UPDATE: The League of Women Voters has responded to the Library board's statements about its actions last week.
"The League of Women Voters of Lafayette stands by our statement that a reading and discussion of the struggle for Americans to access the ballot is not a debate but an important history lesson for us all. We hope that the Lafayette Parish Council will address our questions regarding the role and authority of the Library Board of Control to determine programming for the Lafayette Public Library System," a release from the group states.
Earlier today, the Lafayette Public Library board issued a formal statement regarding its actions last week.
Controversy has erupted because the board rejected a small grant from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities that would have funded the presentation of a program about the history of voting rights. The program was put together by a history professor at UL.
The library's executive director abruptly resigned after the action, and a new group has formed to support the library. Also, the League of Women Voters, Stand Black and the NAACP have issued statements critical of the action.
Today, the board issued the following release:
"At its monthly meeting last week, the Lafayette Public Library Board of Control voted 5-2 to reject a Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities grant after now retired Library Director Teresa Elberson disregarded the Board’s clear directive requiring her to secure two facilitators from opposing political sides for the program.
"At the December 2020 board meeting, Elberson first presented the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities (LEH) grant “Who Gets to Vote?” to the Board of Control. Seeing that some of the more current topics to be covered in the program were political and potentially controversial in nature, the Board re-emphasized its goal to ensure that the Library, as a government agency, should remain a politically neutral, or apolitical, entity. The Board requested that the Director comply with that goal by securing one speaker from each side of the aisle to fairly represent opposing positions on the current controversial voting issues in the program, such as voter ID laws, voter rights of felons, and the electoral college. At that time, the Director expressly agreed to do so.
"However, at the following January 2021 board meeting, in discussions on the LEH grant, the Director announced the speakers she had acquired and then admitted that she did not take any steps to comply with the Board’s directive. Considering the requirements the Board had presented to the Director in December, and the Director’s subsequent failure to comply with those directives, the Board voted 5-2 to reject the grant as proposed.
"Board President, Doug Palombo, explained: "The Board regrets that the Director chose to disregard our very clear and reasonable directive. Had she simply honored the Board's wishes, I do believe the grant would have been approved unanimously. Instead, both of the college professors she submitted as facilitators were clearly from the same side of the political debate. This Board is determined to bring political neutrality back to our Library System. It is a government institution that belongs to all Lafayette Parish residents and as such, it should never even appear to favor one political view over another."
"Moreover, to specifically address some misinformation out there, I want to make it very clear that the Board's vote was never a rejection of UL professor Dr. Theodore R. Foster III in any manner whatsoever. Although the deadline for the LEH grant has passed, we would welcome still Dr. Foster or anyone else to take part in a healthy debate with an opposing scholar on those more controversial voting issues facing America today."