Leander City Council

Leander city council expected to address library policies

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As the City of Leander continues to receive high-profile, national criticism over its cancellation of a Drag Queen Story Time event and a transgender author’s planned appearance, the Leander City Council will take another crack at reviewing the city’s newest proposed revisions to Leander Public Library policies during Thursday’s council meeting.

(Council member Christine Sederquist is criticizing the revisions.)

For the last three months, the city has temporarily banned all library room rentals and all outside performers not included in the Central Texas Library System’s list of preferred performers. Both bans followed the city cancelling the Drag Queen Story Hour amidst criticism and a LGBTQ-supportive church renting a library room to keep the event alive.

Leander Public Information Officer Mike Neu previously said the bans were pending the city completing a review of the library's programming and background check policy - the library doesn't require background checks for outside performers - and subsequently getting direction from the council on possible policy revisions.

At Thursday’s meeting, the city's proposals include changes to the programming and room rental policies. 

The programming policy revisions add a requirement that events be booked 3 to 12 months ahead of time and that any outside guest presenting to children under 18 years old must complete a “City Background check or equivalent” before they can present.

The library room rental revisions offer two options: keeping a policy close to the library's current policy except now any renter with 100 or more attendees will be required to show they have liability insurance with at least $500,000 in coverage; or ending public rental of the rooms and limiting usage to only city and library staff.

During the council's last discussion on the proposal to end the room rentals, Hill said he was supportive of the idea while Council members Christine Sederquist and Jason Shaw said they wanted the current policy kept, arguing changing it would be an  unacceptable infringement on free speech.

Current and former library staff interviewed about it said staff isn't calling for ending rentals and the room's separated nature means it would be hard for staff to use them effectively. 

Notably, the city's newest revisions no longer have a controversial provision that would have required renters, in the event their event is protested, to pay the security and police staffing costs or have their event cancelled. 

The ACLU, the National Library Association and the Texas Library Association each sent letters to the city last month vigorously criticizing the idea and arguing it could result in the event organizer being censored.

In other business, the council is expected to tackle a wide array of significant items in a heavily packed agenda Thursday during their council meeting.

The council will hear a presentation on the Interim City Manager's proposal annual city budget, which suggests reducing the city's property tax rate by 1 cent per $100 and hiring 24 new city staff positions.

Due to delays with  having the Travis tax roll certified, the agenda item is more of an overview of the budget and the council won't be able to hold the first Public Hearing on the proposed tax rate until their Sept. 5 meeting.

The council will also meet in executive session to discuss possibly appointing a new City Manager. City staff said the list of finalists won't be published prior to the meeting.

Another item the council will tackle is a consent agenda item to update city rules governing public comment to reflect the recently passed House Bill 2840, which gives members of the public the right to address council at any open meeting.

In addition to some wording updates to match the law, the item would require  citizens who want to comment on agenda in a briefing session or workshop to make those comments during the regular council meeting if the item is also on the regular meeting's agenda.

Finally, the council will consider a proposal to buy city-issued phones for each council member that they can use exclusively for conducting city business and purchase a program that automatically archives all messages on the phones for the purposes of meeting the state's open records laws.

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