LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — The Leander City Council postponed a vote on a controversial agenda item just after midnight Friday morning that would have required organizations to pay for the cost of security associated with their events at the public library.
This came after the city of Leander spent more than $20,000 in staff, security and supplies for June’s LGBTQ reading event initially billed as “Drag Queen Story Time.”
City Council Member Jason Shaw said he is not a gay rights ally, but he does not think their voices should be silenced.
“If it’s not illegal, then we should just fix the language, keep it safe,” Shaw said. “We can’t force people to pay money when somebody else threatens them. It’s not right.”
“I think we need to take our time and make sure we’ve got the right policy,” Mayor Troy Hill told the rest of the council.
“Didn’t you meet with the attorney over this?” questioned Council Member Christine Sederquist, who opposes charging groups a security fee.
“Yes,” Mayor Hill responded. “I’m not comfortable making a decision. I’ve heard it go this way, I’ve heard it go that way, and I do have the right to (second a motion to postpone the vote).”
Council then voted 5-1 to table the discussion for now.
Leander details cost of security and impact
The city spent $16,339 on staff including police officers, firefighters, and parks officials. Plus, another $3,916 on supplies, including food, water, sunscreen, and bike racks.
Since June’s LGBTQ event, the city has not allowed anyone to rent out library rooms. This has had an impact on those who depend on the space like an area pastor who was paying the city to hold services at the library.
Thursday night, city council members discussed the potential future use of the rental space the library has to offer. One suggestion for the meeting and study rooms included keeping them for city and library use only.
In a presentation before council, Leander’s Parks and Recreation Department’s Director Mark Tummons said the city is currently “pushing the seams” when it comes to space at the library. He added that whenever someone rents a room the city-provided activities like the department’s fitness classes are “regularly kicked out.” Tummons said they “get second spot” to those who rent and have to cancel or move the city-provided activity.
“At this moment, we are in the midst of 55 days of summer camps: Lego camps, STEM camps (and) creative art camp. Presently, those are held at the Mason Homestead and we have to cap our registration at 15 kids because of space,” Tummons said.
Tummons said the city does not have that many rentals. He said in the past 13 months the rentals have consisted of the San Gabriel’s Daughters of the American Revolution meeting monthly, one license to carry class, five homeowner association groups meeting once, one cradle ceremony, and a couple of birthdays.
Sederquist said she understands the “space is vital for HOAs and scout groups because there is not another space in town where (people) can rent a room.”
“The conference room revenue for this year is more than twice as much as it was year to date for 2018,” Sederquist said. “It jumped from $1,040 in the first six months of 2018 to $2,235. So while the library needs that space, I believe the community also needs that space badly.”
Mayor Troy Hill said, “Personally if we need the space, I would rather see the library have the space. We’ve talked in the past of bringing the library in-house and I think certainly looking at that as an option we can utilize the space ourselves.”
Hill said he believes the new hotel and schools will provide additional space for the community to rent once they are built.
This is an idea that worries Cheryl Campbell, a member of Pathway Baptist Church, who said she, her fellow parishioners and her pastor depend on the space weekly for church services.
“By listening to you all bringing it up that the library will be for library events only what I have written may not even have any worth,” Campbell said as she stood at the podium.
Along with a change to the library’s policies, the city had also presented another proposal that would prevent groups from receiving donations while holding events at the library. That may stop the pastor from collecting church offerings.