A display at the Ketchikan Public Library celebrating Pride Month. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

Signature-gathering can begin soon for a proposed ballot initiative that would cut about 40% of Ketchikan’s library funding in response to a drag queen storytime.

The initiative’s sponsor, former Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly Member John Harrington, said at an assembly meeting on Monday that he’d like the library to pledge not to hold similar programs in the future.

“The only goal of this action, and it’s extremely limited, is to stop library programs aimed at preschool- and primary-aged children, three to nine, related to sexuality, sexual orientation, gender transition, or gender identity,” Harrington said at Monday’s meeting.

He asked the Borough Assembly to place the question on the ballot, but assembly members dismissed his proposal without a motion.

So Harrington says he’s going straight to voters. Ketchikan’s borough clerk certified an initiative petition on Thursday. That’s the first step towards placing the question on this fall’s municipal ballot.

The library is owned and operated by the city of Ketchikan, but the borough provides about $500,000 in library funding through property tax on homes and businesses outside of city limits.

Ketchikan’s City Council declined twice to cancel the drag queen storytime. The library director, Pat Tully, says the event during Pride Month was an effort to promote inclusivity.

Harrington said he hoped the threat of defunding the library would force the issue.

“As we get the signatures coming, and if it looks like it’s getting close to being on the ballot, and we can talk the library into backing away, we won’t file it. So this is merely an arm-twisting matter to get them to the table, pure and simple,” he said.

Harrington’s proposal is likely to face stiff opposition. Several Ketchikan residents spoke out against the idea on Monday, including David Dentinger.

“This proposed measure isn’t about keeping children safe,” he said. “It is a vengeful and punitive act of intimidation designed to cow our library staff and the rest of us into submission. By Mr. Harrington’s own admission, his group is doing this because he can’t find another way to twist the city’s arm.”

The proposal would require 287 signatures to be placed on this October’s municipal ballot. Only those who live outside of Ketchikan and Saxman city limits would ultimately be eligible to vote on the measure because the borough’s library funding comes from property taxes on unincorporated areas.