Officials in Citrus County, Florida, heard the public library system's request for a digital New York Times subscription and denied it, citing President Trump's belief that the nationally acclaimed paper is "fake news."
"Do we really need to subscribe to The New York Times?" one county commissioner asked after a vote on the motion during a public meeting. The other commissioners laughed, video from the meeting shows.
"I actually was going to say that. I'm going to be a 'no' for this. Fake news. I agree with President Trump," another commissioner, identified as Scott Carnahan by the Citrus County Chronicle, said. "I will not vote for this. I do not want The New York Times in this county," he continued, going on to say he does like agree with or like the paper.
All four regional libraries in Citrus County currently offer print versions of The Times, at a cost of about $3,000 a year, according to the Citrus County Chronicle. Library director Eric Head recommended a digital group subscription for the county, which would cost $2,657 annual for the first two years, and $2,714 for a third year. This plan would give all 70,000 Citrus County library card holders digital access to the Times, the Citrus County Chronicle reports.
"I know you have 140 readers, but those guys can subscribe and have it come to their home," one commissioner said. "I support Donald Trump."
Another commissioner said, "When I saw $2,700 a year for a digital format for a newspaper — how many people are actually reading that for the $2,700?"
"I was going to ask, 'Why the heck would we spend money on something like that?'" said a third.
"They have a good crossword puzzle," another commissioner joked.
After withdrawing the motion, the commissioners joked it was the "best money ever saved." However, many people were upset with the decision and felt the commissioners were denying residents access to the news media.
Following the meeting, the Citrus County Chronicle said it was "inundated" with comments and calls from readers. "Most, but not all, were critical of the county's decision," the paper writes.
One person who felt the decision was poorly made is Advisory Board Chairwoman Sandy Price. "Someone's personal political view does not have a place in deciding what library resources are available for the entire county," Price told the Chronicle. "Libraries have to ensure all points of view are represented."
Price argued the digital group subscription would be a value to taxpayers. "If you go digital, it's available to 70,000 card holders," she said. "You reach more people."
Commissioner Jimmie T. Smith told CBS News Radio he stood by the decision as a money-saving measure. "Basically a subscription to something we already subscribe to in print is a redundancy that we didn't need to spend money on," Smith said. He added that "the amount of people that go online to specifically go to a New York Times or other subscription website is, to my understanding, probably the smallest portion" of library users.
When the Chronicle asked the commission about the decision, Carnahan doubled down. "I'm open to a free press," he told the paper. "Not at the taxpayers' expense."
But Commissioner Brian Coleman said they should bring the issue back for more discussion. "Do I think I made a mistake? Yes," Coleman told the Chronicle. "Our decision should have been impartial, instead of having it become a personal thing."