‘Queer Bible’ display settled
RIDGELAND — A new agreement between the city and the county library system opens up mechanisms of communication that didn’t exist before after a controversy erupted in January over a book display that included “The Queer Bible.”
The agreement will foster a “stronger relationship and stronger communication mechanism” between the two entities, said Ward 6 Alderman Wesley Hamlin.
The decision was met with applause after the controversy has left more than $100,000 in library funding in limbo.
The final decision was made Friday evening in a meeting at City Hall that was continued from Tuesday.
The end of business on April 8 was a deadline given by the city to the MCLS to approve an agreement.
“The City of Ridgeland held a special meeting tonight to formally adopt the Memorandum of Understanding pertaining to this matter and are happy a resolution has been found,” a joint statement issued by the city and the Madison County Library System Board of Trustees reads in part.
“The City of Ridgeland’s constituents can continue to enjoy and treasure the library that is a special place within our community.”
Mayor Gene F. McGee said that the two bodies reached the agreement after aldermen and MCLS representatives had a lengthy meeting on Wednesday, April 6. That meeting was not made public.
City Clerk Paula Tierce said this Wednesday that meeting was a committee meeting and officials do not have to advertise meetings unless there are four aldermen or more present.
“I would like the board to adopt the contract and memorandum of understanding which I support fully,” McGee said at the Friday meeting.
Ward 2 Alderman Chuck Gautier motioned that the contract and MOU be accepted and Ward 6 Hamlin seconded the motion.
Hamlin and Gautier were said to be two of the aldermen at the Wednesday meeting along with Ward 3 Alderman Kevin Holder, the city’s legal counsel and Tierce.
Gautier has said in the past that the whole issue could have been avoided with better communication between the city and MCLS officials.
Hamlin said that it came down to that meeting for the two to reach an agreement. He described the meeting as “productive” and said they were at City Hall for five hours or more.
“It was important to us to address the concerns of the citizens of Ridgeland,” Hamlin said. “Through the memorandum of understanding, I think we were able to accomplish that and not bend on that issue.”
Hamlin said a key point of the agreement was the process with which library visitors could challenge certain materials in the library's collection.
“I think the process is going to be made more readily available,” Hamlin said.
He said in addition to language addressing that issue in the MOU, library officials verbally agreed to post signs in the library about the challenge process and would look into putting the process online.
The controversy erupted in January over a prominent display of LBGTQ+ books including “The Queer Bible” after citizens became upset. City officials then discovered that a new contract had not been approved between the city and the library system since 2009.
In the meantime, Friends of The Ridgeland Library raised more than the $110,000 online. As of March about half of the funds had been dispersed to the library with another payment set for sometime in April if an agreement cannot be reached.
Jerry Valdez is one of nine members of the MCLS board of trustees and the board president. Each member is appointed. Each supervisor gets an appointee. The cities of Canton, Flora, Ridgeland and Madison also appoint a member.
Valdez represents Flora. The city of Ridgeland’s appointee is Polly Hammett. The remaining board members are Wallace Collins of Madison, Sheila Jones appointee Penni Davis, Trey Baxter’s appointee is Arma Harper, Gerald Steen’s appointee is Connie Machado, David Bishop’s appointee is Shirley Washington and Paul Griffin’s appointee is Shirley Ann Sanders.
The city of Canton does not currently have an appointee on the board as of Jan. 11.
The joint statement reads in full:
“We are pleased to announce that the longstanding relationship between the City of Ridgeland and the Madison County Library System (MCLS) will continue. Both parties have reached an agreement concerning matters over the Ridgeland Library Branch. Earlier this week the Memorandum of Understanding was adopted by and between the City of Ridgeland and the MCLS.
“Mayor Gene McGee, City of Ridgeland Board of Aldermen and the MCLS Board of Trustees strongly support a diverse library collection that is consistent with the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Our libraries are a repository of knowledge and culture, providing far more than access to books.
“The City of Ridgeland held a special meeting tonight to formally adopt the Memorandum of Understanding pertaining to this matter and are happy a resolution has been found. The City of Ridgeland’s constituents can continue to enjoy and treasure the library that is special place within our community.”