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Llano County library issue draws crowd, national press

Llano County Commissioners Court meeting

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

A packed house greeted the Llano County Commissioners Court at its regular meeting March 28, most attending because of an agenda item relating to the county’s library system. Public interest in the library system followed the recent dissolution and creation of the county’s Library Advisory Board, the suspension of new book acquisitions, the recent decision to close the Library Advisory Board meetings to the public, switching the county library system’s online reading services from OverDrive to Bibliotheca, and the removal of books from library shelves. 

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 Washington Post is the first major national news organization to cover the issue. DailyTrib.com has been reporting extensively on the issue since December 2021, when commissioners first closed the libraries to re-categorize the children’s book sections. Coverage has also recently appeared on Axios.com, KXAN, and the Texas Tribune as similar censorship issues have become more common across the state and country over the past year, gaining media attention. 

One of two library agenda items was related to new bylaws for the newly formed advisory board. The other was approving the system’s accreditation in the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

The newly appointed Library Advisory Board has been working on rewriting the bylaws as well as library policies since the previous board was dissolved and then reinstated in January of this year with mostly new — and more — members. A draft of the bylaws was submitted to the county’s legal team for review in February. 

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.”

He was referring to the advisory board’s March 3 decision to close meetings to the public. The board also does not allow librarians to attend, except for Llano County Library System Director Amber Milum.

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 llanoco.libraryadvisoryboard@gmail.com

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.”

Also in attendance were Leila Little, the unofficial spokesperson for a recently formed anti-censorship group, and Suzette Baker, the former head librarian at the Kingsland Library, who was fired earlier this month. Both have said they are considering lawsuits against the county. Neither of them spoke. 

brigid@thepicayune.com

1 thought on “Llano County library issue draws crowd, national press

  1. Partisan jabs and childish methods of making rules away from the public arena that don’t value all views and positions is simply foolish and dangerous. Disagreements on what deems certain materials as appropriate or not aside, this needs to be done with transparency and respect. If it is indeed a public library and not a country club with closed membership, it should represent the “public” and not a single viewpoint.

    I say this as one who doesn’t necessarily agree with some of the subjects mentioned personally. However, I also am well aware of the fact that my viewpoints do not represent all people. And if I don’t want them to force me to change my viewpoints, I should not try to force them to change theirs.

    As a Christian, I hope that all people would know Christ and follow His ways. However, I am and will always be a fierce opponent of legislating faith. I would rather people choose to follow Him and His ways of their own free will.

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