents in Fresno County. I was privileged to be able to bring concerns of community members, residents and parents in Clovis to the county level,” Pearce said after the vote.
Pearce would have liked to speak during the debate. She understands the need to restrict the time.
“It would have been more helpful if there had been a little more time given because obviously that was the agenda item that the super majority of those in attendance wanted to be a part of,” Pearce said.
One other elected leader attended the debate. Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias sat in the audience, but did not speak. He is running against Quintero for supervisor in 2024.
Educator E.J. Hinojosa is also running in the same supervisor race. He did speak during public comment, opposing the Parents Matter Act.
He claims he doesn’t want to ban books just put them in the library closet. His real intention is to put our 🏳️🌈 community back in the closet. His supporters are #Jan6thInsurrection and those who assault officials. We won’t stand silent as they attack our libraries & 🏳️🌈 community. pic.twitter.com/iXNuXExibg
— Miguel Arias (@MiguelArias_D3) November 7, 2023