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Kansas town extends library lease for 1 year after demanding it remove all LGBTQ content

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Rachel Mipro
/
Kansas Reflector
Judith Cremer, library director, said she’s optimistic about the future of the library with the lease renewal.

The small town east of Manhattan had considered not renewing the library's lease because it refused to accept a clause asking for the removal of all LGBTQ and socially "divisive" books from shelves.

ST. MARYS — The Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library’s lease is safe for another year, following community uproar and legal pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas.

The Saint Marys City Commission voted to extend the lease, without restrictions, during a meeting Tuesday night. The lease renewal was up for debate because the library had refused to accept a renewal clause asking for the removal of all LGBTQ and socially divisive books from the shelves.

Judith Cremer, the library director, said she was relieved by the renewal, though she didn’t understand some of the claims made by commissioners at earlier meetings, referencing their claims that many parents were angry at the library. Cremer said community response to the library has always been positive.

“They don’t know us, so they need to come and visit and we need to get to know each other, because we’re both in the same job, we’re doing the same job. So hopefully we can get them to understand this a little better,” Cremer said.

The commissioners have been discussing whether to renew the lease — which ends Dec. 31 — for the past few months.

A lease proposed by Commissioner Matthew Childs stipulated the library not “supply, distribute, loan, encourage, or coerce acceptance of or approval of explicit sexual or racially or socially divisive material, or events (such as ‘drag queen story hours’) that support the LGBTQ+ or critical theory ideology or practice.”

St. Marys residents come out to support the renewal of the public library lease at a Dec. 6, 2022, meeting of the city commission. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

Commissioners said the outpouring of public support for the library informed their decision to extend the lease by one year. The four members who were present for Tuesday’s meeting all voted in favor of the one-year renewal.

Childs, who was elected mayor by the other commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting, said the issue now was discussing how to keep the library in line with community standards, though he didn’t clarify what these standards would look like, and refused to give clarification or comments on the situation to the Kansas Reflector.

“It was very clear from that meeting that citizens want the library to remain open,” Childs said. “Everyone agreed on that. So there’s really no question about that. The question is, how do we assure the safety of the community and that the community is getting what they want in the library? And that’s kind of up to the community.”

All members of the commission are members of Society of St. Pius X, or SSPX, an extreme Catholic religious sect. At a previous commission meeting, Commissioner Richard Binsfeld said their religion had an impact on their views of the library.

“We do go to the church, yes, all five of us,” Binsfeld said. “I think it has an influence on our decisions because we make decisions on our faith and morals, so certainly we’re going to be influenced by that. It’s definitely going to have a bearing on that certainly, without question.”

Gerard Kleinsmith, new vice-mayor, said the library underrepresented Donald Trump books. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

Gerard Kleinsmith was elected to the position of vice mayor at the meeting, replacing Francis Awerkamp, a Republican who serves in the Kansas House.

Kleinsmith said he didn’t want his tax dollars paying for books he didn’t approve of, saying the library didn’t reflect the interests of people in the county.

“If you do a search of the Potawatomi library and look for actual books on their shelves, there are six books authored by Secretary Clinton on the shelves in Pottawattamie County Library,” Kleinsmith said. “There are none authored by President Trump. Not even ‘The Art of the Deal,’ that he wrote long before he was President. That’s just one example.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Rachel Mipro