Fairhope Public Library book debate sparks questions about funding and governance

Lifestyle Editor
Posted 10/16/23

Fairhope residents continue to push Fairhope City Council to withdraw funding for the Fairhope Public Library and have books removed, moved or sequestered. Every city council meeting since Sept. 11 …

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Fairhope Public Library book debate sparks questions about funding and governance


Fairhope residents continue to push Fairhope City Council to withdraw funding for the Fairhope Public Library and have books removed, moved or sequestered.

Every city council meeting since Sept. 11 has featured Fairhope residents and members of Faith, Family, Freedom Coalition of Baldwin County speak during the open discussion period. At the heart of the matter are books that sit on the shelves of the teen section of the Fairhope Public Library. During the Sept. 11 meeting, residents spoke on both sides of the argument, but those who want to see the books moved have been present at every meeting since.

Fairhope City Council members have repeatedly said they do not have any input into the books purchased or displayed at the library and stressed the library is overseen by a board.

"Quite honestly, we (city council) don't have any input on what the library carries as books. The library has a board," Council President Jay Robinson said during the Sept. 11 council meeting. "A request was made to me to put this on the agenda, and my response was this is not a city council issue. This is a library issue. The library has a board, and I would expect that everyone that has expressed an opinion tonight will express that opinion to the board for the board to make that decision."

During each public discussion period, worried residents have asked the council and Mayor Sherry Sullivan to go to the library, look at the books in question and look around the library. They have also asked the council to stop funding support for the library and to close the library until this can all be settled.

Doug Greengard spoke to the council during the open discussion period of the Oct. 9 meeting. Greengard wanted to follow up on the challenge proposed at previous meetings for the council and mayor to visit the library. He seemed surprised when council members Jack Burrell, Courey Martin, Jay Robinson and Sullivan commented they all had visited and looked through some of the titles in question.

Greengard brought up Fairhope Ordinance 1477 and said he thinks the books in question violate the ordinance, which prohibits "sexually oriented businesses" from operating near certain zonings such as homes, churches, schools, parks, libraries or funeral homes.

For the first time in any of these meetings, Council President Jay Robinson made a statement.

"Let me say this, I don't know that it has been said in a meeting before, but I didn't think it really needed to be said. I don't think there is anybody sitting up here that wants inappropriate material to be distributed to children. Is that a fair assumption?" Robinson asked. "Again, one I did not think needed to be made because it is quite obvious. But again, we are talking about an independent library that is not controlled by the City of Fairhope. If I was deciding what books were put out, I may put out something different, but I do not decide, neither do any members on this council what books are put out or disseminated by the Fairhope Public Library. Does the city council want that on their council? Again that is not a decision we get to make."

Greengard said the group's persistence is a result of what they see as inactivity on the part of the city. He did acknowledge the council seems to have acted by visiting the library and viewing some of the titles in question. Then he questioned the city's funding of the library.

"However, when something is funded, it speaks that it is being supported. So, our concern is manifold, but greater than that, to hand someone money the library or whoever it is in a sense condoning that activity," Greengard said. "I think there has to be some talk right now about withholding or pulling back funds until this situation is rectified. I don't think it's fair that our tax dollars are supporting something that is putting pornography in the hands of young people."

Robinson again addressed Greengard's comments and said the city has been funding the library for decades.

"To again address that the city council would condone the distribution of pornography in a library is an absurd statement in my opinion to make," Robinson said. "We do not decide what is distributed, purchased or put out at the Fairhope Public Library."

Someone from the audience shouted out, "Maybe that needs to change."
Stephanie Durnin, a Fairhope resident who has been present and spoke during all of the book discussions, asked if the library board members were selected by the council or mayor. Robinson said the board members are recommended by the Library Board and confirmed by the city council.

Durnin said there might be a conversation that needs to happen about who the board members are and how they are steering the ship.

She also brought to the council's attention that councilperson Jimmy Conyers, the council's liaison to the library board, has not attended a board meeting in over a year.

Sullivan responded that he was present at the last meeting, but the minutes are not available to the public until they are approved at the next meeting.

Gulf Coast Media reviewed the last three years of Library Board meeting minutes. According to the minutes available, Conyers has not attended a meeting since February 2022. He was absent from the February, April and June meetings in 2023. In 2022, two meeting minutes, April and June, are missing the list of board members in attendance. Conyers was not in attendance at the August, October and December meetings. Of the five meetings in 2021, Conyers was only in attendance at the February meeting.

The Fairhope Library Board's next meeting is Monday, Oct. 16 at 4 p.m. There has been a call for those on both sides of the book debate to show up to the meeting.