Commissioners make library pay security costs of ‘Drag Queen Story Hour’

Leonardtown, MD — Transparency and accountability were the pervasive themes for the heated, 45-minute discussion between the St. Mary’s County Library Board Members and the Commissioners of St. Mary’s County (CSMC) at the commissioner’s July 16 meeting. What started off as an informative brief from library personnel turned sour by the end of their discussion, with the CSMC passing Commissioner John O’Connor’s motion to transfer funding in the amount of $2,439.48 from the library budget to the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office, in order to recoup security costs from the controversial Drag Queen Story Hour held last month at the Lexington Park Library.

The event, which took place on June 23 and was co-sponsored by the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays of Leonardtown(PFLAG-Leonardtown)and the Southern Maryland Secular Humanists(SMASH), ultimately led to the arrest of one man. However, while the commissioners originally took issue with the content of the event targeting children, the evident issue needing a solution today was who would pick up the tab for the “extraordinary law enforcement services” that were required for the event.

“For me, what I don't like to see is our public safety resources being drained from other places in the county and our budget is being drained for controversial measures that are happening at the library,” Commissioner O’Connor said. “This is multiple times where we have incurred costs associated to your free rooms… you can charge should you like to charge, I mean you are allowed to. I think that is something that you seriously need to look at.”

Although Library Director Michael Blackwell made it clear that the event was neither sponsored by the library or even brought to their attention until shortly beforehand, the commissioners seemed to agree that monetary action was appropriate given the circumstances, likely hoping to discourage any future “controversial programming” at the library.

“Right now, what is happening is the library’s programming is causing the taxpayers in this county to suffer and not have the available resources where it needs to be, across the board… having law enforcement officers away from their family, etc., but most of all it’s coming out of every taxpayer in this county’s pocket,” O’Connor said. “My idea is that if you are going to have controversial programming, you're going to have to reimburse the Sheriff’s Office for the cost’s associated with any type of controversial programming.”

Another interesting point that was brought up by Commissioner Eric Colvin was regarding a post made on the American Library Association’s[ALA] website by St. Mary’s County Librarian Tess Goldwasser two years ago. The content of her post suggested ways for librarians to “sneakily fit [LGBT] stuff into current [children’s] programming” while acting as a “secret librarian advocate operative.” Transparency with the library’s board was challenged and thoroughly discussed after reviewing that post, with a resulting optimistic attitude of cooperation with the CSMC that could lead to library board meetings being broadcast in the not so distant future.

“There is no doubt that the libraries are doing a lot of wonderful stuff… More disturbing to me than the [Drag Queen Story Hour] was the article that came to light on the ALA website,” Colvin explained. “That was a very troubling article to see that a children's librarian was hiding information in programs, and that leads me to believe that there’s some public trust that has been lost in the libraries…

One idea that I’d like to throw out for you to consider as a board, because as a state board you have different operations, but I would encourage you to consider operating by the county’s open-meeting policies. Perhaps you could start using the counties ‘BoardDocs,’ and I think it would be perfectly fine for you to use this meeting room for your regular meetings, and be televised to provide openness [and] transparency.”

While visibly dismayed by the commissioner’s decision to take funds away from the library, Library Director Michael Blackwell appeared to understand the frustration and agreed that while their enhanced transparency would be positive, it would jokingly “not make for very entertaining television.”

“It’s unfortunate that you have taken money away from the library for something we couldn't stop and I feel it is a retrospective action, but you've taken that action,” Blackwell said in his closing thoughts. “We will happily hear from you about your future concerns. I don’t know how we are going to stop one group from using our meeting rooms, when frankly it is getting them exactly [the reaction] they want. This library does phenomenal work for the county residents… I would hope that you would concentrate on all of the positive things that we do. I understand that you hear from residents, I hope you also hear from residents who are saying that the library is doing good things and that you do hear the positive case for us.”

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