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Llano County Library removed from event center trade negotiations

Llano County Library in Llano, Texas

The Llano County Library was removed as an option in trade negotiations between the city of Llano and Llano County for the John L. Kuykendall Event Center. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

The Llano County Library was pulled from trade negotiations between the county and the city of Llano for the John L. Kuykendall Event Center. The Sept. 14 news comes after the Llano City Council discussed the library’s inclusion in a possible trade at its regular meeting Sept. 6, sparking public concern for the potential closure of the library.

Negotiations have been underway between the Llano County Commissioners Court and the Llano City Council since July 25, when newly appointed Llano Mayor Kelli Tudyk proposed a trade of the city-owned JLK Event Center for a variety of county-owned properties in the city limits. According to Tudyk and Alderman Wayne DeCesaris, the city has been operating the event center at a deficit for years, prompting it to seek avenues for breaking even or recovering losses.

“As soon as I saw the library as being offered for a possible trade on the City Council agenda, that was very concerning,” said Leila Green Little, president of the Llano County Library System Foundation. Little is also part of a group of Llano County residents who filed a federal civil lawsuit on April 25 against several Llano County commissioners, the Llano County Library System director, and some members of the county’s Library Advisory Committee. 

The lawsuit claims that constitutional rights were violated when certain books were taken off of library shelves based on the defendants’ personal beliefs. The suit also charges that the library system’s e-book service was changed for the same reason.

Another Llano County Library System Foundation member, Treasurer Jeanne Puryear, who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, vocalized her concern over the trade on Facebook on Sept. 4 after the council agenda was released.

“The City of Llano will consider and vote on accepting the Llano Library in a property swap with Llano County,” Puryear wrote. “Will this mean the closure of our library?”

There was reason to worry. During the Sept. 6 council meeting, Tudyk and DeCesaris made it clear in open session that, if the city were to receive the building, it would not be operating the library housed in it.

“We had no intention of running the library if we obtained it,” DeCesaris told DailyTrib.com. “We were getting to the point where the city needed to weigh in. That’s why we published the list in the agenda.”

County Commissioner Jerry Don Moss said he began receiving calls after the council meeting from residents against the library’s closure.

“We know how valuable the library is, mainly to kids, but to everyone,” he said. “There was never an option to close the library for (the county).”

According to both Moss and DeCesaris, the library was included in negotiations to help create an even trade between the city and the county, bridging the gap between the $4.5 million evaluation of the event center and the total value of proposed county-owned properties. While no estimates or evaluations of the county properties have been made, both sides agree the total amount likely does not equal the center’s value.

The center includes a large rodeo arena and a 25,000-square-foot indoor event space on 88 acres of land. It is used for 4-H and FFA programs and the Llano County Junior Livestock Show as well as large-scale events such as motocross, rodeos, and monster truck rallies.

“They were wanting the trade to be more even for the city,” Moss said.

Moss spoke with Llano aldermen DeCesaris and Sawyer on Wednesday and told them the library was not on the table for the trade. 

“We met (Wednesday), and (the trade) does not include the library. That is not ever going to be an option,” Moss said.

While the library is no longer up for trade, foundation member Little still has several concerns. She cited a recent budget cut of $150,000 for the 2022-23 fiscal year, loss of staff, a hold on book purchases going into its 11th month, and weekend closures.

“Given the reporting that came out this week and with what (County) Judge (Ron) Cunningham has said, it does give me hope for the continued existence of the Llano branch of the library system,” she said.

In a Sept. 14 statement, Cunningham argued that the county has continued to support the Llano County Library System and that is reflected in the budget.

“Llano County intends to continue to operate the library system and, in fact, just approved the Llano County (fiscal year) 2022-23 budget, which includes a Llano County Library System operational budget of $448,501,” he wrote.

That is a decrease from 2021-22 of $150,000, the same figure that was allocated to the county’s legal defense in the federal lawsuit.

“If anyone thinks that we wrote an attorney a $100,000 or $150,000 check for the library, that’s not the case,” Cunningham told DailyTrib.com. “All we’re doing is trying to position ourselves so that we can have funds available for an attorney if needed.”

Cunningham noted that the county is currently involved in five different lawsuits, not just the library case. It recently hired attorney Jonathan F. Mitchell of Mitchell Law LLC in Austin as outside counsel. He is listed along with County Attorney Dwain Rogers and First Assistant County Attorney Matthew Rienstra as the attorneys of record in the Little et. al. v. Llano County et. al. lawsuit.

Cunningham pointed out that the 2022-23 library system budget is closer to historic budgets, which were about $450,000 each of the prior four years. The 2021-22 budget of $600,967 was an anomaly, he said. 

The library system is currently experiencing an internal upheaval as well. Employees presented a letter of grievance to Library System Director Amber Milum during a staff meeting on Sept. 12

“The library will survive and get back on track,” Moss assured DailyTrib.com.

dakota@thepicayune.com