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Llano County approves allocating $150,000 to fight library lawsuit

Wayne Shipley of Llano speaks at the Llano County Commissioners Court meeting Monday, June 13

Wayne Shipley of Llano speaks at the Llano County Commissioners Court meeting Monday, June 13, supporting agenda item No. 12, which allocates $150,000 from two budget items to fight a lawsuit against the commissioners and several members of the Llano County Library Advisory Board. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

A lawsuit filed against Llano County and its library system once again packed the Commissioners Court on Monday, June 13. Commissioners voted to move $150,000 from two different line items in the county’s budget to provide legal representation for all of the people named as defendants in the U.S. District Court lawsuit Little et al v. Llano County et al. 

The lawsuit, which was filed April 25 in U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, Austin Division, claims county officials violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights laid out in the First Amendment protecting freedoms of speech, religion, assembly, and the press by removing certain books from the library, changing e-book services, and naming a new Library Advisory Board with a political agenda. 

Commissioners approved transferring $100,000 from the county’s miscellaneous contingency fund and $50,000 from professional services for the litigation. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a motion on June 8 asking District Judge Robert Pitman to allow the state of Texas to intervene on the county’s behalf in the impending lawsuit. A motion to dismiss filed the same day lists the Attorney General’s Office as intervenor-defendant. 

The vote came after county commissioners went through every other item on the 25-item agenda and following a hour-long executive session. The Commissioners Court also heard comments from six people attending the meeting, four voicing support for allocating the funds and two against. 

“Looks like we touched the third rail of politics,” said Wayne Shipley, who supports fighting the litigation. “It’s amazing how we now find ourselves in federal district court against lawyers from San Francisco.” 

Rick Houston stood up next with a counterview.

“I wanted to speak today to express my deep displeasure of the Commissioners Court and its handling of the library situation,” he said. “You created a situation in which you are now having to allocate $150,000 to fight the lawsuit.”

He called the way the county handled the entire Library Advisory Board issue, which involved closing meetings to the public and firing a librarian, “ham-fisted and un-American” but also asked that both sides treat each other with compassion. 

“I have friends on both sides of this issue,” he said. “No one here is trying to do something that is evil.” 

Matt Hilton told commissioners no price was too high to protect the county’s children. 

“The fight here is to keep that kind of filth and pornography off our library shelves,” he said. “You have my support 100 percent.” 

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit charge the Library Advisory Board removed books written by and about the LBGTQ+ community and books by Black authors. The lawsuit points out the removal of 12 books from the library system, including “In the Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson, and “Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen” by Jazz Jennings.  

Another speaker, Gretchen Hinckle, questioned why the county’s money is needed if the state is pitching in. 

“What is happening is wrong,” she said. “You are piling more and more wrong, and it won’t make a right and it won’t make Llano a better place to live.”

As of Monday, June 13, District Judge Pitman has not ruled on any of the motions filed. 

suzanne@thepicayune.com