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Majority of Ozark City Council expresses public support of library

Three members of the five-person council have explicitly stated they would not support defunding the library.

From left: Ozark City Council President Brenda Simechak, Councilman Les Perault, Councilwoman Leah Harlow

Ozark Mayor Mark Blankenship on Saturday urged residents to contact their council members and commissioners to urge defunding of the Ozark Dale County Public Library for including LGBTQ books in the young adult section.

By Monday evening, three city councilmembers made their own public statements telling constituents they do not support defunding the library.

Breda Simechak, council president, had already made her support of the library clear on Sunday, and was joined Monday by fellow councilmembers Les Perault and Leah Harlow in clearly stating opposition to defunding the library.

With a five-person council, the three councilmembers representatives. majority that would prevent the city from halting funds to the library. The other two council members have not yet made statements about their stance on the issue.

“Defunding our public library would be detrimental to our community,” Perault wrote.. “The library serves people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, yet the people who would be hurt by this defunding of the library’s budget will be children, the elderly, and individuals who are experiencing poverty.
“The US Constitution ensures civil rights for everyone. Upon my election to the City Council, I pledged to uphold the constitution. That is why It is crucial the library provides literature representing diverse experiences in our community. I urge you to visit our wonderful library. If you are concerned about a particular book in our library, there are proper procedures in place where a book can be pulled and reviewed.
“Because of the above reasons, I am committed to maintaining library funding and won’t support any defunding efforts.”
Harlow noted that she is Bible-believing Christian conservative that believes in the “traditional family setting” and appeared to lament the lack of distinction between 12- to 14-year-olds and 15- to 17-year-olds.
“I believe the innocents (sic) of children should be protected because they are only little once and should not have to deal with adult issues before they are mature enough to do so,” Harlow posted. “What happened to adolescence? it’s like we skipped from childhood to young adult without regard to those in between years.”
Still, she said that would not lead her to defund the library.
“BUT just as I wouldn’t want the public to dictate to me what I should believe and how I should raise my children or future grandchildren, I don’t believe it is my place to force my beliefs on you,” Harlow continued. “I am mature enough and grounded enough to agree to disagree and move on.
“I am a public servant and I serve to the best of my abilities in all matters whether I agree or not.”
Simechak emphatically supported the position of the library.
“I will not be seeking to nor will I ever vote to defund our Ozark-Dale County public library,” Simechak said in the statement. “The government has no business censoring content in a public library. A library’s purpose for existence is to provide access to information to all of its patrons. When the government deprives someone the right to receive information and ideas, they are practicing censorship. The government can’t argue freedom of speech, but then dictate content. The government does not get to forcefully impose personal beliefs on individuals.”
While the council appears to have proactively stonewalled any effort for the city to defund the library, the Dale County Commission could also affect library funding, as the library is funded by both governments.
District 3 Dale County Commissioner Adam Enfinger released a statement Monday that doesn’t address defunding in particular, but basically supports Blankenship’s request to move the books out of the young adult section.
“This is not a move to ban or burn books. This is a request to move the books out of the 12 year old+ section in order to preserve the rights of parents to have a say in what their children are exposed to,” Enfinger posted. “Books that include depictions or references to sexual acts or behavior, heterosexual or homosexual, should not be in a section of the library designated for 12-year-old children to read. They should be moved to the adult section.”
The statement does not address whether all LGBTQ books that Blankenship has requested to move content “depictions or references to sexual acts or behavior.” 
Enfinger is challenging Dale County Commission chair Steve McKinnon in the upcoming 2024 Republican primary.
No other commissioners have yet released statements on the issue.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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