November 22, 2006 - Oro Valley Vice Mayor Terry Parish set off a First Amendment debate at the Nov. 15 council meeting, but the rest of the town council didn't seem to want to hear it.
Parish wants the council to adopt the Phoenix Public Library's Internet policy that filters all Internet use so no one can view pornographic Web sites in the library. But when Parish made a motion to pass the policy at the meeting, he didn't even get a second.
Several council members said they think the current policy, which lets adults use the Internet unfiltered in general use areas, is fine as is. They also had some concerns about the effectiveness of filters and censorship.
"Filters, even at their best, exclude far more than hard-core pornography," said Councilman Barry Gillaspie, reading from the American Library Association's position on Internet filters.
By the end of the night, the council agreed it would continue to explore policies - a move that puts the council at the center of a debate likely to draw significant community interest. It also gets the town involved in an on-going conversation already taking place at the Pima County Public Library.
The county library formed a citizens committee to explore the issue, after District 4 County Supervisor Ray Carroll proposed to the board a library system-wide filter. The board voted down Carroll's proposal 4 to 1, but like the council in Oro Valley, agreed to continue to look into it.
Carroll said porn viewing is most common in the downtown branches, but goes on at all the libraries. He said it creates a hostile environment for the librarians and a potentially dangerous place for kids.
"It's not about free speech, for them, it's about free porn," Carroll told the EXPLORER.
Religious officials, police officers, educators, library professors, constitutional lawyers and library employees make up the committee, which has met three times, said Nancy Ledeboer, the library director.
Ledeboer said the committee is learning about filters, most importantly that they are never 100 percent effective, even at protecting against illegal material.
She said Tony Garvey, a librarian from the Phoenix Public Library, made a presentation saying that people trying to access illegal material such as child porn usually learn ways to get around the filters.
Ledeboer said the committee most likely would make a recommendation for the Board of Supervisors by January. She said she isn't sure what it will decide, but thinks it will probably recommend filters for wireless Internet but leave general access for adults unfiltered.
Oro Valley is an affiliate of the county library, which means that unlike branches, the library provides some of its own funding and has more autonomy.
This issue comes up not long after the council raised the issue of turning over control of the library to the county. Such a move could save Oro Valley roughly $1 million, but a large citizen turn out at a council meeting a few months ago showed that many in the town will oppose such a move.
Oro Valley follows the same policy as the county, with a few minor exceptions. The town filters all wireless Internet access and has specific computers for teenagers and children with automatic filters that adults aren't allowed to use.
But Parish said it's not enough. "With the quality community we espouse to be, we should be proactive," Parish said before the meeting.
Parish, and his father, Terry Parish Sr., who spoke at the council meeting, said Oro Valley's policy is "cultivating an environment for pedophiles" that is dangerous for children.
"Not all people that look at porn are pedophiles, but all pedophiles look at porn," Parish Sr. told the council.
Mary Hartz-Musgrave, the library administrator, said there have been three incidents this year in which a minor witnessed an adult viewing pornography. Although a user can look at porn, state law says he or she cannot do so if a child can also see.
The county recently put privacy screens on the general use computers at the Oro Valley library so only the person sitting in front of the screen can see it.
In the past, Parish has said privacy screens worsen the situation because they keep parents unaware of what's happening near their children.
Hartz-Musgrave wouldn't say if she supports a filtering policy.
"I remember who signs my pay check," she said. "I serve the town."
But Hartz-Musgrave said she doesn't think a filter is censorship.
Town Attorney Melinda Garrahan said the courts have said local governments can choose to restrict some Internet access in public libraries and it would not be a freedom of speech violation.
If an adult wants a blocked site unblocked, he or she would have to ask a librarian to disable the filter, Hartz-Musgrave said.
The American Library Association has come out against filters, saying the technology sometimes can block access to legitimate information.
Reading ALA passages to the council, Gillaspie said the most important point the ALA makes against filters is that filters can give parents a false sense of security.
"We all hate the idea of pornography but do filters really make our kids any safer?" Gillaspie asked.
Councilman Al Kunisch chimed in, saying libraries being public places aren't necessarily safe places.
"We're trying to make libraries a safe place for kids to go," Kunisch said. "Libraries have never been a safe place to go."
Salette Latas, an Oro Valley resident and a Web designer, spoke against the filters, calling the policy censorship.
"I see this attempt to regulate Internet for adults as an attack on the constitution," Latas said.
Latas said she is worried the filters might block information on sex education, sexual diseases and biological information on body parts or reproduction.
She also said she is concerned about modeling a policy after Phoenix library's because it uses a filtering software called 8e6, which allegedly has been to be linked to conservative Christian groups like the American Family Association.
"I have a concern that filtering software that was developed for them, or that they had a hand in developing, might filter access to information on non-Christian religions, for example," Latas said.
A 2002 University of Oregon study said 8e6 Technologies' direct marketing to conservative Christian groups may suggest a relationship that could create bias in filtering. But the study admits there is no way to prove it because the filtering company won't release the Web sites it blocks.
Latas' comments seemed to anger Parish, because after the meeting he approached her, abruptly shook her hand and said, "I like the AFA, and I like Jesus Christ," and walked away.
The council will discuss Parish's proposal at an upcoming meeting, but has not set a specific date.