Fremont County Library Director Urged Against 'Ultra Conservative' Board Members

In an email chain between members of the Fremont County Library board, members discussed how to keep “ultra conservative activist people” off the board.

CM
Clair McFarland

August 02, 20239 min read

The Lander branch of the Fremont County Library System.
The Lander branch of the Fremont County Library System. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Even in Wyoming, public libraries are becoming ideological battlegrounds.  

The Fremont County Library System director recently urged her library board chairwoman to reapply for the position so that “ultra conservative activist people” wouldn’t get appointed, according to an email chain provided to Cowboy State Daily.   

Tina Clifford, Marta Mossburg and Joan Jones, all social conservatives, applied for positions on the library board in May.   

The Fremont County Commission appointed Mossburg, but did not appoint Clifford or Jones, reappointing Board Chair Perry Cook instead. Cook had reapplied for her slot after the May 31 filing deadline had passed.  

The filing deadline is not set in policy, however. It’s a schedule feature designed to help the commission keep its own appointments, Larry Allen, Commission Chair told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.   

Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun agreed, noting that no violation of law occurred by letting Perry Cook reapply past the filing deadline.   

Anita Marple, Fremont County Library director, did not respond by Wednesday to a Tuesday phone message or to a Wednesday email by Cowboy State Daily. 

‘Ultra Conservative Activist People’  

Cook had announced in a May 3 email to fellow board members and to Marple that she was not reapplying for the board.   

But Marple urged Cook to reapply because she considered Clifford and another applicant to be “ultra conservative activist people,” according to the emails.   

The other “ultra conservative” applicant of concern must have been Jones, since a fourth applicant, Cady Shoutis of Lander, vocally opposes social-conservative library policies.   

That One Is Anti-Abortion  

Cook wrote an email June 9 to Board Treasurer John Angst contemplating whether she should reapply.   

She quoted an email from Marple, in which Marple voiced concern over Clifford and another applicant.   

“Anita just sent me the following,” wrote Cook: “‘I would like you to reconsider and stay on another 6 months or a year. There are 3 applications for your seat on the board, two of which are ultra conservative activist people. Tina Clifford is one. I don’t recognize the third name. Do you know Marta Mossburg?’”  

In the paragraphs following Marple’s quotes, Cook supplied a link to an article Mossburg wrote for The American Conservative, urging pro-life pregnancy centers to consolidate under a catchy, universally-known name to gain more recognition, like Planned Parenthood has done on the pro-choice side of the issue.   

“I am not sure what to do,” wrote Cook. “That would make the only applicants so far, 3 ultra conservative activists.”  

Cook could stay on and be secretary, though she couldn’t remain as chair under the bylaws, she wrote.   

“I could stay on until we find some non-agenda applicants,” Cook added.   

On June 13, Cook emailed board members and Marple saying she had decided to reapply and sent an application letter to the county commission secretary.   

Calm, Rational, Non-Contentious  

Cook wanted to continue to support the library and keep a calm, rational, non-contentious and fiscally responsible board, she told the Fremont County Commission in a June 13 reapplication letter.    

“As Board members we need to come to the Board in support of the Library system, not as purveyors of a specific agenda,” wrote Cook. “During my tenure on the Board, I have strived to maintain an impartial outlook and be guided by the Legal department, our By-Laws, County recommendations, and national library guidelines.”   

The current library board had been working well together and she’d like to see that continue, she said, adding that the board already was “diverse” and comprised varying viewpoints, religions and political interests.   

Pressure Of Different Ideas  

Board Vice-Chair Kristen McClelland chided the resistance effort.  

It was great that Cook had reapplied, McClelland said in a June 13 email to the board, adding that Cook has been a valuable asset to the board. But McClelland questioned Cook’s reasoning in reapplying.   

“I find the idea that any of us would continue on the board after we no longer feel led to serve just to keep others off the board who may have a different viewpoint than us to be highly unethical,” said McClelland in her email. 

She wrote that board members shouldn’t be doing background research on new applicants.   

If board members truly believe in freedom of speech and the right of all to gain knowledge, McClelland continued, “we should never be afraid to put (our own ideologies) under the pressure of those with different ideas.”   

She said library leaders should try to understand the viewpoints of people in their communities.  

“(Do) not assume that just because someone may be ‘ultra conservative’ or any other label that they don’t have knowledge and service to impart on our organization,” reads McClelland’s email. “The beauty of a republic is that everyone has the right to speak and challenge the decisions and working of their own government.”  

This Is The Guidance  

Cook responded, saying she always values McClelland’s opinion, but some of the issues may be confused.   

Her issue, Cook said, was with people who may be unable to separate their personal and cultural beliefs from their jobs as board members.   

“You and I have gone through a period of a contentious, dysfunctional Board and that was a disaster in terms of funding and organizational health,” wrote Cook.   

Her concern with the new applicants was their history of “pushing a specific agenda,” which makes them inappropriate to have on any board, she said. 

Cook attached excerpts from the Wyoming Library Board member’s handbook. It emphasizes board members’ responsibility to resist library censorship efforts and to keep a variety of materials, even if some are offensive.   

In a Wednesday email responding to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment, Cook referred the outlet to that response email.  

Clifford spoke publicly before the Fremont County School District No. 1 Board (Lander) in June to champion a tough sexually graphic book weeding policy, which the board adopted the same night. 

During her comments that night, Clifford questioned whether school librarians really do have an excuse of duty under state law to provide “obscenity” to children.   

Watch Out For Righties, And Lefties Too  

Marple chimed in June 15, telling board members in an email that she would have been equally concerned about “ultra progressive activists” on the board.   

“I apologize for using the label ‘ultra conservative activist’ in my communication with Perry,” wrote Marple. She didn’t mean to imply that she didn’t support the new applicants’ freedom of speech and conscience, Marple said.   

But she does emphasize to library staff that they shouldn’t have a political agenda in their work and should treat every library patron with respect, says Marple’s email.   

Her concern, she continued, is that “someone seeks to be on the board who has demonstrated through their speech or actions to advocate for a viewpoint that I believe is contrary to the library’s duty to uphold the Constitutional rights of everyone.”   

‘The Illusion Of Neutrality’  

Clifford told Cowboy State Daily in a Wednesday email that excluding a particular book from a public library doesn’t violate someone’s speech rights.    

A library can’t hold every book on its shelves, she reasoned, and therefore has a duty to be selective about what books it does keep.   

“Can the Fremont County Library System have every book ever published on its shelves?” asked Clifford. “No. It’s impossible. So is this library engaged in censorship then?”   

She called the “censorship” label “ridiculous.”   

“Libraries always have to choose what to make available to citizens,” she continued. “Pretending otherwise is an attempt to evade responsibility and hide behind the illusion of neutrality.”   

Where’d All This Come From?  

Clifford’s key concern was with the commission accepting Cook’s application after the deadline, she said. She challenged the commission during its public meeting Tuesday to remedy the issue.   

Commission Chair Larry Allen told Cowboy State Daily the board was still studying the situation, but may formulate a policy around application deadlines since the current scheduling deadlines aren’t set in policy.   

Commissioner Clarence Thomas said during the meeting that Clifford and others blindsided the County Commission. 

A public speaker handed commissioners hard copies of the email chain and demanded action during that meeting.   

“This is the first time I’ve seen it,” said Thomas. “Somebody somewhere who initiated this (public records request) knew and could easily have come to us and said, ‘I’d like to meet with you, something is going on.’”   

Thomas said he would have appreciated learning as much as possible before the meeting so he could make sound judgement.   

“But when things are given to us on the spot and somebody says, ‘I want a decision now,’ I’m not that kind of person,” said Thomas.   

Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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CM

Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter