An impromptu decision by the St. Mary’s commissioners last Tuesday to reallocate funding from the St. Mary’s County Library has drawn the ire of some in the county who question the motivation and legality behind the vote.
Last week, St. Mary’s Sheriff Tim Cameron told The Enterprise he did not make the request for reimbursement of $2,439.48 for expenses related to 16 deputies to cover a drag queen story hour last month held at the library’s Lexington Park branch. Cameron said he was not consulted on the reallocation prior to the vote, which passed with the support of four commissioners, with Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R) voting against the move.
“Some of my personnel had been asked if we could provide an amount [of money that the event] cost us,” Cameron (R) said Friday. “We didn’t ask to be reimbursed — that was the board of commissioners.”
The St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office provided security at the Lexington Park library for the drag queen story hour, a private event sponsored by the nonprofit organizations PFLAG of Leonardtown and Southern Maryland Area Secular Humanists. The event, which featured performance artists donning women’s clothing and reading stories to children and their parents who had signed up in advance, drew backlash from protesters who maintain that drag performance is inherently sexual and inappropriate to expose to children. Some protesters who spoke at a forum earlier this month fear the drag queen events are used as a strategy to lure children into homosexuality and “transgenderism,” as one speaker said.
Protests at the June 23 event resulted in one man’s arrest for allegedly interrupting the story hour by causing a disturbance.
“We had five deputies on scene but not all visible during the event,” Cameron said in an email. “As a contingency, we had others in an on-call status who were not on scene.”
According to the sheriff’s office’s compensatory and overtime cost analysis, five officers were reimbursed at various rates for overtime pay, for a total of $1,765. Eleven other officers, most not stationed on the library premises, were reimbursed for comp time for almost $674 total.
The event ran from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on a Sunday. Six officers worked anywhere from 3 to 6 hours of overtime related to the event; ten other on-call officers were compensated for working one hour each, according to the analysis.
“Our responsibility is to protect everybody, and protect our community. I think it was definitely a proportional response based on the … anticipated conduct” at the event, Cameron said last week.
“I’m appreciative for the sheriff’s office [presence at the event], but I don’t think $2,500 was warranted, quite honestly,” said Jayne Walsh, a St. Mary’s resident and volunteer with the nonprofit Friends of the St. Clement’s Island and Piney Point Museums.
“That was really overkill for the size of the event. … It doesn’t fit within the scope of what most organizations would pay to have security on site,” she said.
The sheriff’s office doesn’t have a specific policy outlining reimbursement for public event security, but does have provisions regarding secondary services, Cameron said. Local law enforcement is reimbursed for providing security at St. Mary’s public schools during sports events by monies raised through concessions and by school booster clubs.
Commissioner John O’Connor (R), who proposed the initial vote last week to move the money, advised library trustees to follow in the stead of the St. Mary’s County Recreation and Parks Department, which reimburses the sheriff’s office for security provided during special events.
That funding is currently drawn from recreation and parks program user fees, Arthur Shepherd, director of the department, said last week. For fiscal 2020, Shepherd said $30,000 has been allocated in the parks budget to pay for those security measures.
Those events aren’t necessarily anticipated in the sheriff’s budget, Shepherd pointed out. “In that sense, who created the new capacity then pays for it,” he said.
“I’d like to support community events because I think it involves the whole community,” Cameron said. “But when you start drilling down into the budget, especially into overtime and manpower, you have to start taking a closer look at things.”
The sheriff’s office and corrections budget totals $43.8 million.
Cameron added that deputies scheduled for road patrol are not taken off their beats to cover events that pose a public safety concern.
“The challenge is, you don’t want to deplete or diminish any patrol function,” Cameron said. Officers can also be hired for secondary law enforcement services, such as during events held by local businesses, for which compensation is worked out between the private entity and the deputies who provide security on their own time.
The library had not requested sheriff’s deputies to cover this event, Cameron said.
“This was not the first event they had there that” drew “public scrutiny,” Cameron said. In 2017, a voluntary sex education class for teens resulted in the arrest of one protester allegedly trying to enter the event she was unauthorized to attend.
“Our purpose is to ensure there’s no breach of peace,” he said.
Those who previously condemned the drag queen story hour event defended on social media the commissioners’ decision to take funding from the library; others railed against the move, calling it punitive and political. At least one person started a fundraising page to give $2,500 back to the library system.
“The library was never told ahead of time that they would be responsible for that bill,” Walsh, whose wife sits on the library board of trustees, said. Regarding county departments that allocate money to reimburse sheriff’s deputies, “these departments have a line item within their full budget for these things. … The library has no such budget line.”
“Retroactively punishing someone because of disagreement, feeling uncomfortable, or sharing a different belief is inserting political influence into our libraries,” Del. Brian Crosby (D-St. Mary’s) wrote on Facebook. “I have searched, and in no other case could I find a scenario in which the [St. Mary’s commissioners] retroactively charged another entity for security. … in this situation, our commissioners are playing politics with our library.”
“The price here was not the price of free speech. This was the price of being able to practice free speech in a safe and secure manner,” O’Connor said last week.
“Last time there was a protest at the library, we spoke with the library and told them that they need to plan ahead with the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office,” develop “an operation plan … and to be prepared for the burden financially that this is going to place on the library system,” O’Connor said. “It’s not punitive. To me it’s telling them — we asked nicely, now we’re telling you.”
Carolyn Guy, St. Mary’s library trustee president, denied that, and said Monday that “we’ve met with the commissioners” individually, “but not specifically to discuss” security. “I don’t recall anything specific coming up. … They did not tell us that this is something that had to be done.”
Commissioner Mike Hewitt said he met privately with Carolyn Guy along with Commissioner President Randy Guy (R), but “I do not ever remember talking about funding for security.”
Randy Guy confirmed private meetings between board members and one or two commissioners at a time were held over the last few years, but said he did not remember if security measures for the library were discussed.
“This has happened numerous times now. If this continues, somebody needs to be responsible about how we can provide security,” Randy Guy said. However, Cameron “didn’t need all these people there for security.”
Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) also said this week that he did not recall providing any specific direction for the library to budget for extra security for certain events.
The library system pays for its own security at the Lexington Park library since the facility opened in 2003, St. Mary’s County Library Director Michael Blackwell said in an emailed response. One security guard is meant to be stationed at all hours at that branch to deescalate potentially threatening situations, and was present on the day of the arrest.
“If the St. Mary’s library wants to continue to provide their rooms free of charge to groups hosting controversial events, it is completely reasonable to charge the group renting the rooms a fee as a reimbursement for the extra security provided,” Del. Matt Morgan (R-St. Mary’s) weighed in on Facebook. “… the St. Mary’s taxpayer does not need to subsidize these radical groups [whose] only goal is their own social re-engineering agenda.”
Library supporters took to social media to call for involvement from the American Civil Liberties Union and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D).
In response, Crosby said on Facebook he is “in contact with several legal offices” regarding the reallocation.
St. Mary’s government’s attorney David Weiskopf confirmed on Monday that he has a meeting scheduled with Frosh’s office this Thursday, but said he’s “not sure, at this time, what it’s about.” Weiskopf said his office does not “at this time” have reason to believe the reallocation of money violated any state provisions governing library funding.
“The [attorney general] has reached out to our county to talk about this and see if we have violated someone’s first amendment rights,” Hewitt said Tuesday at the commissioners’ meeting.
Hewitt later added, “I don’t think a ‘fine’ was appropriate — that’s my term. Let’s see what happens with the attorney general’s office. … We may have to give [the money] back.”
Crosby and others cited a provision in Maryland annotated code that states “the governing body of each county may establish, and appropriate an amount to support, a county public library system free from political influence.”