The Ketchikan City Council in its regular meeting Thursday, heard more than an hour and a half of comments from the public, focusing mostly on a “Drag Queen Story Hour” for children scheduled later this month at the Ketchikan Public Library, as well as parking access and vendor booth cost problems for commercial tourism operators on the port. The council also held a discussion about possibly donating an empty lot on Bawden Street to the Park Avenue Temporary Home.

Library event

As part of the national Pride Month celebration, the Ketchikan Public Library has scheduled special events for all ages to celebrate the LGBTQ community. 

One event is a “Read the Rainbow” book challenge for all ages, running for the entire month of June. Another activity advertised by the library is the availability of “Pride Family Wonder Bags” for patrons to pick up and take home. The third event advertised — the one which has created some controversy — is the June 17 “Drag Queen Storytime” with “special guest Luna.”

Library Director Pat Tully, in a phone interview Thursday afternoon, shed some light on the Drag Queen storytime event.

She said children’s librarian Amy Toepfer still is finalizing the books that will be read at the event, which is expected to last about a half hour. 

Tully said that Luna will come to the event in drag costume, and “we have every confidence to believe it’s going to be entirely appropriate for a young audience.” 

Toepfer also will read to the children attending, Tully said, and will also lead the children in a song. 

Tully said there are 10 other children’s summer reading events in June that have no ties to Pride month, allowing families to choose which they’d like to attend.

“We trust parents and caregivers to make the decision about whether or not a particular program is appropriate for their kids,” she said. 

“It wouldn’t be right for us to kind of make that decision for them,” she said, “and not have a program just because there are some in the community that may not approve.”

During the public comment portion of Thursday's council meeting, eight members of the public addressed the storytime issue; five in favor and three against.

Elizabeth Schultz spoke in favor of the Drag Queen Storytime event, speaking from her experience working with dance students previously as the director of Ketchikan Theatre Ballet. She said that she had personal experience with the importance of supporting youth who are exploring and discovering their own gender identities, and is highly aware of the critical importance to mental health for the community to provide love and compassion for them. 

She spoke of the high risk of suicide among LGBQT teens, as well, and of how an event such as the one that the library is planning teaches children that there are many people in the community that are different than them, but that is OK.

Schultz also offered a petition to council members that she said 130 local residents had signed in support of the library program.

Frankie Urquhart also spoke in support of the library event, and read a letter from the individual “Luna,” who will read to the children, and who wrote that she planned to show up for the event in “fabulous hair and shoes.” 

The letter pointed out that Luna is “a product of Ketchikan,” and described the complaints from people as “homophobia” and “hate in the purest form.”

Ryan McHale also spoke in support of the program, and praised the council for earlier in the meeting announcing a mayoral proclamation in favor of Pride Month.

Laura Antonsen spoke against the library event, and protested that she did not want her tax dollars supporting that type of programming, which could be damaging to young children. 

Christopher White and John Judson also spoke against the event.

White said that the drag queen event might “sexualize” kids who are too young to make decisions about what a drag queen might stand for. He also protested that his tax dollars were supporting the event.

Judson said he did not think the library should “open up to these groups for special consideration” for them to promote and spread a specific philosophy. He postulated that only “mainstream” ideas should be presented by the library. 

The topic was not on the council's meeting agenda. At about 10:30 p.m., Council Member Riley Gass made an effort to put the issue on the meeting agenda, with the goal of removing the story hour from the library calendar. After a council discussion about Open Meetings Act procedure, the topic was not added to Thursday’s agenda.

Commercial parking and vendors on the port

Tour business owners Martha Thomas and Steve McDonald spoke to the council about the unexpectedly low passenger counts on the cruise ships that thus far have called on the port. 

Thomas asked that the council direct staff to rework the vendor booth contracts, as the companies are struggling to pay the contracted amounts that were decided on before the season began. 

McDonald spoke of the low passenger counts, but also addressed a change in rules over the years that has made it more difficult to contact passing tourists to encourage them to purchase tours, as any move to reach out to people can be considered “hawking and barking,” which is illegal.

Several people also spoke of difficulties with accessing Berth 3, where they often need to drop off or pick up passengers, even though they have paid fees for parking passes. 

Adrianna Oliva-Parks of Cape Fox Tours said that her vehicles had been stopped on the pier three times since May 4, and she has been unable to find a city staff member to give her information on how to solve the problem. 

Business owner Russell Thomas also said his company has been struggling with the problem of being prohibited from transferring passengers at Berth 3, from where his hovercraft tours depart. 

He urged the city, Ketchikan Gateway Borough and Ward Cove Group to come together to cooperate and to create a safe, effective plan for business operators who need to access the port. 

Bawden Street Lot/PATH shelter

The empty lot on Bawden Street, where a hospital used to be located, has been a topic of conversation several times during council meetings in the past year.

During the council’s April 7 meeting, Council Member Mark Flora requested that a discussion concerning the use of the site be held in a future meeting. He suggested that the council consider donating the property to the Park Avenue Temporary Home for the purpose of building a new shelter.

The lot recently was slated to be renovated to serve as a temporary parking lot to ease parking issue for Park Avenue residents, but many uses for the lot have been discussed by city council members and city staff over the years.

PATH director Ty Rettke spoke to the council about a federal grant the shelter recently has applied for, and said that an important component of consideration for receiving the grant would be proven community support for a new shelter building to be built.

Donation of the lot to the nonprofit organization would serve as that proven support, Rettke said. He added that the shelter has been successfully operating since 1988, and the longevity and proven track record of the organization also would be key to proving it is worthy of a federal grant. 

Council Member Judy Zenge asked Rettke if he thought the project still would be considered for a grant if the new building was designed to have extra parking spaces underneath it, to not only for shelter residents, but for residents of Park Avenue as well. 

Rettke said he thought it would be considered a “reasonable” request. 

The conversation concerning the lot and PATH was ongoing at deadline. A followup article is planned for a future edition of the Daily News.

— Daily News Staff writer Scott Bowlen contributed to this story.