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City of Ridgeland Closer To Restoring Library Services Contract After Funding Hold

City of Ridgeland’s Board of Aldermen
The City of Ridgeland’s Board of Aldermen has scheduled an additional hearing on the Madison County Library Board’s proposed library services contract. Photo by Nick Judin

RIDGELAND, Miss.—The City of Ridgeland’s Board of Aldermen is moving closer to restoring the library services contract and pledging to avoid censorship after an executive session last night. The board had paused the contract after a dispute with the Madison County Library Board over LGBTQ+ content on the shelves of the Ridgeland Public Library.

At the regularly scheduled Tuesday board meeting last night, the aldermen departed for an executive session to consider three proposals. After over an hour behind closed doors, the board then recessed until March 24, leaving the door open on the documents that could finally resolve the library-services dispute.

Included in the proposals is a memorandum that would inform the City of Ridgeland about the library board’s response to book challenges, while preventing the City or the Board of Aldermen from taking any action to contest the library’s systems decisions.

Library Board Offers Counterproposal

The first item was a library-services contract counterproposal from the Madison County Library system, which would restore the contract previously in place with virtually no changes. That contract follows some number of unreleased contract proposals that the library board rejected, although the details of their content are not publicly available.

In an interview with the Mississippi Free Press, Madison County Library Board Director Tonja Johnson confirmed that the library services contract currently under consideration is identical to the previous contract, save for a single line.

“That line specifically states that Ridgeland will be invoiced and pay on a quarterly basis—which is what they’ve already been doing for the last 15 years,” Johnson said.

The second item was a memorandum of understanding on behalf of the Madison County Library Board, which would provide the Ridgeland Board of Aldermen with a yearly summary of formal book challenges and the actions taken in response. 

Headshot of Gene McGee
Mayor Gene McGee ended the March 16, 2022, Board of Aldermen meeting, which took place mostly behind closed doors, on a positive note, stating that it “appears we have an acceptable contract.” Photo courtesy City of Ridgeland

“(Madison County Library System) understands Ridgeland’s concern with and desire to be made aware of materials about which citizens have complained,” the memorandum reads. “To address those concerns, MCLS will, at the end of each fiscal year, supply Ridgeland with a list of all formal materials challenges made to MCLS regarding materials in the Branch and the determinations made by MCLS concerning those materials.”

However, the memorandum explicitly forbids the Board of Aldermen—including Mayor McGee himself—from taking any action or review of the library board’s decisions, preventing any attempts to censor or control content or displays of content in the library system as a whole.

“No confidential information regarding the identity of users will be supplied, and this information is provided for informational purposes only. No amendments, changes, or reversals to the determinations made by the Reconsideration Committee or MCLS Board of Trustees will occur as a result of this information being shared,” it concludes.

Finally, a document from the aldermen themselves: a resolution that, if approved, would declare the City of Ridgeland’s position against censorship and deny that any attempts to control the content of the library system ever occurred.

“Be it therefore resolved,” the resolution concludes, “that the governing authorities find and again declare that the City of Ridgeland has not and will not withhold any appropriated funds based on the content of any book now in the collection of the Ridgeland Library. The reason that funds have been withheld relates to legal and contractual issues.”

The text of this resolution directly contradicts earlier statements from Mayor McGee. In a Jan. 26, 2022, interview with the Mississippi Free Press, McGee confirmed that he put a hold on the money due to the content on the library shelves. “We’re holding (the money) right now because we found a large number of citizens who have complained about displays of sexual, whatever you want to call it, content,” he said then. “We’re just responding to those citizens’ complaints, and that’s the position we’re in.”

An Acceptable Contract

McGee ended last night’s meeting with a brief statement indicating that the City of Ridgeland was amenable to the library board’s proposal. Until the contract is agreed upon and the City releases the funds, the Madison County Library Board will continue to miss quarterly payments used for library operations—although it is the library board’s position that the original contract is still, in fact, active.

“At this juncture it appears we have an acceptable contract, and can mutually agree upon a memorandum of understanding,” McGee said before declaring the meeting recessed. Afterward, the mayor informed WLBT’s Quentin Smith of one small hitch—the board of aldermen intended to add to the memorandum of understanding detailing the City’s access to book challenges.

“There are some things that the board wants in the memorandum of understanding that they’d like to have added, so I think they’ll be very reasonable,” McGee said.

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