County council faces backlash over drag queens, jail takeover
A handful of residents attending the Clark County Council’s Oct. 4 meeting came to protest allowing library funds to be used to host drag queen story hour. The council was meeting as the Vancouver Library Capital Facility Area Board to adopt the 2023 budget request to levy taxes for the capital bond.
The tax revenue will be used to pay the principal and interest on bonds due in 2023 after being refinanced in 2016. The tax levy will generate $3,349,713 in 2023.
Amelia Shelley, executive director for Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries, said the bond was passed by voters in 2005 to pay for a new downtown Vancouver library in Cascade Park. Shelley said a small portion of the tax levy also went to the Vancouver Mall library.
“There’s a petition going around to not fund the library … because most of the people do not want drag queen story time at the library,” said Vancouver resident Wynn Grcich.
Grcich said the council should review the budget thoroughly to ensure programs like drag queen story hour are not being funded. She said taxpayer dollars should not be used to fund activities that go against the values of the county’s residents.
“There are ways you can do this. If you had a room or a certain, like, a bookshelf or something that said ‘under 18 required by parent to look at’ and put all your drag queen stuff and your transgender things altogether in one group, sort of like a porn thing,” Grcich said.
Shelley noted the levy bond being reviewed by the council is used solely for capital projects, i.e. the Cascade Park and Vancouver Mall locations, and does not pay for any of the library’s operational expenses. She also said the library district has not hosted a drag queen story hour since 2019 and currently has no plans to do so in the future.
Councilor Gary Medvigy said while this levy pays for “brick and mortar” expenses, he did previously meet with the library director to discuss his concerns with the drag queen story hour program.
Citing his past experience prosecuting sex offenders, he said his concern is that “this is in no way a proper social advocacy program to be in our public libraries.”
Medvigy also said the library board has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the libraries are properly financed and resourced.
Councilor Temple Lentz thanked library’s leadership and staff for the “great job that do across the board in terms of maintaining the brick and mortar and the programming you offer.”
“I think it is unfortunate there is so much misinformation and disinformation,” Lentz added.
The council also faced backlash from the public over its recent decision to create a Jail Services department which will take over management of the Clark County Jail next year. The jail is currently managed by the sheriff’s office.
Camas resident Marilyn Roggenkamp said the transferring management to jail services eliminates direct oversight by an elected official.
“We the citizens of Clark County are the stakeholders. We are the ones who elect the sheriff. We are the ones concerned about public safety,” Roggenkamp told the council. “We are the ones who vote on bonds to fund the jail, not an unelected bureaucrat who will end up holding our elected sheriff hostage to administrative rules and regulations.”
The county council unanimously approved creating the new department at its Sept. 20 meeting. A week later, former sheriff candidate David Shook was named by County Manager Kathleen Otto to head the new department. Many of those attending the Oct. 4 council meeting objected to how quickly the council and county manager appeared to be making decisions.
“It’s very clear out county government has lost its way. It doesn’t treat the public like the top stakeholder,” said county resident Rob Anderson.
In an email to The Columbian on Tuesday, Otto said no decisions about the jail – other than creating the department and appointing members of the department’s leadership team – have been made yet. Otto also said changes to the budgets for the sheriff’s department and county jail will be made during the 2023 budget process although no changes will be implemented prior to Jan. 1.
Otto said the county is working on adding a questions and answers section related to the Jail Services department and transfer of the jail management to its website.
— Shari Phiel