After League City City Council passed an ordinance creating a new controversial review committee for any Helen Hall Library books residents flag as potentially offensive, opponents of the ordinance said they are not giving up.
On Feb. 28, City Council voted 5-3 in favor of the final reading of an ordinance establishing the Community Standards Review Committee, a group of seven members responsible for reviewing public library books against which residents file a complaint. The first reading passed 5-3 on Feb. 14.
Under the ordinance, a resident may request the committee reconsider the classification or location of library materials. For instance, if a resident found a book about sex in the teenagers’ section, they could request it be reshelved elsewhere.
The committee—made up of three Helen Hall Library board of trustees members, three residents with experience in child education and a chairperson who would vote only to break ties—would then review the book in question and the complainant’s request and decide by vote whether to reclassify or reshelve the book.
The ordinance allows the complainant to appeal the committee’s decision to City Council.
Before the ordinance passed, Council Member Tom Crews, who ultimately voted against the ordinance along with Council Members Chad Tressler and John Bowen, amended the ordinance to state that, should an appeal reach City Council, it would require a supermajority vote of at least six council members in favor to move a book.
“I think that will put the focus on the book and off the politics,” Crews said.
Tressler said the ordinance had undergone several revisions since it was first proposed but still maintained its original intent.
“What was first published on our agenda and went through multiple revisions was an attempt to define books as offensive or harmful or inappropriate because they’re books that address certain communities within our community, plain and simple,” Tressler said, referring to the LGBT community. “That’s not right. Taking that language out doesn’t change the fact that that was the intent of it.”
On Dec. 6, City Council voted 4-3 in favor of a resolution prohibiting the city from spending tax dollars on “obscene” material intended for minors to be available at the library. Topics considered obscene under the resolution include pedophilia; incest; rape; bondage; and sex, nudity and sexual preference in books with an intended audience of those less 10 years old.
Dozens of League City and Galveston County residents have voiced strong opposition to the committee and the Dec.6 resolution, saying they are a violation of the First Amendment and essentially a ban on books. Many said they are an attempt to censor books with LGBT themes.
Nearly 20 residents protested before the Feb. 28 meeting. Many of the protesters represented the Galveston County Library Alliance, a group that formed in response to the ordinance being proposed.
Many public speakers at the meeting threatened lawsuits should the ordinance pass. After the ordinance passed, Katherine Swanson, who helped establish the alliance, said she was both proud and frustrated.
“I'm proud because so many citizens showed up tonight to voice their opposition; their words were strong, and the message was clear. I'm frustrated because the League City council ignored yet again citizen voices and even those on the city council,” she said. “This ordinance is problematic, and the city council knows this, yet they continued. As a resident, I am not thrilled that my and my fellow taxpayers' money will go to a lawsuit.”
Swanson said the alliance plans to continue to oppose the ordinance.
“I can tell you this: This fight isn't over. The Galveston County Library Alliance and League City residents will do what it takes to right this wrong,” she said.
John Cobarruvias was one resident who protested and publicly spoke against the ordinance during the meeting. He said he will support the alliance going forward.
“I’ll continue to support the alliance with money if necessary,” he said. “I’m also going to watch the council members and expose their hypocrisy if any of them violate their Christian family values.”
A statement from the Texas Library Association, an organization that supports and improves library services across the state, said in a statement to Community Impact League City City Council's decision was "disheartening." The TLA said librarians are trained to develop collections that serve entire communities, and excluding their expertise is a disservice to League City, according to the statement.
"Allowing a committee of City Council-appointed members to decide which books should be removed from the public library based on vaguely defined 'obscenity' criteria is concerning and will likely lead to content to be taken out of context, resulting in the potential removal of books that have significant value to members of our community," the statement reads. "Libraries are safe spaces for many members of our community and should be protected and valued as resources for reading materials which foster education, curiosity and creativity."
A few opponents questioned why a new book review committee is necessary. Until the new committee was established, the library board was responsible for deciding whether to reclassify or reshelve books about which residents complained. Since 2016, the board has reviewed three books, which they relocated to different sections of the library, city staff said.
No council member who voted in favor of the ordinance spoke about it during the meeting Feb. 28.