Renaming of library in Highlands Ranch draws criticism

Multiple people, including a board member, spoke out against the move

Elliott Wenzler
ewenzler@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 12/16/19

The Douglas County library board of trustees received backlash during a Dec. 2 meeting over the decision to rename the library in Highlands Ranch. While multiple Douglas County residents and one …

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Renaming of library in Highlands Ranch draws criticism

Multiple people, including a board member, spoke out against the move

Posted

The Douglas County library board of trustees received backlash during a Dec. 2 meeting over the decision to rename the library in Highlands Ranch.

While multiple Douglas County residents and one trustee expressed frustration over the move, some trustees stood their ground during the meeting.

The building, which was renamed for longtime library director James LaRue in 2013, was restored to its original name — the Highlands Ranch Library — after an Oct. 30 trustee meeting.

In 2013, the Colorado Association of Libraries gave LaRue its career achievement award, and in 1998, he was named Colorado's Librarian of the Year. LaRue retired from his post as director in January 2014.

In the Oct. 30 meeting, the board voted to change the library district's policy to disallow naming buildings after living people. The board also voted to remove LaRue's name from the building in Highlands Ranch. The cost of the renaming is estimated at about $11,000.

“This is so egregious,” said resident Emily Suyat, who spoke out against the move in the Dec. 2 meeting. “To take someone's name off a building when a previous library board approved it… and he hasn't done anything wrong.”

The library board of trustees is appointed by the county commissioners. Trustees have three-year terms.

The trustees decided to change the policy to match those of the county and the school board, board president Sean Duffy said.

"You never know what living people may do," he said.

About eight people spoke against the decision and two spoke in favor, according to board members and those in attendance.

Trustee Bob Morris remarked that he saw the move as dishonoring LaRue and his reputation, according to an audio recording sent to Colorado Community Media and verified by Morris.

“You have managed to dishonor a man who spent 25 years of his life bettering this library system,” he said. “I agree with changing the policy for the future but to make it retroactive is the biggest disservice this board could ever do.”

Morris was out of the country for the vote and didn't learn about it until he returned, he told Colorado Community Media.

Before the name was changed, Morris also told Duffy that he strongly disagreed with the move, Morris said.

Duffy confirmed this account and said he respects his colleague's opinions.

“I respect each of my colleague's opinions and views,” he said. “We all listen to each other.”

Duffy said based on past board decisions, he expected this amount of backlash from the community.

LaRue and some of those who opposed the removal of his name have questioned if the decision was made in part because of the former director's political views. LaRue has spoken out against multiple initiatives pushed by the state's Republican party and prominent conservative officials, including education vouchers in the school district and open carry in Castle Rock buildings, he said.

When asked about the connection of this decision and a political agenda, Duffy said it was “absurd.”

“They've made this a partisan political issue,” he said. “This underscores exactly why you don't need buildings named for living people.”

During the Dec. 2 meeting, trustee Louise Wood defended the decision, mentioning LaRue's political choices, according to audio verified by Wood.

“Mr. LaRue should have the freedom to take whatever political actions he wants to take…without fearing how it might reflect on an organization that is meant to be apolitical,” she said.

She added that while many have seen the change as something that dishonors LaRue, she believes it gives him freedom from “the burden of being representative of the library,” according to the recording.

In response, LaRue said he hasn't felt constrained by the building being named after him. He added that he believes the decision is “more about punishment than thoughtful regard for my well-being,” he said.

“The whole purpose of the library,” he said, “is intellectual freedom.”

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