LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — The Leander City Council may enact policy changes Thursday after the uproar last month surrounding an LGBTQ reading event held at the public library.
The city shared an estimate that it spent more than $20,000 on staffing, security and supplies related to the Leander Family Pride & Story Time event held by the Open Cathedral Church at the Leander Public Library on June 15.
Almost 300 people demonstrated outside the private event, which was initially billed as “drag queen story time.”
In the future the city may make event organizers cover that cost if police security is required, according to a lengthy proposal presented to the City Council Thursday.
City Council Member Christine Sederquist, however, opposes charging a “security fee” for events because she worries it would end up silencing free speech.
“I think it gives the right to anybody to say I don’t like that group and what they’re saying and so I think that they should be shut down, and they’re automatically deemed controversial,” Sederquist said. “In the recent case that we had, the reason we had so much security was not because of the event itself. It was because of the threats of violence.
“That brings up another issue, which is that we don’t always know who’s making the threat of violence. Those people are not always charged,” she added. “So now you have the case of not only having your freedom to assemble and your freedom of free speech taken away, but also you don’t have the right to face your accuser because you don’t know who your accuser is.”
City leaders are also proposing that event presenters who do not work at the public library should either undergo background checks or receive accreditation from the Central Texas Library System.
A representative from that organization, however, told KXAN Thursday that it does not accredit people who hold events at libraries. CTLS only maintains a list of performers and speakers who are active in Texas. The representative also said he was unaware that the City of Leander planned to include involvement from CTLS in the proposed changes at the library.
Michael Neu, a spokesman for the City of Leander, told KXAN in an email that “LS&S, the contracted firm hired by the city to manage programming and activities at Leander Public Library, does not currently conduct or request background checks of its presenters and guests.”
Sederquist said she could support the proposal to require background checks for people holding events at the library.
“If we’re going to have changes in policy, I think the background checks is reasonable,” she said. “The fee assessment for anyone that’s deemed a controversy is not.”
Since the fallout from the story time event in June, the City of Leader stopped renting out rooms altogether at the library. That displaced the Pathway Baptist Church, which paid to hold services twice a week there.
Pastor Rob Lederman told KXAN that the city is allowing him to hold services at the Mason Homestead for the time being. However, he said he’s concerned about another proposal that would prevent groups from receiving donations while holding events at the library. That may stop him from collecting tithes and offerings from church members.
Neu said the City Council will hear staff recommendations on the library’s policies from Mark Tummons, the city’s parks and recreation director. Tummons worked with the city attorney on proposed changes and received input from Interim City Manager Gordon Pierce and Library Director Priscilla Donovan. A community survey about library programming also received hundreds of responses and played a factor in the proposals presented to council members.
Following the initial cancellation of “drag queen story time,” the City of Leander abruptly called off another event on July 9.
It was supposed to feature Lilah Sturges, a transgender woman who wrote a popular graphic novel called “Lumberjanes: The Infernal Compass.”
When asked why the event with that author was also cancelled, Neu wrote in a statement:
“It came to city staff’s attention on the morning of July 9 that Leander Public Library was promoting another young-adult-themed event with an outside guest, which was not consistent with the city’s recent public messages regarding events hosted with outside persons or groups. While the event was promoted by the library on social media starting July 8, it had not previously been reviewed by the city nor promoted on any other existing public calendar or platform.”
Neu added that the city could begin renting out rooms at the Leander Public Library “as soon as Monday” depending on how council members vote Thursday night.