‘These ideas are Marxist’ — KC-area public library rejects its own diversity audit

·4 min read

A trustee for the Mid-Continent Public Library mistakenly believes the organization’s diversity and inclusion work is akin to Marxism, the social, political and economic theory commonly linked to communism. And we have to question if Yummy Pandolfi should serve on a board that must provide programming and employment opportunities for people from all walks of life.

“I am a little aggrieved by DIE or whatever the acronym is,” Pandolfi said during a board of trustees meeting Oct. 19. (That’s DEI, actually — diversity, equity and inclusion.) “We all need to investigate where this is coming from. These ideas are Marxist. They can turn violent. A lot of this stuff is causing problems and not causing answers.”

Pandolfi, of Platte County, wasn’t done expressing her offensive views.

She once compared a library program geared toward transgender people to criminal activity.

“We need to do some research,” she said at October’s meeting. “Because when you see who’s backing this, it is sometimes LGBT activists. They want to push an agenda that I don’t think is appropriate for the county that I represent.”

We still don’t know who “they” refers to. Pandolfi declined to comment.

Kauffman Foundation grant paid for HR study

And Pandolfi wasn’t the only one exhibiting discriminatory behavior on the 12-member board of trustees.

By a 5-4 margin — one trustee was absent, one abstained and one Platte County seat is vacant — the board voted not to acknowledge receipt of a thorough diversity audit from a human resources firm library staff hired.

That’s a policy decision that should call for trustees to consider diversity training for themselves.

Oddly enough, one of Library Director and CEO Steve Potter’s stated goals for 2021 — which trustees approved — read: “The human resources director will review policy and practices to ensure MCPL provides internal opportunities for diversity, equity and inclusion.”

So much for that.

St. Louis-based Hicks Carter Hicks conducted the audit, paid for with benevolent grant money from the Kauffman Foundation that was earmarked for diversity and inclusion work. But some trustees didn’t even bother to review the report.

The audit called to task MCPL’s policies, internal hiring procedures and alternative programming options that negatively affect nontraditional and nonwhite employees and patrons.

Dissenting trustees tried to discredit the report without even reading it. The pushback was embarrassing to watch.

“Diversity for diversity’s sake is unconstitutional,” trustee Rita Wiese of Platte County bemoaned. Later, she quipped, “I don’t have to accept the package.”

She didn’t.

Wiese, who once argued in a letter to the Platte County Landmark newspaper that the library is no place for transgender programming, was a no vote.

But can you blame her for being defiant? Who wants to read that they lead an organization that employs so few people of color that it is impossible to calculate average pay for minorities or make a conclusive argument about inequities? And it’s pretty clear she’s not interested in doing much about that.

Minorities hold low-level positions at Mid-Continent

Nonwhite employees were relegated to low-level positions, the audit found. Only one branch within the library system was managed by a person of color and no minorities were assistant managers at the time of the audit. That branch manager recently retired — so there are no people of color in branch management positions. However, there were three people of color in senior management roles.

Branch employees were mostly white women, some of whom made decidedly less money than their male counterparts, the audit found.

Sadly, the dissenting trustees got it wrong. Inclusive programming and hiring practices should be embraced, not ignored. Those are proven methods backed by decades of research, Mid-Continent trustee Susan Wilson of Jackson County told colleagues on Oct. 19.

“I’m a little shocked and appalled by some of the reactions to DEI,” Wilson said. “This is not a new thing.”

Diversity, equity and inclusion work is not a new phenomenon and is important in a community setting such as a public library. Relationships between the public and library staff are built when barriers are broken. Common decency should not be compared to communism.

The staff members must reflect the diverse community the library serves.

That’s a notion some board of trustees sadly rejected.

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