Dear St. Mary’s County Library Board of Trustees,
Greetings. I’m Dan Kleinman from SafeLibraries® brand library services. I provide public awareness of crime and sexual harassment in libraries and inappropriate books in schools due to American Library Association policy.
It has come to my attention that you are allowing a “public” meeting to occur that violates your meeting room policy. I say “public” in quotes because it is not a public meeting. It is only for a certain portion of the public and specifically excludes another portion. That violates your meeting room policy and general principles of free speech in public buildings. https://www.stmalib.org/about-us/library-policies/meeting-room-policy
Using clever wording to get around having to comply with your meeting room policy may be clever in your minds, but it is not legal. The clever aspect is to ask parents to sign a waiver allowing children to attend a meeting without their parents, but where children will not be admitted without that waiver. It is an effective bar against parents no matter how cleverly it is done. “Parents are welcome to wait in the general Library areas, or in the other room we have reserved,” says the people promoting the meeting: http://wash.org/sex-ed/ That means parents are not welcome to attend the meeting. That violates your meeting room policy.
The American Library Association has very good meeting room policy samples and reminds libraries they need to have good meeting room polices and to follow them. I support the American Library Association in this area. You have a good meeting room policy. You do not follow it.
It is on this basis that I will begin to seek legal means to force compliance with your own meeting room policy. Legal action will be too late to stop you from violating the policy now, but there may be serious consequences for your actions should you continue to violate that policy.
My advice would be to allow parents to attend, making the meeting compliant with your own meeting room policy, or to cancel the illegal meeting and reschedule it to when the meeting policy is being properly applied. That will obviate any legal action. Either means is really simply.
No one is saying not to have any particular meeting. You just have to have meetings in compliance with your own meeting room policy. If you stray, you may be sued.
I am currently suing another library for violating the state’s open meetings law to pass policy: http://safelibraries.blogspot.com/2017/03/sunshine-week.html Also, I have been sued to silence my exposing homophobia and child porn facilitation by the American Library Association: http://safelibraries.blogspot.com/2016/06/bittman-v-fox-dismissed-again.html The point here is I’m ready, willing, and able to find the means to bring suit if you go ahead with your illegal meeting that violates your own meeting room policy.
Let’s be clear I take no joy in getting involved in this matter, and I am only seeking to have you apply your own policies else sustain consequences for not having done so. This will be pain of your own doing. You are violating your own policy. I’m just the messenger calling you on it. So please do everyone a favor and either allow everyone to attend the currently scheduled meeting in accordance with your own meeting room policy or cancel it until you find a means to comply with your own meeting room policy.
That the meeting may be a “private” one as defined in your policy doesn’t absolve you of anything. Your policy states, in bold, because it is obviously so important, “Any use of the room which disturbs library customers or operations is prohibited.” And, to know if library customers might be “disturbed,” one merely needs to look at your own statements about the meeting when you initially cancelled the meeting the first time it was scheduled. You said at https://www.stmalib.org/pdfs/pr/LibraryTrusteesPressRelease.pdf “After careful review and unanimous decision, the Library Board and the Library is not moving forward with a program on sex education. This decision is based on our concern for the polarization of the topic in our community. We believe that any value to the proposed educational program would be smothered by diverse and divisive positions.” So the meeting is clearly “disturbing” to patrons, as you yourselves made so clear, thus it is prohibited, in bold type.
My understanding is blocking of parents from attending the meeting is what is most disturbing. Parents want to be able to discuss the issues that their children are learning, but that will be impossible since they are not allowed to attend. While that may be acceptable in a school environment or other such venue, this is a public library having a meeting room policy that is being willfully violated by allowing the private party to use a clever means of requiring waivers that in effect block adults from attending, so far as I can tell.
So it’s really simple. Follow your policy and allow parents to attend the existing meeting or reschedule until the means to follow the policy is employed. If you do not follow your policy or use a clever means to fool people into thinking you are following your meeting room policy when you are not, that’s when the trouble begins, and it will be trouble of your own making.
I am CC’ing the local government since while libraries enjoy autonomy to act within the law that created them, they do not have autonomy to act outside the law, and if your local government does not stop your ultra vires activities, it too may be liable.
I note, by the way, that the library already appears to have violated the law with respect to meeting room policy. The April 2017 agenda https://www.stmalib.org/board/Agenda_April17.pdf says, “Executive Sessions: Meeting Room Policies.” That violates your state’s open public meetings law; you are required to talk about meeting room policy issues in public, not in executive session. See http://www.marylandattorneygeneral.gov/OpenGov%20Documents/omaChapter4.pdf Having already violated state law will not help you in any way should legal action be brought against you.
I’m certain you can see what I have said is quite reasonable.
Can you imagine the ruckus you yourselves will cause if parents attempt to enter the “public” meeting then are blocked or even arrested for attempting to do so? Then even your police department will be drawn in to the resultant mess.
And I urge parents to bring video cameras to the public building and keep the tape running before, during, and after they attempt to enter the “public” meeting. Tape the whole meeting — it’s a public meeting, why not?
You have a brewing problem on your hands yet a very easy means to address it.
Please let me know what you have decided.
SafeLibraries® brand library services
641 Shunpike Rd #123
Chatham, NJ 07928
THE LIBRARY’S FIRST RESPONSE:
Dear Mr. Kleinman,
My name is Michael Blackwell, and I am Director of St. Mary’s County Library.
Thank you for your email.
In response, I am copying Mr. James LaRue, Director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom & Freedom to Read Foundation of the ALA, and Ms. Deborah Caldwell-Stone of the ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Office, with whom we have already been in frequent communication on this matter. I am also copying our State Librarian, Ms. Irene Padilla. I am also copying our attorney, Mr. Joshua Brewster.
In reply, at least for now, I will only provide you some information. Our meeting room policies currently allow private groups to reserve space. You have pointed to the ALA’s guidelines on meetings, which may be found here. http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/meetingrooms Please note this: Written policies may include limitations on frequency of use, and whether or not meetings held in library meeting rooms must be open to the public. If state and local laws permit private as well as public sessions of meetings in libraries, libraries may choose to offer both options. The same standard should be applicable to all. Our policies do not state that meeting rooms that have been reserved for private functions must be open for public use. The event you refer to is not a library sponsored meeting. The group that has reserved as a private space is requiring a parental signature to attend the program, not us. Under our policies on private use of the meeting rooms, they would be within their rights to close a space in this way. Any parent attending would have to agree to this restriction ahead of time. This invalidates a statement you have made: Parents want to be able to discuss the issues that their children are learning, but that will be impossible since they are not allowed to attend. Any parent allowing their child to attend would understand this. Your proposed legal action seems like an effort to allow people unrelated to the teens, who have their parents’ blessing and permission, into the room. With this in mind, I ask that you reconsider your position.
My understanding is that the group reserving the meeting rooms are offering a public forum as well. Concerned citizens, including yourself should you be so inclined, may attend that forum.
Now that you have this information, I hope that we might have a discussion of this matter. I make no further reply for now nor any comment on our future course of action. You may well get a much fuller reply once I have had the opportunity to discuss this situation with Mr. Larue, Ms. Caldwell-Stone, our Trustees, and Mr. Brewster. I add only that the library does not endorse the content of the event this Sunday. We are only interested in the fair use of our meeting rooms.
Director, St Mary’s County Library
Dear Director Blackwell,
Thank you for responding.
Thank you for contacting the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. On the issue of public library meeting room policy, they are pretty solid. I’m certain they will advise you correctly and I hope your library acts accordingly.
I appreciate the library board’s meeting room policy allows for private events. But you neglected to address the original issue I raised about the line in bold text being violated and the statements your library already made proving the line in bold text would be violated should the meeting go forward as is.
Regarding the private event offering a public forum as well, that has two problems:
1) It is false. Advertising for the private meeting calls it “teens only,” as shown in the graphic below, and the site’s registration form makes no mention of such a separate event, at least it doesn’t to this point in time.
2) The library board’s allowance for a public forum does not address the underlying issue of the violation of its own meeting room policy. Actually, it evidences an intention to keep the potentially illegal meeting in place using yet another clever means. This may worsen potential liability. It is the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson approach to free speech, separate but equal. Can you image having a private party for an anti-Trump event and having separate rooms for adults and children into which neither may go? Of course your library policy would not allow for that. Similarly, your library policy does not allow for any separate but equal fiction already proven false decades ago in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
So your response may have the effort of worsening the cloud of litigation and liability under which the library board and the county government now operates. You neglected the key issue that violates the policy, and the library board’s own statements about that key issue, and you suggested a separate but equal approach would be acceptable to ameliorate any deficiency. Besides, evidence shows there is no separate but equal event advertised nor planned.
This is good: “You may well get a much fuller reply once I have had the opportunity to discuss this situation with Mr. Larue, Ms. Caldwell-Stone, our Trustees, and Mr. Brewster.” However, if the library chooses to go ahead with the meeting as currently planned in a manner that violates library policy, then speaking with them may be too little, too late.
I appreciate this is a tough and emergent issue for the library, but that is never an excuse for violating the law.
I have made this issue public here:
- “Notice of Possible Legal Action Regarding Meeting Room Policy“
Good luck in guiding the library board accordingly.
THE LIBRARY’S RESPONSE TO MY REPLY:
I am legal counsel for the Board of Trustees for the St. Mary’s County library system. I have reviewed your emails to Mr. Blackwell in regards to the reservation of two rooms at the Lexington Park Library on May 21. Your allegations are completely without merit, and I will not engage in the legal arguments here. I ask that you refrain from further contact with Mr. Blackwell and direct any further communication to me.
I appreciate your consideration.
Joshua S. Brewster
Attorney at Law
MY RESPONSE TO THE LIBRARY’S RESPONSE TO MY REPLY:
Thank you for letting me know.
I urge you to read this book, it may help you considerably when representing the library board:
- SHUT UP! The Bizarre War that One Public Library Waged Against the First Amendment
If I may assist further, please let me know.