Flathead County

Library Board Recommends Three Candidates for Open Seat

The board received a record 11 applications, including from an individual who challenged “Gender Queer”

By Micah Drew
ImagineIF Library in Kalispell on March 14, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The ImagineIF Library Board of Trustees interviewed 11 candidates for a seat on the board on June 10 and selected three to recommend to the Flathead County Commission, which will select the new board member at an upcoming meeting. 

The five trustees each serve five-year terms and can serve two terms in succession. Connie Leistiko, a former law school dean, was appointed in 2010 to finish a partial term and then reappointed for two full terms which end this month. 

The 11 applications for the open position are the most ever received for a library trustee vacancy — last year’s open seat saw just four— a rise due to increased attention on the role trustees have in library operations and philosophical differences that have arisen between trustees and library staff over the last year. 

After interviewing all candidates the board voted to recommend three candidates: Jake Fulkerson (unanimous), Jane Wheeler (4-1), Carmen Cuthbertson (3-2).  

Fulkerson is a former county commissioner from Park County, Wyoming, who also served eight years on the Cody School District Board before moving to the Flathead Valley in 2020. As commissioner, he was assigned as liaison to the county’s library board when “nobody wanted it.”

“I learned so much. I developed a passion. I really got to know the employees and I got excited about libraries that way,” Fulkerson said. Upon moving to Montana he was recruited to join the capital campaign committee for the new Bigfork Library building and served on the hiring committee for the ImagineIF Library Foundation. 

“I see the role of trustee as more of a 30,000 feet view,” he said. “Put the goals in place for the director and team, manage the budget and then get out of the way.”

Wheeler spent years serving as a school librarian. She also served on the West Valley School Board for 15 years and talked about the differences between being a trustee and actually running an institution. 

“The differences are a big deal,” she said in her interview. “Libraries are run by professionals who have the training to run a library, and they report to the board.”

Trustee Dave Ingram was the only vote against Wheeler’s recommendation. 

ImagineIF Library board chair Heidi Roedel speaks at an ImagineIF Library board of trustees meeting in Kalispell on Dec. 2, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In the most divisive vote of the evening, trustees Ingram, Heidi Roedel and Doug Adams voted to recommend Carmen Cuthbertson, while Leistiko and Marsha Sultz opposed. 

Cuthbertson applied to be a trustee last year but was not recommended to the commissioners. Last fall she submitted a challenge to the graphic novel “Gender Queer,” and has heavily campaigned for the book to be removed from the library’s collection or placed in a to-be-created restricted area. 

“I’m in favor of removing this book from the library not because it is a book about a gender queer person, but because it is a poorly written childishly illustrated jumble of nightmarish recollections that blithely dispenses medically questionable advice to a vulnerable teen audience,” Cuthbertson said during a board meeting about the book challenge. “As a side note, removing a book from a library collection is not book banning. A book is not banned if you are free to buy it on Amazon.”

In her interview with trustees Cuthbertson said she would abstain from discussions or decisions about Gender Queer that came up in future trustee meetings.

“I feel we’ve been split into two groups. There’s either keep the book or toss the book,” she said. “I just think we all lose if we only have either or, and no middle ground.” 

The county commissioners will select the new board member at their June 30 meeting. The board recommendations are not binding and the commissioners can select any of the 11 candidates.  

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