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Macon County Commissioners send new Fontana Regional Library agreement to Jackson and Swain

The goings on inside the Macon County Library were on the Macon County Commissioner's agenda in November.
Lilly Knoepp
The goings on inside the Macon County Library were on the Macon County Commissioner's agenda in November.

Macon County Commissioners voted Tuesday night in favor of changes to the Fontana Regional Library System Agreement, the contract that governs the library system in Macon, Jackson and Swain Counties.

Now the agreement will head to the other two counties for approval, followed by the Fontana Regional Library Board’s approval. This is the first time that the agreement has been updated. The county’s resolution said that the agreement was signed in 2013 and must be updated every 10 years.

A number of community members attended the meeting to speak on both sides about the library issue.

The commissioner’s new version of the agreement would give appointment authority for regional board members to each county’s commissioners. At present, regional board members are selected by the library boards of each county. The local library boards are selected by the county commissioners.

The measure also called for term limits, a new withdrawal process, and public comment at board meetings.

The changes also included a proposed process for dividing assets if a county left the regional system. Right now, the counties own the properties and buildings where each of the libraries are located, but the Fontana Regional Library owns all of the books, technology and other equipment within the library.

The new agreement states that if a local government withdraws from the library system the “assets” within the library would “remain the assets of the withdrawing library.” There is an exception for assets that support regional services as well as vehicles and finances.

In prior meetings, Commissioner Danny Antoine led the charge on issues with the library, but at the meeting he called for unity – while also recounting his earlier allegations of pornography in the children’s section.

“I think with this agreement, a lot of things have been blown completely out of proportion,” Antoine said. “The reasons why we even went through this is we completely overlooked all of this in my mindset and my thought process started out with the fact that pornographic books were being distributed to kids through the library.”

“No one ever said anything about the library being a bad place. We all support the library. We all love the library. We have a great staff there,” he continued.

A person in the crowd asked Antoine if he was saying that the librarians were passing out pornography. Antoine started to answer but was interrupted and then refused to answer.

Macon County Library Board of Trustees recently mandated background checks for library staff, according to the Franklin Press.

Much of the discussion in Macon County has centered around the book “Gender Queer”, a graphic memoir centered on gender identity. The book is currently the “most banned” in the country, NPR reported.

In April, BPR confirmed with the library that the book is housed in the adult section. No one has filed a request for removal of the book from the Fontana Regional System.

The three county managers made their first recommendations about the agreement in August.

The new agreement now says that the system can be dissolved if two county governments agree to leave the system.

During the meeting, county attorney Eric Ridenour edited one line of the agreement during the meeting for clarification. In section VIII-A, the group removed the line, “The withdrawal shall be effective one year from the date of notice.”

Commissioner Josh Young explained this change by comparing it to each community in the county owning its own volunteer firefighter equipment.

He also said that the agreement should be taken in good faith.

“The taxpayers of Macon County purchased the assets and I think this contract is healthy for Macon County,” Young said. “I just want to go on record that this is in good faith.”

Antoine added that the amendments were not made so that it would be easier to get out of the library agreement.

“If we wanted to get out of the contract we would have just said so. The fact of the matter is that we are trying to figure out how we can work through this in a good way,” Antoine said.

Jackson County tabled discussion on the agreement in August. In September, residents called for Jackson County Commissioner John Smith to apologize following comments that he made about the LGBTQ+ community in regard to a drag event at the library.

All three county governments and the Fontana Regional Library Board will have to agree to the amendments in the agreement.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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