Late last week, a group opposing book challenges criticized Alabama Public Library Service board member John Wahl for having a “conflict of interest” by associating with Clean Up Alabama, the lead group challenging books across the state.
Monday, Wahl said the group had misunderstood and misconstrued his purpose in agreeing to attend the event.
“I believe strongly in talking with everyone, and being able to have an open dialogue with people of all backgrounds,” Wahl said. “I would be glad to talk with Read Freely Alabama or any other group about their concerns. That is the job of a good public official, and what makes a healthy society.”
Read Freely said Wahl is betraying his duty as an APLS board member particularly when it comes to advocating for continued state funding, as state aid has come under threat unless APLS takes actions supported by Clean Up Alabama.
“While we support Wahl’s right to possess his personal views and beliefs, Read Freely Alabama cannot fathom why Wahl, in his capacity of APLS Board of Directors member, is publicly aligning himself, and by extension, all APLS Board of Directors members and employees, with Clean Up Alabama,” RFA said in the letter.
Wahl said attending the event should not be mistaken for aligning himself with the organization, although he recently advocated for removing criminal exemptions for libraries and librarians who distribute obscene material or “material harmful to minors” to minors. That is a publicly stated goal of Clean Up Alabama.
“I am afraid Read Freely Alabama may have forgot the role of good government—to be a voice of the people,” Wahl said. “APLS board members were appointed to serve and represent the people of Alabama, and that is a duty I take seriously. You cannot do that job if you can’t talk to people.”
In an interview with CBS42 Monday, Wahl said he had “no comment” on whether he would still be attending the event.
“The main reason is because I know this has also created some flux within that group, and we’ll just play that by ear,” Wahl said.
He also told the outlet he was not involved in creating a flier that specifically notes his status as an APLS board member, and did not tell the group he would be going in his capacity as an APLS board member.
The Read Freely letter specifically criticizes Wahl speaking at the event on behalf of the board. The letter calls on the APLS board to:
- Publicly explain to what extent the Board of Directors knew of John Wahl speaking as an APLS representative at a Clean Up Alabama event. If you had pre-knowledge, publicly explain why the Board is allowing him to speak on the agency’s behalf.
- Publicly restrict John Wahl, in his capacity as an APLS Board of Director member, from speaking at any and all Clean Up Alabama event(s). Request that this event’s marketing and promotional materials clarify that John Wahl is not speaking as a board member.
- Launch an investigation into John Wahl’s possible conflict of interests, and/or abuses of power regarding his position as ALGOP chair and his membership on the APLS Board of Directors