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ArlingtonCounty: No taxpayer funds being used to bring author to local event

County: No taxpayer funds being used to bring author to local event

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Anyone remember the “Puppetry of the Penis” contretemps that engulfed Arlington nearly two decades ago?

For a while, it seemed like there might be another community battle-royale fought out over a controversial appearance at a county-government venue – albeit absent both the puppetry and the appendages in the more recent instance.

Some local-government critics seized on the upcoming appearance of author Nikole Hannah-Jones of “The 1619 Project” fame to wonder aloud how much taxpayer funding was going to support the controversial tome about the impact of slavery on the making of the future United States.

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Hannah-Jones is slated to speak at an Arlington Public Library event Sept. 20 at Washington-Liberty High School.

“The author is routinely paid tens of thousands of dollars to speak at events like this one,” said Matthew Hurtt, communications director for the Arlington County Republican Committee, who sniffed that the book’s premise has been “widely debunked.”

Hurtt and others inquired of what Hannah-Jones was being paid, as did the Sun Gazette. County library officials responded that no taxpayer funds were being used; support for the program was coming from Friends of the Arlington Library.

An e-mail from the Sun Gazette to that group has not yet been returned. But based on tax filings, Friends of the Arlington Library should have no problem paying the going rate for a Hannah-Jones appearance.

According to the organization’s 2019 Internal Revenue Service Form 990 filing – the latest available online – the all-volunteer group took in $340,000 the preceding year and had $2.5 million in net assets in its coffers.

(Those figures predate the COVID outbreak of 2020, which caused libraries to be shut down for a year and impacted the organization’s major book-sale fundraisers, which may have cut into the total assets.)

As for “Puppetry of the Penis,” that was – and still is – a theatrical troupe whose name essentially details its performances. The troupe in 2003 had rented space in an Arlington government venue, only to have some critics lambaste county officials for allowing something they considered vulgar in space paid for by county taxpayers.

County leaders back in 2003 responded that they didn’t censor performances and that the run of the show wasn’t receiving any taxpayer funds. Performances went on and the controversy eventually subsided.

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