Fallout Continues Over Leander Library's Drag Story Hour
Leander City Council to deliberate over policies, background checks
By Nick Yeager,
1:35PM, Fri. Aug. 16, 2019
On Thursday, Aug. 15, after another lengthy meeting going late into the night, the Leander City Council voted 5-2 to close library meetings rooms to rentals, and stalled on other controversial policy decisions.
Leander’s ongoing controversy over public library use stems back to June when the local library planned to host a Drag Queen Story Hour, which sparked protests and counter-protests that cost the city more than $20,000. In its wake, the library decided to temporarily limit access to its meeting rooms, a policy that, following Thursday’s vote, will continue indefinitely.
Thursday’s agenda included newly proposed policies, including a contract that would require visiting instructors to have insurance plans up to $2 million and charge tuition for events. This was rejected in favor of simply closing the meeting rooms to public use altogether.
When Council first arrived at the library policies on the agenda, legal counsel Barbara Boulware-Wells stood and recommended an executive session to speak privately with Council, at which point the members and Ms. Boulware-Wells filed into the private back room and met for over an hour. During the July 9 meeting, members of the public, the ACLU of Texas, the American Library Association, and the Texas Library Association all voiced concern that closing off the library could result in lawsuits.
Discussing whether or not to close the meeting rooms, Council Member Jason Shaw said, “that’s really the only way to protect the city at this point… because there are people who are trying to tear our city apart.”
Mayor Troy Hill added, “I don’t see government’s role as being a landlord… Why do it? We didn’t make that much money even before the $20,000 was spent.” According to Hill, the city had only made $1,800 from room rentals. (Though now unavailable, anti-LGBTQ comments made by Hill on Facebook in 2013 circulated online Wednesday night, including one where Hill called gay marriage “immoral and repugnant” and “a sick proposition.” These comments were not brought up at the City Council meeting.)
CM Christine Sederquist disagreed with Hill, stating: “Those rooms, if I'm not mistaken, were built with the intent of being used by the public and rented out by the public, as evidenced by the dozens of groups that rent them every month.” She and CM Kathryn Pantalion-Parker voted against the motion to cease library rentals, which passed 5-2.
What came next was a confused discussion among Council regarding other library policies. While some – generally already in existence – passed without much disagreement, a convoluted conversation on background checks for visiting readers ensued.
Director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department (which oversees the library) Mark Tummons proposed creating a new programming policy and requiring background checks, which he said was in keeping with neighboring municipalities’ library policies. After the meeting, CM Sederquist firmly told the Chronicle: “That’s not true.”
Council voted 6-1 to suspend discussion on this topic and Tummons said he would return with a new written policy in the future.
Sederquist told the Chronicle that the Council is more divided than ever. Regarding the decision to close meeting rooms, Sederquist called it “a disservice to our residents. … I don't think it’s illegal to close them, but it’s not the right thing to do.”