Ketchikan council upholds manager’s decision not to hold drag queen story hour

the ketchikan public library
The Ketchikan Public Library (File/KRBD)

The Ketchikan City Council has opted to uphold the city manager’s decision not to perform a drag queen story at the public library this year, a decision that came after heated testimony Tuesday.

The public library’s drag queen story hour is in contention for the second year in a row. The issue dominated two Ketchikan City Council meetings with dozens of residents testifying for hours last year. The council ultimately voted 5-2 not to cancel the event as part of the Ketchikan Public Library’s Pride Month programming in June. The event was very popular, and because space was limited, it required two additional readings to accommodate everyone who wanted to attend.

Library director Pat Tully planned to hold drag story time again for Pride Month in June, but city manager Delilah Walsh ordered staff not to schedule it citing the setback of the year past.

The City Council considered two motions Tuesday night. The first was whether to overturn Walsh’s decision, and if approved, the council would consider establishing a separate policy supporting programming that promotes understanding and acceptance of marginalized groups in the community.

John Holstrom attended the meeting and testified that drag queen story time has divided the community, not brought it closer together.

“How much time and resources is this council willing to spend before acknowledging that the majority of citizens do not want the public library, or any other city department, to push and fund moral or political agendas?” she asked.

Others claimed that drag queen story time exposed children to perversion, indoctrinated them, and made the library an unsafe place for children. Several commented that the council should support the city manager’s decision and focus its energy on issues like infrastructure and transportation needs.

David Dentinger, another attendee, was in favor of the event, citing last year’s decision.

“This city council has already considered and rejected the arguments for canceling this event,” Dentinger said. “The town council and a majority of town voters have refused to punitively defund the library for holding the events. Our city attorney warned us that this type of censorship was illegal.”

Others said it supported a marginalized group, promoted diversity, and let LGBTQ+ kids know there are others like them.

About two dozen people testified against the event, and only half that number supported drag queen history hour.

Councilwoman Janalee Gage made a motion to vacate Walsh’s decision. But Councilman Riley Gass later made a formal objection.

Gass explained that he had filed a motion last year to disallow the event, and was told by members of the public and some council members that he was micromanaging. At that time there was an interim manager.

“’It’s our job to select the manager and trust his decisions and if we don’t like to fire him’ — that’s a quote that was said at the meeting on this topic last year,” Gass said. “So I would say the tides have turned. We need to honor the trust we have placed in the administrator and allow her to make this decision in the interest of the community.”

He added that public comments supported not allowing the event.

“We are talking about democracy and support,” he said. “The people who came forward and talked about this, I kept an account. Everyone was clearly on one side or the other. It was 28-12 in favor of the manager’s decision, so I think that also supports my reasoning.”

Council members Abby Bradberry, Lallette Kistler, and Jai Mahtani supported Gass’s objection, resulting in the required two-thirds majority. Gage and Councilman Jack Finnegan voted against the objection. Councilman Mark Flora was absent from Tuesday’s meeting. No discussion followed.

Disclosure: Jai Mahtani is also a member of KRBD’s non-profit board of directors, who does not run the newsroom.

Maria Dudzak is a reporter at KRBD in Ketchikan.