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After rumor-filled uproar, a Missouri county demands the public library be 'non-political'

St. Charles County Council
via YouTube Screenshot

A resolution passed by the St. Charles County Council requests the public library cut out “political agendas” from library spending, stop board members from posting political messages online, give up its membership from the Urban Library Council, enforce its dress code and open doors on Sundays.

After months of complaints from St. Charles County residents, riled up at a rumor that a librarian dressed in drag on the job, the county council on Monday approved a resolution scolding the library and seeking to limit employees’ online political speech.

Decried as a bullying tactic by its critics, the move won praise from those who said Monday that the library’s policies are part of a “battle” to safeguard their interests.

“It used to be that these battles were fought on the battlefield, but now they’re fought with you guys,” St. Charles resident Dianne Dodge told the council. “This is just the beginning of many issues that are going to come up.”

Ken Gontarz, resident and founder of conservative political action committee Francis Howell Families, said the “very real battle for our country between conservative and progressive ideas” has come to the library.

He named hot-button issues such as transgender athletes, “pronouns usage,” “transgender issues” and “defunding the police” as part of the fight.

These comments came after the St. Charles County Council unanimously passed a resolution with recommendations for the St. Charles City-County Library.

The resolution requests the library cut out “political agendas” from library spending, stop board members from posting political messages online, give up its membership from the Urban Library Council, enforce its dress code and open doors on Sundays.

St. Charles County council member Joe Brazil was the only elected official to speak on the resolution Monday (Screenshot via St. Charles County Youtube channel).

“What we’re asking is to be apolitical, non-political, teach kids how to read books, and it’s about dressing appropriate when you’re at work,” council member Joe Brazil said, announcing the resolution.

St. Charles County Council
via YouTube Screenshot

He said the resolution has “nothing to do with any one individual.”

In May, community members rallied outside the library, as reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, after a mother saw a worker with a goatee, makeup, nail polish and earrings. She asked others to send messages to St. Charles City-County Library CEO Jason Kuhl, and residents made comments at city and county council meetings.

The noise reached the Missouri leader of activist group Gays Against Groomers, Chris Barrett, who spoke at a city council meeting in July and called the library worker’s decision to wear makeup “sexualization and indoctrination of kids.”

“A man in women’s clothing and makeup is absolutely not appropriate in a place that is intended to serve the general public,” Barrett said at the time.

Rachel Homolak, who made the original complaint about the worker with a goatee and makeup, made a public comment at the June 12 county council meeting wearing what she called a “replica” of the employee’s attire.

She donned a green corset, fishnet tights and heels.

“This is not acceptable in public, let alone in the children’s section of the public library,” she said.

Kuhl told the Post-Dispatch that the library requires “workplace-appropriate attire.”

St. Charles County resident Amy Robertson said during Monday’s meeting that the description of the librarian has become more provocative over time.

“Every time the story of the librarian is told, it gets bigger and bigger and is embellished more and more until there’s a mob of angry villagers with the proverbial pitchforks and flames aimed directly at the library and the library administrators,” she said, while wearing a shirt that depicted “angry villagers.”

Another commenter said the story has changed “three times.”

“The resolution holds no legal water and is entirely unenforceable, but what it does do is give room to those who would find fault in others and are seeking a platform to belittle and bully without any consequences,” Robertson said. “This is just going to keep happening over and over unless those of us who know that it’s wrong stand up and do something.”

The resolution asks Kuhl to remove a post from his LinkedIn profile that he shared. The post, not written by Kuhl, shares an article by Fast Company that describes a legislative attack on libraries.

The post quoted the article: “By targeting public libraries, Republicans and other far-right groups have not only launched an attack on the principles of free speech, diversity, inclusion, and access to knowledge, they’ve also taken direct aim at library workers themselves.”

The county council’s resolution describes the post as “inflammatory and politically charged” and adds: “We don’t believe that what was described in the post is occurring in our libraries.”

Missouri lawmakers, with a Republican supermajority, have proposed and passed limitations on libraries in recent legislative sessions.

In 2022, the General Assembly passed a bill that charges school librarians for providing “explicit sexual material” to kids. The ACLU of Missouri, which filed a lawsuit against this legislation, said it caused librarians to remove “hundreds of titles from library shelves.”

This year, the Missouri’s House budget committee proposed to cut libraries’ $4.5 million in state funding. The Senate Appropriations Committee restored the funds.

Secretary of State John “Jay” Ashcroft, who is running for governor, filed a rule that requires parental permission for kids to check out books. The Missouri Library Association said in a statement that the rule has created “mass confusion,” and some libraries have considered reissuing cards for all members under 18 to ensure parent’s consent.

The resolution also asks the library to increase its access to the public, like opening on Sundays “given that the library has previously missed the mark in its mission to serve the community in several ways, including the extended closures during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, and the library’s failure to consider voluntarily rolling back its tax rate so as not to recoup the windfall occasioned by abnormally higher personal property taxes,” it says.

Kuhl did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This story was originally published by the Missouri Independent, part of the States Newsroom.

Annelise Hanshaw covers education for the Missouri Independent — a beat she has held on both the East and West Coast prior to joining the Missouri Independent staff. A born-and-raised Missourian, she is proud to be back in her home state.
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