Some interesting information has come to light since our last update on the inappropriate and sexually explicit books in the Livingston Parish Library children’s and young adults (grades 6-12) section. As most of you who are following this situation are aware, way back in August the Parish Council and Parish President unanimously issued a joint resolution requesting that these books be moved to a more age-appropriate area of the library.
On September 20, the library board’s next meeting, member Erin Sandefur made a motion to form a committee to address the request of the Parish President and Council. That motion was voted down 2:4. A follow up motion was then made that told the Parish President and Council (who appoints the library board members and levies its tax every year) to mind their own business. The new motion simply stated that the library had its own policies and the Council should butt-out. Of course, this is the same policy that resulted in sexually explicit books finding their way into the library children’s section in the first place.
Open meetings violations?
Since that meeting, it has come to light that an unknown number of Library Board of Control members (and potentially library employees and others) held a Zoom call the night before the board meeting. Because it was the first meeting since the Council’s unanimous resolution, they reportedly planned out how it would go. A source familiar with the call said that it was determined that Mrs. Sandefur was likely to bring a motion in support of the Parish President and Parish Council. Their meeting was held to discuss how to quash it and then pass their own do-nothing motion.
It is hard to interpret this meeting and the actions it created as anything other than a concerted effort to stop the relocation of the sexually explicit books. One wonders why the majority of this board is willing to fight so hard to keep these books available to children. It’s been clear that the vast majority of residents and taxpayers in the parish clearly want them moved. Yet, the Livingston Parish Library Board is completely ignoring their will.
The Livingston Parish Library Board’s 4:2 solution
The board’s response: there is already a policy in place to have books reviewed and potentially relocated. That current policy removes the onus of content curation from the paid librarians to the parents whose child accidentally stumbles across this material after it’s too late! This is problematic on several fronts and is clearly in need of drastic modification. The form in question is very long and time consuming to complete and suggests that one read the ENTIRE book. Many people will simply not be able to stomach reading these books in their entirety. One doesn’t even need to read a book from cover to cover (especially a sexual how-to manual) to determine that it is not suitable for children.
The larger problem is not how or who should review these “children’s books,” but rather how are they getting into the children’s sections in the first place. Clearly any reasonable person understands that these materials being anywhere near children means the policies and procedures must be broken. However, a clear majority of the library board views feels that it’s the library’s responsibility to put these erotic and pornographic material in a place easily accessible to children.
Why hasn’t the council reined in the Livingston Parish Library board?
The Parish President knows this is a hot issue, as does the Parish Council. From a politics perspective, they took a very strong position against putting erotica and pornography in the library children’s section. That vote will probably end up on their mail pieces during election season. However, tempting as it is, we shouldn’t judge politicians by a vote that accomplishes nothing. Let’s face it. Their unanimous vote hasn’t created a single, tangible policy shift in the library.
Instead of allowing them to declare victory and go home, let us encourage these officials to take further action. The effect of that resolution (so far) has only been to issue a non-binding “will of the body.” There has been no penalty for no-compliance. They’ve certainly given the Livingston Parish Library enough time to address this issue. Now it’s time to see if the Parish President and Council meant what they said.
What can the Parish President do?
The first step in solving a problem is identifying it. There were two members absent from the meeting: Melissa Anderson and Layton Ricks. While it’s unclear why Melissa Anderson missed the meeting, Parish President Layton Ricks generally doesn’t attend. However, as an Ex-Officio member of the board, he has all the rights and privileges of a board member without any of the obligations. In other words, he can make motions and vote. However, he has no obligation to participate and is not counted in determining the number required for a quorum (RONR §49:8).
Hypothetically, if Ms. Anderson and Mr. Ricks had shown up, the outcome of the same vote would have failed in a tie. However, the presence of the Parish President on the board would not have merely added another number to the vote. His attendance and participation would likely have swayed at least one other member. He could certainly show up at the next meeting and bring the motion himself.
What can the Parish Council do?
At the moment, there are four members of the Library Board of Control who are standing in the way. Their votes have blocked any effort for Livingston Parish Library staff to review existing book content for erotic and pornographic materials. They are:
- Ronnie Bencaz, appointed by Jeff Ard, District One (1). His term expires June 30, 2023.
- Ivey Graham, appointed by Bubba Harris, District Five (5). Her term expires on June 30, 2027.
- Kathy Degeneres appointed by John Wascom, District Four (4). Her term expires on June 30, 2027.
- Debbie Henson appointed by Garry “Frog” Talbert, Council District Two (2). Her term expires on June 30, 2027.
Three of these members were re-appointed just a few months before the children’s erotica issue found its way into the public’s attention. Their five year term is so far away that that they simply don’t care what you think. However, the council member responsible for appointing them has options. It is possible to replace these members through a variety of methods.
The most basic of these options seem straight forward enough. First, a councilman could ask his respective library board member to resign and re-appoint someone else. Another option would be for the council to remove these members “for cause.” After all, willfully acting against the unanimous will of the council is insubordination. The council could also vote to recreate the entire library board, and appoint or reappoint whomever they’d like.
That last one might be the best option. With the current seven (7) member board, it’s mathematically impossible for each council member to have their own appointment. If the council were to recreate the Livingston Parish Library board, they could do so with nine (9) members. That would ensure each council district representative has his own appointment.
What can an average citizen do?
Government is famous for its slowness. However, things tend to move a little faster when the public reaches out to their representatives. If you’d like to help, simply encourage your representative to take appropriate action with an email, text message, or phone call. Remember, to be nice: they’re already on your side.
Their contact information is posted on the Livingston Parish Council website. However, we only really need to reach out to four of the nine members. Here’s the list again, with email links and phone numbers, ready to go:
- Ronnie Bencaz, reach out to Jeff Ard, District One (1). Email him at [email protected]. His number is (225) 305-6665. Call him or try to text him.
- Ivey Graham, appointed by Bubba Harris, District Five (5). Email him at [email protected]. His number is (225) 363-5155. Call him or try to text him.
- Kathy Degeneres appointed by John Wascom, District Four (4). Email him at [email protected]. His number is (225) 445-5027. Call him or try to text him.
- Debbie Henson appointed by Garry “Frog” Talbert, Council District Two (2). Email him at [email protected]. His number is (225) 933-6456. Call him or try to text him.