Fremont County Threatens Takeover Of Library Board Amid Sex Books Controversy

The Fremont County Commission is threatening to take over the local library board by May 1 if the board doesn't update its policies on sexually graphic literature in the teens’ section of the library.

Clair McFarland

April 04, 20247 min read

The Fremont County Library's Riverton branch.
The Fremont County Library's Riverton branch. (Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily)

The Fremont County Commission says it will take over the local library board May 1 if the library system doesn’t address its policies on sexually graphic literature in the teens’ section, book challenges and internet filters for kids’ computers.

“If we don’t see the issues listed above addressed by the end of the May library board meeting, we will be forced to remove the chair and place Commissioner Mike Jones on the library board for a few months to ensure these policies and concerns are addressed,” says a strongly worded letter sent Tuesday to the Fremont County Library Board.

All five Fremont County commissioners voted in favor of sending the letter, and all five signed it.  

It follows months of turmoil over library leaders labeling board candidates by their political affiliation, as well as a protracted discussion about whether to put internet filters on the kids’ computers in county libraries, and challenges and controversy over sexually graphic books in the young-adult section.

The library board at its Wednesday meeting scheduled an extra special meeting for April 17 to address the commission’s concerns and demands.

‘Ultra Conservative’

Commissioners listed a concern about whether the board has issued any “formal communication” to Library Director Anita Marple about “her use of labeling” to refer to board candidates by their political affiliation.

Marple encouraged a sitting board member last spring to reapply for the position so that “ultra conservative activist people” would not fill the seat.

Page By Page

The commissioners’ letter also encourages the board to tweak its book review policy so that both challengers and board members will have to read challenged books before the board takes final action on them.

Karen Wetzel, who challenged a pair of Ellen Hopkins books in recent months, admitted to the board that she had not read both books in their entirety. She said she had read portions of them but could not handle the entire text because she suffered trauma in her childhood similar to the books’ content.

Some community members derided this and said the board should require people to read the books before challenging them.

But when the two books, “Smoke” and “Tricks” went to the board for an appeal, not all board members had read them completely.

Board members Kristen McClelland and Marta Mossburg said they had read them both, and they voted against keeping the books in the young-adult section.

Vice-Chair Perry Cook said she had not read "Tricks" entirely; Board Treasurer John Angst did not read both books because he’s been battling a serious illness, he noted.

Board Chair Carrie Johnson, Cook and Angst voted to defer to Marple’s decision to keep “Smoke” in the young-adult section and to keep “Tricks” — the more sexually-graphic of the two — in the library and possibly in the young-adult section.  

Marple has since decided to keep “Tricks” in the young-adult section as well, she told Cowboy State Daily in a Wednesday email.

She said the young-adult collection is “geared” toward high school age readers. Library leaders in the past have said the young-adult section is for teens ages 13-18.  

Smoke and tricks contested books 3 6 24
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Next, Age Appropriateness

The commissioners’ letter urges the board to tweak its review policy to account for “age appropriateness” of materials.

Relying on “the catch all phrase of ‘pornography’” is not enough to weed books out of kids’ sections, the letter says, indicating that 13-year-olds are not as mature as 18-year-olds.

“We would like you to review age brackets when determining where materials belong,” says the letter.

Get Them Filtered

The commission demanded that library leaders put pornography filters on the children’s computers by May 1.

A proposed policy to filter kids’ computers is out for public comment right now. The board is scheduled to vote on it at its May 1 meeting.

Fremont County Commission Vice-Chair Mike Jones, the library board liaison, said he can’t rationalize why the policy is just now being finalized when the board has been debating it for months.

Jones drafted the Tuesday letter to the board, and other commissioners tweaked it during an executive session.

“Why do we have all these delays?” said Jones in a Wednesday interview with Cowboy State Daily.

He wondered why filtering kids’ computers for inappropriate search results is even a subject for public debate; and asked why the director wouldn’t filter those computers automatically.

“This is lost on the community. They just don’t understand why you would hesitate at all to put in filtering on the computers for children,” said Jones.

Lastly, the letter demands “inappropriate behaviors” from Johnson and other members “must stop.”

Hey, Fremont County

Fremont County is divided over one main issue with respect to the library, Jones said. That is, whether the library should be independent of community influence or should defer to it.

“We have a majority of the board members that say the director should make the (curation) decision, and a minority of two who say no,” said Jones.

Public commenters on the Riverton side of Fremont County tend to favor book challenges and library reform, while people on the Lander side tend to support Marple’s authority and keeping the challenged books, Jones noted.  

Retired Riverton library director Shari Haskins urged the board Wednesday to rely on Jones less.

“I feel like this board ... asks your liaison way too many questions. You have to trust your director, you have to trust yourself that you’ve read your bylaws and your policies and everything else,” said Haskins. “You have to stay separated somehow and believe what your board stands for, and what you stand for, in protecting this institution.”

Jones disagreed, telling Cowboy State Daily that the community a library serves, and the elected officials who represent that community, should help to shape the library.  

Library Board Chair Johnson did not respond by publication time to a Wednesday email requesting comment. 

More Public Fireworks

Marple had approached the Fremont County Commission on Tuesday to discuss personnel arrangements and budgeting for the library.

Commissioner Clarence Thomas made a motion to suspend those decisions until the library addresses its ongoing issues.

That motion died on a 3-2 vote with Jones, Commission Chair Larry Allen and Commissioner Jennifer McCarty voting against it.

“I am tired of dealing with the library over and over again,” said Thomas. “This is my response.”

Marple countered, saying Thomas was leveling vague accusations against her without showing evidence she’s shirked her duties.

Thomas said the Riverton Branch Library has safety issues — he referenced the frequent and known vagrant sightings there — and said Marple should be doing more to make sure books are placed in age-appropriate sections.

Jones tried to shut down the back-and-forth, saying the Commission’s letter focuses on the board’s policies, not Marple’s budget and personnel management. He warned Thomas to be cautious with his comments.

“I’m just offering some caution, because we’re starting to talk about an employee’s performance that doesn’t report to us,” said Jones.

Commissioner Ron Fabrizius also rebuked Marple for overseeing the deconstruction of a brick wall in front of the Riverton Branch Library.

But the commission unanimously approved the grant application that detailed a plan for that deconstruction last October, commission secretary Becky Enos confirmed Thursday to Cowboy State Daily.

At the library board meeting Wednesday, multiple attendees voiced frustration with Thomas and Fabrizius criticizing Marple publicly.

Correction - Vice-Chair Perry Cook said that she had read "Smoke" entirely but not "Tricks," citing difficulties with the e-book system.

Clair McFarland can be reached at

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter