Ridgeland board, library yet to come to agreement

Ridgeland board, library yet to come to agreement

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RIDGELAND — A Friday deadline looms for the Madison County Library System to accept the city’s terms to continue receiving more than $100,000 in annual funding.

Aldermen have a meeting scheduled for 5:30 at Ridgeland City Hall to discuss a memorandum of understanding sent to the county library board last month. 

A controversy erupted in January over a prominent display of LBGTQ+ books including “The Queer Bible” after citizens became upset.

The library board objected to some terms of the conditions last month in statements on their website, but officials have not responded to requests by the Journal for comment.

A statement released by the city following Tuesday night’s regularly meeting enumerates five stipulations included in the memorandum of understanding on which the city “stands firm.” 

Those stipulations are:

• Ridgeland wishes moving forward to be able to review the MCLS budget on an annual basis instead of only having access to the Ridgeland branch budget. The Board needs the complete financial picture to evaluate its discretionary spending. 

• Ridgeland is concerned that certain materials be displayed in an age-appropriate manner. We have received numerous complaints from our community regarding the matter. 

• The City has requested quarterly meetings with MCLS in the spirit of providing better communication between the parties that will provide a structured forum to share information and resolve any disputes as they may arise. 

• Ridgeland and the MCLS are obligated to provide citizens with a transparent, fair, and workable mechanism to express concerns and attempt to resolve disputes with regard to challenged resources. 

• These differences do not diminish the Library Board’s ability to run the library. They simply establish a framework for the City to make decisions regarding its discretionary spending. 

The MOU goes into the issues further.

“In short, it is the hope of each party hereto that the harmonious relations that existed for years before the present disputes arose can be restored,” the document reads. “This MOU is executed to accomplish this purpose.“

The MOU asks that the library director present the current contracts to each newly elected city board and asks that library officials also make a formal request to the city board before each fiscal year budget is approved.

The board also asks to be made aware of any complaints related to the content of books. It also asks that the method of submitting complaints concerning opposed materials in the library be transparent.

Finally, the document asks that open communication is encouraged between the two parties and that “each party is welcome to address the other party regarding any issue.” 

The MCLS board met on March 29 and released a statement the following day as well as a response to the city that included their revisions and wording they want eliminated form the MOU, though they do appear to agree on the accepted contract.

“MCLS is eager to reach a resolution with the city of Ridgeland,” The MCLS board statement says. “We appreciate the city’s acceptance of the library services contract as presented by MCLS as well as their willingness to work towards an acceptable MOU. As we continue to work towards this understanding, the MCLS Board of Trustees stands firm in our support of our staff and the outstanding library services they provide to everyone in our communities.”

MCLS executive director Tonja Johnson also made a statement that suggests the city’s demands are censorship.

“Censorship (including hiding books away so others don’t have to be offended by just seeing them) sends a clear message to those who see themselves in those books – you are not welcome here, your story shouldn’t be told, you are “less than”,’ Johnson said.

Library officials have not responded to request by the Journal for comment after the March 30 statements that are posted on the MCLS website.

“City of Ridgeland has not approved the funding heretofore because of contractual and legal issues which are totally unrelated to the content of any book or other material in the collection of the Ridgeland Library,” a resolution approved by the city at the March 24 meeting states. 

A line removed by library includes one that that stipulate that “matters dealing with sexual or religious preferences” only be “displayed or readily available in an age appropriate manner.”

Another line nixed by the MCLS board reads “However, Ridgeland also must protect the parent’s right to serve as the guardians of pre-adolescent children who are our city’s most precious resource.”

Another line stating that Ridgeland and the MCLS are obligated to provide a “transparent, fair and workable mechanism” for citizens to express concerns with certain materials in the library was also removed.

The MCLS edits also objected to library officials presenting plans for programming or challenged materials but did include a line where they would be require to present a yearly budget request to the city board.

The issue arose in January when McGee received the complaints objecting to the public display of books that citizens have said were making a political statement with a pro-LBGT+ agenda.

Cal Wells, an attorney from Jackson, said in February that he was one of the people who saw the display and brought it to the mayor’s attention.

One of the books in the displays that has drawn criticism is a collection of essays edited by Jack Guinness called “The Queer Bible.”

Another is “As a Woman: What I Learned about Power, Sex, and the Patriarchy after I Transitioned” by Paula Stone Williams. The description on Amazon says that the book is a memoir of a transgender pastor’s transition from male to female.

The books were displayed prominently on shelves in the Ridgeland Public Library. Citizens with children who had seen the display contacted McGee about the overt political nature.

Other titles include “Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story” by Julie Rodgers, “the Name I Call Myself” by Hasan Namir and “People of Pride: 25 Great LGBTQ Americans” by Chase Clemesha.

Amid the controversy, McGee discovered that the contract between the library system and the city expired in 2009. 

McGee has said that the city is holding its budgeted contribution of $110,000 to the library until a new agreement is reached and approved by the city and library boards as well as the county Board of Supervisors.

The municipal funds do not have a due date and McGee said that to his knowledge the city’s contribution has never been paid in one lump sum.

In addition to their yearly contribution to the library system, the city also owns the building the library is housed in and maintains the property as well.

In the meantime, Friends of The Ridgeland Library raised more than the $110,000 online. As of March about half of the funds have 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 and 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 full statement form the city is below:

The City of Ridgeland continues to work diligently to reach a resolution with the Madison County Library System (MCLS). The City of Ridgeland has been providing funding to MCLS since their inception and has historically provided funding at a higher level than any other municipality within the system. We desire to continue our longstanding relationship that benefits both our communities and the constituency we serve.

Ridgeland and its elected officials 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.

Every community library around the state of Mississippi and the nation provides a place for knowledge, learning, and programs that have been a bedrock for people of all ages to depend on. The Ridgeland Library is no different – it’s an institution that we as a community treasure and want to see thrive. We share the thoughts of MCLS that “our libraries are a repository of knowledge and culture, providing far more than access to books.”

Over the course of the last few weeks, we have worked with MCLS and their legal counsel to come to an agreement and are still making great efforts to find a solution. We are regretful that these issues have become contentious, and we have put forth a good faith effort to demonstrate our willingness to work with MCLS on these matters. We do not wish to use the media as a platform to resolve issues but to work together to ensure the City and the library system continue our long-standing harmonious relationship.

Once again, we would like to reiterate that the City of Ridgeland in no way tried to withhold, is not withholding, and will not withhold money because of any books in the library system. We do not have the desire to censor or ban any books. There is currently a dispute between the city and MCLS as to whether a valid contract exists. The City is requesting to enter into a new contract that would give the Board of Aldermen the authority to make the contributions.

We have laid out a few stipulations within the Memorandum of Understanding that we feel are fair and represent the community in which we serve. The City of Ridgeland stands firm on the following areas of the agreement:

• Ridgeland wishes moving forward to be able to review the MCLS budget on an annual basis instead of only having access to the Ridgeland branch budget. The Board needs the complete financial picture to evaluate its discretionary spending.

• Ridgeland is concerned that certain materials be displayed in an age-appropriate manner. We have received numerous complaints from our community regarding the matter.

• The City has requested quarterly meetings with MCLS in the spirit of providing better communication between the parties that will provide a structured forum to share information and resolve any disputes as they may arise.

• Ridgeland and the MCLS are obligated to provide citizens with a transparent, fair, and workable mechanism to express concerns and attempt to resolve disputes with regard to challenged resources.

• These differences do not diminish the Library Board’s ability to run the library. They simply establish a framework for the City to make decisions regarding its discretionary spending.

We are proud of our city and the importance of having a library branch that serves all of our constituents. We wish to come to a resolution soon with MCLS and to continue the harmonious relationship we have had in place for many years.

Gene McGee, Mayor of Ridgeland City of Ridgeland Board of Aldermen





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