By Dennis Minich
A recent study conducted by the City of Harrisonville found that a majority of residents like living in the city and think it is a good place to raise a family. However, when you speak to people from the metro Kansas City area their opinion of Harrisonville is far different. The reason is the perception of the city is formed by outside sources which don’t really reflect the community. All too often, what they know is what they see on TV and generally if you see TV trucks in town, the news is not good.
If we look back the past few years, what are some of the major stories which brought TV cameras to the city? The former mayor invited Kansas City media to town to brag about the city failing a state auditor’s audit. He thought it was political revenge against his predecessor, the story the world saw was ineptness in the city. Fast forward a couple years and the same mayor and the city were under the TV lights for being the only city in the metro to not observe the Martin Luther King Birthday holiday.
While the city still does some strange things from time to time, at least the TV lenses hasn’t been pointed at them. Then comes the Harrisonville schools. First, we find out a high school staff member is having sex with students. Then we have that staff member’s father, who happens to be superintendent, resigning under a cloak of secrecy. Once the sex case and the $3 million settlement are solved, the school then has an investigation into a teacher who may, or may not, have said a racially insensitive word. That case is just starting to wind through the court system and while it is way too early to determine what the results will be, what the Kansas City area, as a whole, saw was a school board holding a 12-hour “hearing” until the wee-hours of the morning. This story is not over.
So, things calm down and up steps the Cass County Library Board to bring a spotlight on the city once again, this time over a children’s book. Two television stations were in town last week for the board’s meeting. While no decision was reached plenty of fodder was given to the drive-through media to again cast the area in a disparaging light. And this was a story which never should have happened. What Kansas City saw was protestors converging on the meeting as the board considered whether or not to “ban” the book “It’s Perfectly Normal.” That’s what was shown, that’s not what the story was.
To lay the whole thing out, some patron of the library found a copy of the book on a library shelf. What the motivation was to find the book is unknown, and really irrelevant. The patron complained to the county commission. Two members of the commission went and looked at he book and asked the library staff about moving it, not ban it, not to remove it, simply move it. The reason? The book is in an area where young readers can come across it rather easily. The book is for young readers, noted at ages 10-14. It is about sex and covers a wide variety of topics. The drawings and depictions are quite detailed and graphic.
In August, about a dozen people were on hand to ask the library board to move the book. The board referred the decision to staff. The staff considered the request and instead of moving the book to the “young adult” area, which is for readers from about 10 to middle school, they decided to keep it in the children’s area, albeit for older children. Which brings us to last week’s meeting with 60 people on hand, some supporting, some decrying the book, television cameras and a board which after hearing an hour of public comment and discussing the topic for the better part of another hour, decided nothing. Look for more people and more complaints when the whole thing comes up again in October.
This fiasco could have been averted when the commissioners asked if the book could be moved. It could have been done quietly. The library staff is quick to point out that while the book has been around since 1994 it has rarely been checked out and is usually by an adult. Moving it to a more age-appropriate area might have actually made it more accessible to the intended readers. It certainly would not have been considered an act of censorship or book banning. Again, the county commission did not ask for the book to be removed, simply moved. Now the episode has turned into a circus, which serves no one well.
Censorship is a terrible thing and I would be out in front leading the parade in defense of the publication if this was about censoring or banning a book. But it is not, it is about moving a book, which could have been done quietly and probably would have been appropriate. But its too late for that. But a whole lot more time and angst can be saved if the library would simply do what it should have done in the first place. Move the damn book.