Select Page

It’s late. I’m tired and I’m frustrated, so please bear with me while I bring you all up to speed on what’s going on with the library.

Disclaimer: This is just me, talking as one person. This site is not a part of the City of Leander or the Council. This is just me, your elected representative, being super honest, but not sharing anything that can’t legally be shared.

I think most of you already know about what started this whole thing: the controversy over whether or not the library should be allowed to have a Drag Queen Story Hour.

Here’s where I’m going to give you another disclaimer: before I ran for office, I worked at our library. I started out at the front desk, one of the friendly staff members that shelves books and helps you set up your library account. I then worked my way into youth services. I helped with programs and was even entrusted to run my own story times.

Badge of honor

Part of what made me decide to run for office was my experience working at the library. At that time, the City was very hands off with us. I would joke that city administration didn’t even know we were there. The only regular visits we had from city staff were the cleaning crews.

Our library is outsourced to an out-of-state company. The staff members there are not City employees. They don’t even get a discount at the golf course snack bar. Everything we did, more or less, would go through the outsourcer and not typically the city. This meant that the out of state company was the dominant influence on everything from what books were ordered to what programs we held. There was a lack of local control. I hated that, not just as a staffer, but as a resident.

So fast forward to May of 2019 and we all learned about Drag Queen Story Hour. I get that it’s controversial and I respect that a lot of people don’t want to take their kids to it. That’s fine. But let’s also be honest: there were no laws being broken.

The guys in Houston who turned out to be sex offenders did Drag Queen Story Hour no favors, but to label all drag queens as “pedophiles” or “predators” is an insult. Literally anybody can be a pedophile or a predator: there is zero correlation between those terms and Drag Queens. If you scoff at that, then you have to use the same reasoning to determine that all teachers are statutory rapists, all teenagers are school shooters, and that all men are wife beaters.

We cannot define any one group by the horrific actions of a few.

I have never, in my life, seen a reaction to anything at that library like I saw over Drag Queen Story Time. I do not have a problem with people feeling it’s harmful and doesn’t belong in the library. I do not have a problem with Leander residents on either side coming to protest. I do not have a problem with a local church renting out the space and hosting their own event. But let’s clear up a few things with a Q&A:

Did “Drag Queen Story Hour” take place in Leander?

No. The event was changed to be a pride festival.

Were there Drag Queens there?

No. I saw exactly zero drag queens inside the private event. The only drag queens I saw were on the news, with the protesters out in the parking lot.

Was this a big plot by the Democratic Party because we denied office space to one of their office holders?

No. This was not a plot by anybody. This was a program that patrons had shown an interest in and was booked by a librarian acting on feedback from people who came to story times.

Was this a fundraiser of some sort?

Most definitely not.


So, back to where we left off. The outrage online, aided heavily by out of town influences stirred to the point where some of the discussion went further than the merits of a drag queen story hour. Instead, some of the conversations I saw were turning into whether or not the LBGTQ community was accepted in Leander, TX. This is 2019. I get that everyone has their own feelings, but there is no room in American society to discriminate against a class of law-abiding people. There are federal protections from doing exactly that. I chose to get involved with the pride event because in my opinion, we had a group of residents who were taking a lot of flack for simply existing, and as a representative, I felt it was important to go and quietly be a support. That was how it started.

Then, the night before the event, I got a call asking me if I would like to be a reader. Umm…yes! I love doing story times. And no matter what you hear from some, the stories that were read were beautiful and did not “indoctrinate” anybody. If you don’t believe me, read them for yourself: two of the three books are carried in both ours and Cedar Park’s libraries. If you want them though, you’ll have to put them on hold because all copies are currently checked out in both cities. If you really can’t wait, as of this writing, Liberty Hill’s library has them in stock.

While I did not want to cause a distraction or a scene going to the library that day, I did want to make sure that our Public Information Officer knew that I would be there reading. So I called him. He told me to call the City Attorney. They both told me that I had to make it clear that I was not there in my capacity as a Council Member. I’ll be honest: I thought that was kind of weird, but whatever, maybe there’s something legally behind the scenes that I don’t know about, so I let it go.

I did ask to do a media gaggle after the event, but it was under the condition that Drag Queen Story Time was not going to be brought up. Let’s show the media happy, smiling faces with positive messages and turn down the salacious factor for the evening news stories. In other words: lets give the impression that not everyone in Leander is screaming in a parking lot.

You would think that would be the end of it.

You would be wrong.

It was after the media left and the protests were winding down that a city staffer told me that library room rentals had been shut down while tensions were still high. That seemed reasonable at the time, so I didn’t push it.

Weeks later, I found out that Library room rentals were still on hold indefinitely.

Let’s be clear: No single elected official can order any staff member to take an action on behalf of the City. That’s illegal. Anything that is directed by Council is done with a vote in public. We can contact staff and ask for information or ask if they’re able to do minor things (“do you mind gathering the data on X” or “would we ever be able to change Y”).

There was never a vote called to shut down the story time or the room rentals.

When I found out that room rentals were still suspended, and tensions had cleared, I began emailing staff asking them if they were able to quietly reopen the rooms. It was not a Council action to close them, I still do not understand why it must be a Council action to open them back up. But the staff wants to change some of the policy, so that’s fine, it will come to Council.

I asked for it to be on the July 9th agenda. When I received the agenda for July 9th, it wasn’t there. So I asked for it to be on the July 15th agenda. I honestly didn’t worry about it until I saw the agenda packet when it was distributed. There was an agenda item with my name, a ton of library policy, items unrelated to library policy, and buried deep within all of it was a new room-rental provision that allows the City to determine when a private room rental is deemed controversial and the City can either shut it down or assess a security fee to be determined and payable within 2 days or you lose your rental.

Those of you who follow my page on Facebook have probably seen the story from several years ago when the city was entangled in legal trouble because the library was forced to take down a Menorah they had on display in December because one person was offended. One.

I saw a number of issues in the library policies in our agenda packet, most of which were minor, clean up items. The agenda came out on Friday afternoon. That Monday morning, I met for 3 hours with our Interim City Manager, our Parks Director, and the attorney we engaged for the purposes of creating these new policies. They were very generous with their time and very amenable to my suggested issues with the policies…until we got to the provision about the room rentals.

They made it clear to me in that meeting that they had only met with one other member of Council and that that member’s sticking point was the same policy I felt was too subjective. They would not consider altering that part of the policy in any way because of this conversation with the unnamed other Council member who met with them before the agenda was published. I gently told them that I was going to fight that point because I felt it was wrong. I say this, because it will explain the actions I took following this meeting.

The clean up items that were discussed in that meeting were emailed to Council before our Council meeting. They’re available to the public, so you can see that they were predominantly grammatical mistakes or areas where the policy was redundant or copy/pasted more than once. Not a big deal.

I also, in that time, began to reach out to different organizations since I felt the policy was illegal and the City would not budge. I reached out to the Texas Library Association, because the Library Bill of Rights is referenced several times in the proposed policy, though parts of that policy, including the room rental issue are in conflict with the Library Bill of Rights. TLA agreed that the policy was problematic and sent a letter to the City Council stating as such.

I contacted the ACLU and asked if they could give a legal opinion. I did not invite them to sue the city and they have not threatened to do so. Are they controversial? Yes, they’re controversial, but guess what else is controversial? Getting sued because you pass a policy that won’t stand up to a court challenge. They sent the City a letter.

I contacted Texas Public Policy Foundation. Their internal policies kept them from weighing in, but they were engaging and their conversation was productive.

I contacted the Central Texas Library System, which is referenced in the proposed policies and has been referenced all summer as an organization that offers acceptable background checks of library performers. They do not. In order to get on their approved performers list, all you have to do is have a couple of libraries that will vouch that you did a performance there and they’d recommend you. In fact, many of the organizations on the list of approved performers are organizations with ever-changing memberships: Toastmasters, authors groups, places that involve a revolving door of teenaged performers.

I don’t know how the American Library Association found out about what was happening here, but they sent in a letter as well, citing the same concerns I had, along with several pages of case law backing up why we would lose if/when we’re sued over it.

Why’d I contact all these groups? Because open meetings rules means I can’t talk to much of my Council about it and I know that another Council member is fighting me on the issue. This was not a matter of drag queens, this was a matter of law.

So we come to our meeting on July 18th. I’m not even going to get into it. It was a train wreck. If you haven’t watched all 90 minutes of discomfort, I’d highly encourage you to set some time aside and do so. At the end of an extremely long night, Council wasn’t prepared to vote on it, so they took no action, meaning that it doesn’t even have to come back.

It didn’t come back on the following agenda, which would have been a much better time than this next meeting because the next meeting has a long list of procedural and zoning items that have to be done. It will be another incredibly long night, and hey, it’s the first day of school in Leander ISD, so I’m sure everyone on both sides of the dais will be excited to be there late.

So, that’s all the part that you already know if you’ve been following all this. Here’s the update and all the new things that I haven’t posted on social media.

This is my agenda item, this is what I have been pushing for, and I am no longer allowed to work on it. I asked the attorney working on it to send me a copy of the items that were in line with what my motion was for about 2 weeks ago, and instead of getting a response from her, all of Council received an email from the Interim City Manager that the library items would not be on that agenda because the Parks Director was going on vacation and everyone on Council need to have the opportunity to meet with him and ask questions about the policy. OK, sure. So this past Monday morning, having not received a reply from the attorney, I asked for an update on the red-lined items on the policies, and again instead received an email from the Interim City Manager saying that the policies were still being revised and I would receive them with the rest of Council when the agenda is published.

There has been some back and forth, but basically, I’m not allowed to work on my own agenda item. Another Council member worked on the policies before they were in the agenda a few weeks ago, but I am not allowed to work on them now. The City is citing a vote we had last year about whether or not all of Council should receive the response when one person asks a question. We approved that because it is important for us all to get the answers to questions, but there were some open meetings concerns when the Council members name is on the question, something that was subsequently changed. The application of that now, in my opinion, renders the provision in our City Charter that any member of Council can put an item on the agenda to be useless if we now can’t talk to staff about those items. My own opinion. Maybe I’m wrong, but I also can’t get an attorney to respond on it.

Here’s the part many of you will be interested in:

The day after the library policies died on the dais, I began submitting several open records requests to the city with my personal email address so there can be no allegation that I am sharing copies of anything I’m not supposed to. In fact, you can request my Open Records Requests. That’s a thing. People do it all the time. Here are all the requests I’ve made, along with the responses, for all to see.

Request #1 (July 19th, 2019)

All correspondence between the library director and parks director, including emails, hand-written notes, text messages, and internal memos regarding the library being short on meeting space or meeting space being converted to other library uses from January 1, 2017 through July 19, 2019.

Response (August 2nd, 2019)

Christine,

Pursuant to Section 552.221(d), Texas Government Code, I hereby certify that, given the volume of information requested, I cannot produce the information by the tenth business day after the date the information was requested, which is July 19, 2019. The information will be available no later than Friday, August 9, 2019 by 5:00 p.m.

I am terribly sorry and embarrassed I am having to ask for the extension. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thank you,


Request #2 (July 19th, 2019)

All correspondence amongst or between any/all council members and/or any/all city staff or city contractors between May 1, 2019 and July 19, 2019 regarding either July 18th, 2019 agenda item 18; proposed library policies; suggested red-line items of policies; questions, clarifications, or concerns about library policies (general or specific); discussion about library space availability; or any discussion of any library issues. Items to include email, text messages, internal memos, scheduled meetings, voice mail messages, and hand-written notes.

Response (August 2nd, 2019)

Christine,

Pursuant to Section 552.221(d), Texas Government Code, I hereby certify that, given the volume of information requested, I cannot produce the information by the tenth business day after the date the information was requested, which is July 19, 2019. The information will be available no later than Friday, August 9, 2019 by 5:00 p.m.

I am terribly sorry and embarrassed I am having to ask for the extension. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thank you


Request #3 (July 19th, 2019)

Any and all emails, text messages, hand-written notes, voice mail messages, or internal memos from any city employee, city contractor, or a city council member/mayor referencing Lilah Sturges from January 1, 2019 through July 19, 2019.

Response (August 2nd, 2019)

Christine,

Pursuant to Section 552.221(d), Texas Government Code, I hereby certify that, given the volume of information requested, I cannot produce the information by the tenth business day after the date the information was requested, which is July 19, 2019. The information will be available no later than Friday, August 9, 2019 by 5:00 p.m.

I am terribly sorry and embarrassed I am having to ask for the extension. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thank you


Request #4 (July 19th, 2019)

Any and all emails, text messages, hand-written notes, voice mail messages, or internal memos from any city employee, city contractor, or a city council member/mayor referencing any library pride or LGBTQ event from January 1, 2019 through July 19, 2019.

Response (August 2nd, 2019)

Christine,

Pursuant to Section 552.221(d), Texas Government Code, I hereby certify that, given the volume of information requested, I cannot produce the information by the tenth business day after the date the information was requested, which is July 19, 2019.    The information will be available no later than Friday, August 9, 2019 by 5:00 p.m.     

I am terribly sorry and embarrassed I am having to ask for the extension.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.   

Thank you


Request #5 (July 19th, 2019)

Any and all emails, text messages, hand-written notes, voice mail messages, or internal memos from any city employee, city contractor, or a city council member/mayor referencing the decision to close library room rentals from January 1, 2019 through July 19, 2019.

Response (August 2nd, 2019)

Christine,

Pursuant to Section 552.221(d), Texas Government Code, I hereby certify that, given the volume of information requested, I cannot produce the information by the tenth business day after the date the information was requested, which is July 19, 2019. The information will be available no later than Friday, August 9, 2019 by 5:00 p.m.

I am terribly sorry and embarrassed I am having to ask for the extension. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thank you


Request #6 (July 19th, 2019)

A listing of all Open Records Requests made to the City, which the City has currently pending at the Texas Attorney General’s Office, along with the reason(s) given to the Attorney General for the review and the date submitted to said AG’s Office.

Response (August 2nd, 2019)

Christine,

Pursuant to Section 552.221(d), Texas Government Code, I hereby certify that, given the volume of information requested, I cannot produce the information by the tenth business day after the date the information was requested, which is July 19, 2019. The information will be available no later than Friday, August 9, 2019 by 5:00 p.m.

I am terribly sorry and embarrassed I am having to ask for the extension. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Request #7 (July 19th, 2019)

Audio recording of the February 15, 2018 Leander City Council meeting.

Response (July 19th, 2019)


Request #8 (July 21st, 2019)

All uses of conference rooms C & D at Leander Library from January 1, 2018 through July 21, 2019, including both public and city uses. Public uses to include anticipated attendance numbers and city uses to include actual attendance numbers.

Response (August 5th, 2019)


Request #9 (July 21st, 2019)

Copies of all records pertaining to any special use permit to be issued for June 15th, 2019, including internal memos, emails, and filings of said permit (whether granted or not).

Response (August 3rd, 2019)


Request #10 (August 2nd, 2019)

All emails, text messages, internal memos, or handwritten notes about any library policies or any future library programming (including story times). Also, the date and names of those in attendance of any meeting regarding any future library programming (including story times).

Date range is from July 19, 2019 through August 2, 2019.

Response pending


I hate doing all these requests. It shouldn’t be like this, but things feel more broken every week that goes by and I don’t see what else there is to be done.

I guess we’ll all share the experience of finding out what the newly proposed library policies are this Friday afternoon when the agenda is posted.

Spread the word