ImagineIF Library Trustees met on June 10th to interview eleven candidates for the Trustee position that opens July 1st. In an open meeting, they asked questions about experience and qualifications. After entering executive session, they emerged and voted to recommend three candidates to the County Commissioners for potential appointment; Jake Fulkerson (unanimous), Jane Wheeler (4 for, Ingram against) and Carmen Cuthbertson(Ingram/Rodel/Adams for, Leistiko/Sultz against). You can find the candidate's interviews here and all candidate applications here.
There was an inspiring turnout of excellent candidates for this role. Jake Fulkerson and Jane Wheeler are both outstanding options, boasting deep experience in board service, financial management, and libraries, a demonstrated commitment to ImagineIF's mission and to fair and impartial governance. There were other applicants also checked all the boxes.
But the recommendation of Carmen Cuthbertson is problematic, and not only because she's far less qualified than many other applicants. Cuthbertson submitted the first materials challenge to the book Gender Queer in November of 2021, inspired by viral videos, articles she'd seen online, and conversations with Trustee Ingram. She frequently makes public comment at board meetings, incorrectly insisting that her request to remove books is not censorship, complaining that her challenge has not received enough attention or adequate response, and penning letters to the editor where she demonstrates her inability to grasp the concept of free and equal access to information for all. Cuthbertson lists only one previous board service position and no library experience, a sharp contrast with other candidates who've served on numerous elected and appointed boards and have held civic, philanthropic and professional leadership roles. And in her interview, she signaled an interest donation-based models for library funding, rather than advocating to the County for the funds the library needs to operate, which is a core duty of a library trustees.
Another serious ethical violation arrises from Carmen Cuthbertson political donations to Trustee David Ingram. This spring, she maxed out her personal contributions to Ingram's unsuccessful campaign for MT House District 7 at $400. (Source: MT CERS) For Trustee Ingrams to neither disclose that he'd received political funding from Carmen Cuthbertson nor recuse himself from the decision-making process presents a clear conflict of interest. No other applicant made political contributions to either Ingrams or Commissioner Holmquist's campaign this year, though Cuthbertson also donated to Holmquist's 2016 campaign.
This is the second time Cuthbertson has applied to be a trustee. When she applied in Spring of 2021, none of the Board voted to recommend her based on her experience, qualifications or understanding of the role, including Trustees Adams and Roedel. With so many excellent candidates to choose from this year, Adams, Roedel and Ingram's insistence on putting forth a candidate with poor qualifications, a demonstrated lack of understanding of the library's mission and values, and a pending materials challenge is irresponsible, divisive, and in the case of Trustee Ingrams, deeply unethical.
It's so important for the stability and success of our libraries that the County Commissioners appoint a qualified, unbiased trustee this year. If you want to see a return to good governance, ethical behavior, and transparency on the library board, here's how you can help:
1. Write and call your Flathead County Commissioners. Urge them to do the right thing. Ask them to appoint a qualified candidate like Jane Wheeler or Jake Fulkerson to the library board, and tell them that positions of public trust should not be doled out to unqualified candidates as payback for campaign contributions.
2. Show up at a Commissioners meeting and make public comment. The County Commissioners will appoint a new trustee on Thursday, June 30th at 9:15 am, and public comment opens at 8:45.
3. Pen a letter to the editor in support of qualified candidates, and opposing divisive appointments to public boards as political payback.
4. Share FCLA news on social media. You can help raise awareness about the value of public libraries and hold those responsible for governing them accountable.
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