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Library Closes Book on Political Discourse

By Stephanie Dunlap · October 20th, 2004 · All The News That Fits
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Less was more when it came to kicking out an MTV Rock the Vote event featuring informational booths and music just four days before it was scheduled at the Main Public Library, according to the President of the Hamilton County Library Board of Trustees Tara Khoury.

"I think probably the less said about our reasons for that the better," she told board members assembled Oct. 12 for a regularly scheduled meeting. "Say, 'There were just a lot of details that we were not able to work out in time to make this a success and so we've decided not to go forward with the program.' "

The main detail that ended up confounding the library, whose staff had been working with Rock the Vote organizer Carmen Hillman for three months to plan the Oct. 16 event, was the strident objection of trustee Deliaan Gettler.

"As a tax-paying entity, the library cannot support or sponsor any kind of political or partisan event," says Amy Banister, the library's public relations director. "Although Rock the Vote is a federally-recognized non-partisan organization, the concern about this event was that, because so many of the entertainers who have been part of the MTV Rock the Vote events both statewide and nationally have been extremely vocal advocates of Democratic candidates and Democratic policies and issues, there was a fear that people would misconstrue the library's involvement in this program."

The timing of the library's pullout infuriated the groups it spurned. Shannon Blalack of Step Out Productions booked the free concert that was supposed to have played at the library from 6-9:30 p.m.

as well as the afterparty at Neon's. For months she received weekly updates from the library's PR department about the event's progress.

But according to Banister, the library doesn't tell the board, which meets once a month, about every one of the 16,000 events it hosts each year.

It does give trustees periodic updates about major upcoming initiatives, and perhaps that's where Gettler first learned about the Rock the Vote event. In a tape of the Oct. 12 Board of Trustees meeting obtained by CityBeat, Gettler was the first to broach the subject.

"I see that as part of a nationwide campaign the library is partnering with MTV Rock the Vote," she said. "Is this going to be a political event? Is MTV Rock the Vote a 527 organziation?"

"This is a totally impartial event," Keith Kuhn, the library services director, assured her. "Our program and library services staff have worked very carefully to keep this program entirely impartial in what we're doing."

Gettler obviously disagreed. "I didn't know anything at all about Rock the Vote, so last night about 10 o'clock I went online," she said. "I only spent about 30 minutes, so you probably have more information than I have."

What she saw intermingled on the site with encouragements to vote were political messages such as an announcement that Congress held a phony military draft, Gettler said.

"Rock the Vote in this case means change the vote," she said. "It doesn't mean just vote, it means change the vote. I think no matter what they say they're a partisan organization."

She also told the board that donations to Rock the Vote from Michael Moore and Ben & Jerry's indicate its partisanship.

Gettler herself, however, has contributed heavily to the Republican Party; according to opensecrets.org, she and her husband contributed more than $30,000 to Republican candidates and organizations in 2003-04. She also was selected as a Hamilton County delegate to the recent Republican National Convention in New York City.

Turnout was low at the daytime Rock the Vote activities relocated to the UC campus, organizers say (see Your Negro Tour Guide on page 9). The free concert scheduled to play outdoors moved to its rain location, alchemize in Over-the-Rhine. That disappointed Matt Hood, aka Neybahood of NSPCrew, which was to perform at the library.

"My favorite show I've ever done in my whole seven years of doing this is when we played Washington Park for the Rally Against Racism," Hood says. "That's an example of how that library thing could have gone. At that event, all those little kids, they're just so happy that there's some really good entertainment right in the middle of where they live."



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