Community members carried signs and mini Pride flags at Tuesday night's Clovis City Council meeting when a letter regarding county library books was up for debate. Source: Rachel Youdelman

Documented by Rachel Youdelman

What happened: After more than two hours of public comment Tuesday night, the Clovis City Council will not send a letter to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors regarding library books on the city’s official letterhead — but individual council members may still opt to send their own. 

Dozens of community members lined up to speak on the matter, with the majority being opposed to sending the letter due to concerns about broader book bans, LGBTQ+ inclusion, mischaracterization of the books’ content and because the Fresno County Public Library already has a policy in place.

The letter stems from a request by Council member Diane Pearce at the Aug. 7 meeting when she expressed concern over “graphic sexual content in children’s books” at the Clovis branch of the Fresno County Public Library. 

The Clovis City Council ultimately voted to take no action regarding the letter Tuesday night, but three council members may write their own individual letters. Source: Rachel Youdelman

Mayor Pro Tem Vong Mouanoutoua and Council member Drew Bessinger supported the letter proposed by Pearce, while Mayor Lynn Ashbeck and Council member Matt Basgall said they did not. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, the council ultimately voted to take no action regarding the proposed letter, while Pearce, Mouanoutoua and Bessinger said they may individually send letters regarding the books in their official capacity as Clovis city council members. 

Without giving specifics about the number of concerns she received or what they were, Pearce said that her original request to respond to the concerns she received from the community by asking supervisors to review the material “is entirely appropriate.” 

On Thursday afternoon, Pearce posted a letter on her Facebook account addressed to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.

“This issue is not about a particular group,” the letter says. “This is about any inappropriate or sexual content in books geared toward children.”

In June, Pearce also took to her public Facebook account to post about a library display of LGBTQ+ books for children during Pride Month.

Bessinger said his letter will focus on one specific book, the sex education book meant for children 10 and older, “It’s Perfectly Normal,” because after looking at it, he believes it should be moved to the adult section. 

“I don’t think any of these books should be banned,” Bessinger said. “This is a public library. This is not a school library.”

Mouanoutoua said he is also against book bans, and that while he still supports sending a letter, he would stand up against any book ban if it was proposed as a solution. 

“I just want them to step up and go take this issue on and answer,” he said. “But if their result is ‘Oh, then these two, three books will be banned, ‘I am against it.’ ” 

Another concern he had, which was echoed by several members of the public, was that a process for reviewing books already exists within the Fresno County Public Library system, which is outlined and accessible online here.

Neither Mayor Ashbeck nor Council member Basgall shared the concerns of their colleagues, but both were more concerned about following process and the message this sends to the community.

“I think we have to be careful on both sides of the conversation because I could write a letter saying, ‘I hear from so many people saying leave the books in the library,’ ” Ashbeck said.

In addition to the numerous public comments made in person, Ashbeck said that 53 written public comments were also received regarding the proposed letter.

“I think we have caused incredible harm on all sides of the issue and it really was for no outcome,” she said.

Up next: The Clovis City Council will meet again on Sept. 11.

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The Fresno Documenters are a group of local residents who are trained and paid to attend and take notes at local public meetings where officials decide how to spend public money and make important decisions...