The March 28 meeting of the Llano County Commissioners Court was standing-room only during the public comments portion. Twelve people spoke about what kinds of books should not be available on library shelves. Staff photo by Brigid Cooley
The increased attendance was also likely spurred by the presence of Annie Gowen, a reporter with the Washington Post who attended the meeting, and a local Facebook post claiming the meeting was about the availability of pornographic books.
The document outlines the purpose of the advisory board, the makeup of its membership, and information on when and where the board meets.
County Commissioner Peter Jones voiced concerns about the newly written bylaws and made a motion to remove the item from the agenda and revisit it at another meeting. He noted that the attendance of the library system’s director at board meetings was not included and that statements surrounding the board’s interactions with the public were vague.
“I think the bylaws should clearly state the position of the advisory group, (whether they) allow public attendance at their meeting, and (whether they) allow public comments,” Jones said. “I don’t think this is adequate from a point of view of addressing public input into the library advisory group.”
The motion failed after Commissioner Jerry Don Moss voiced opposition to pushing the vote back.
“I disagree about removing it because, as we know, they’re not the authority,” Moss said. “I think we can change anything we want to right here, right now.”
As a result, First Assistant County Attorney Matthew Riensta spent the remainder of the meeting reworking the bylaws to include the library director as an ex officio member of the board, to require a record of which advisory board members speak in favor and against decisions during meetings, and to instruct members of the public to direct concerns and public comments to the board’s email address, which is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The commissioners then voted unanimously to approve and adopt the advisory board bylaws with the amendments made by commissioners during the meeting.
A dozen people spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting, with 10 of them voicing concerns over “pornographic materials” in the library system, protecting children and “our most vunerable citizens,” and claiming that certain books are used by pedophiles to groom children.
A March 26 Facebook post from Llano resident Doug Cotton is part of the reason so many spoke about book content and availability rather than the actual agenda item — and why so many came.
Cotton claimed the March 28 meeting would include “whether ‘Drag Queen’ story hour and other ‘woke’ agendas are appropriate in the school system or the public library.” Cotton also called for county residents to attend the meeting to speak out against these actions and provide comments openly supporting the advisory board.
“So, (at) Monday commissioners court, the Washington Post will be there filming,” Cotton wrote on his Facebook post. “Board members are not allowed to speak. We need good speakers to represent the real Llano. We know the opposition will be well represented.”
One speaker, Keenan Fletcher, called out two books, “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe and “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison, for including graphic images and themes throughout. A Llano resident, Fletcher was appointed to the Texas Commission on the Arts by Gov. Greg Abbott in November 2021.
A physical copy of “Gender Queer” has never been available inside the county library system, according to a Nov. 12 email sent to county officials by the library system director. However, an online copy was briefly available through OverDrive, the county’s previous online reading service, which has since been suspended.
Ervin Light, pastor of Llano Church of God of Prophecy, also spoke, reading a definition of propaganda and claiming that individuals “pushing back against the (library advisory board) … are in a full propaganda operation to tear down everything that is holy and everything that is correct that we understand.”
“These people that are trying to interject all this LGBT, whatever, alphabet soup, are basically in a full-court press against all of our liberties,” Light continued. “Not only Christianity, but also the belief system for us being able to protect our children. That is the bottom line. They don’t give a hoot about protecting our children. They just want to be able to use our children as sex objects for their own pleasure. Period. They’re grooming. People have talked about grooming. That’s exactly it.”
The only opposition to these claims came from Kaleb Anderson, who sat at the back of the crowd. Anderson uses a wheelchair and was unable to make his way inside the courtroom in time for public comments. He was allowed to speak anyway.
“Being a person who has loved ones who are gay, loved ones who are transgender, I can’t understand how you can let your religious belief system give you an excuse to be prejudicial to a group of people,” Anderson said to the crowd. “I don’t understand it. I know it’s your belief, I understand it’s your belief, but think of transgender people or gay people as people.”
As soon as Anderson was finished, an unidentified man walked in from the lobby, objecting and saying he should also be allowed to speak as he had been there longer than Anderson.
“In the name of Jesus Christ, I’d like to speak as well,” the man exclaimed. “I came earlier than him and was not allowed to speak. In the name of Jesus Christ, God made us a certain way and we need to protect our children, amen.”
As he continued, a law enforcement officer in attendance escorted the man back to the lobby, warning that people would be removed from the building if the behavior continued.
“This has gotten way too big and it’s way too heated,” Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham said after the outbreak. “Folks, we are updating the policies that need to be updated. That’s how all of this started. We’re trying to get consistency in operations. It got both sides heated and both sides need to take a breath and understand that we’re going to get a solution to this. The solution is probably not going to please either side 100 percent, but our commissioners and our librarians and our Library Advisory Board are all things we’ve been working on for over two years.”