The months-long standoff between Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee and the Madison County Library System over LGBTQ-related content is over this week, with both sides releasing a joint statement on April 12 declaring their agreement in a memorandum of understanding to continue contract payments to the library system.
“Mayor Gene McGee, City of Ridgeland Board of Aldermen and the MCLS Board of Trustees strongly support a diverse library collection that is consistent with the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights,” the statement reads. “Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Our libraries are a repository of knowledge and culture, providing far more than access to books.”
The agreement marks the end of an almost three-month saga, wherein McGee told MFP reporter Nick Judin that he had withheld $110,000 in library funding because of what he called a “large number of citizens” complaining about sexual content.
During the intervening months, and after Nick Judin’s reporting in the Mississippi Free Press, a crowdfunding program called Friends of the Ridgeland Library filled the gap, providing the full withheld amount from over 2,500 individual donations.
Parts of the memorandum highlight McGee’s previous concerns over LGBTQ+ material, especially on display in the library. “The City is deeply concerned that the Ridgeland Branch of the MCLS will continue to display or make available materials only in an age-appropriate manner,” the memorandum reads.
The jointly signed and adopted document strikes a balance between MCLS’ obligatory neutrality and inclusion of diverse community viewpoints with what the memo calls “recent complaints by individuals inside and outside of Ridgeland.”
Cal Wells, a partner with the Phelps Dunbar law firm in Jackson, told the Ridgeland City Council during a public comment period on Feb. 15 that he first brought a LGBTQ library display to the mayor’s attention, claiming responsibility for the first complaint. He is the chairman of the board of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank directed by a former Brexit organizer and member of the British Parliament. The think tank took credit for producing the model legisation for the Mississippi Legislature’s passage of a recent anti-critical race theory law, labeling anti-racist, college-level CRT teachings “Marxism” in think-think publications.
“Ridgeland, through its elected officials, and the MCLS wish to protect and preserve the viewpoint neutrality of our library system,” it said. “As such, it in no way wishes to censor, proscribe, or remove any materials and respects the library system’s duty to protect and serve the entire community. However, both Ridgeland and the MCLS also must protect all parent’s (sic) rights to serve as the guardians of pre-adolescent children who are our city’s most precious resource.”
Going forward, MCLS will apprise the City of Ridgeland of any library materials about which citizens complain, and will also meet with the mayor or Board of Aldermen at their request if material challenges arise. No personally identifiable information is to be shared, nor are there to be any changes to library material because of any such meetings.
“No amendments, changes, or reversals to the determinations made in accordance with this policy will occur as a result of this information being shared,” the agreement promises.