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Dissing access to the ‘New York Times,’ Citrus County commissioners embarrass Florida

Instead of recognizing that libraries are about knowledge and information, commissioners cry “fake news” and stump for President Donald Trump instead.

Stories of our infamous Florida Man — like the one about the guy bitten by an alligator he was trying to get drunk or the fellow who crashed his riding mower into a police car while inebriated – are what get us the big laughs on late-night TV. And not in a good way.

Apparently, it’s time to add Florida Politician to the mix — or politicians, since they sometimes work in tandem when they do something so deeply embarrassing it makes headlines across the nation.

In sleepy Inverness three counties north of Tampa, Citrus County commissioners last month considered a request for a modest $2,700 to give digital access to the New York Times to some 70,000 library cardholders. The library gets the print edition of the paper, but this would mean people could read the Times on their phones, computers and other devices.

Commissioners could have talked about how it’s a library’s job to get information from varied sources to lots of citizens. Instead, they appeared ready for an old-school book burning for the digital age.

Commissioner Jimmie Smith: “Why the heck would we spend money on something like that?”

Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr.: “Do we really need to subscribe to the New York Times?”

Commissioner Scott Carnahan: “Fake news, I agree with President Trump. I don’t want the New York Times in this county. I don’t agree with it, I don’t like 'em, it’s fake news and I’m voting no.”

So if they don’t agree with it, by gosh, the people they represent weren’t going to get expanded access to it — even the Times, a storied publication that’s won more than a hundred Pulitzers in its time. What’s next, going through library shelves and tossing out classics that don’t match a commissioner’s particular worldview?

Public libraries are one of the best things we’ve got going, filled with ideas, literature, beach-reads, history, science, politics. They’re a window on the world. They hold material that’s appealing, thought-provoking, unfamiliar, even offensive. It’s about knowledge, and how people different from you think.

Unless your elected officials decide you don’t need to know.

Not so long ago, a small display of gay literature at a Hillsborough library inspired some offended commissioners to pass a ban on county participation in anything to do with gay pride. Not long after, voters elected their first openly gay commissioner and the board ultimately did away with that anti-pride mandate.

Two weeks later another meeting in Citrus County was attended by protesters who wanted commissioners to know how they felt about censorship and partisanship. That day, Commissioner Kitchen lamented, "We can no longer have a conversation between one another.” But conversation involves leaving room for views other than your own. They’ll revisit the Times access issue at their Nov. 19 meeting.

On this one, an elected official’s presidential preference or personal politics should matter not a whit. We’re not talking about a commissioner’s private library or stack of favorite paperbacks on his front porch. This is about the greater good for the citizens this commission serves.

And fear of information is not a good look, even for Florida Politician.