Mother’s Day Gift Intended to Foster Reading and Sharing Runs Afoul of City Ordinance

A 9-year-old boy had a heart-warming idea for a Mother’s Day gift, one that would be sure to make any mother proud.
Now he and his father are forced to appear before the Leawood City Council for the right to keep it.

Spencer Collins of Leawood, Kan., worked with his father and grandfather to construct a “free little library,” consisting of a box full of his own favorite books out on the lawn and a simple policy displayed on the exterior: “take a book, leave a book.” If only Leawood ordinances followed such a simple code, the story would end there with both mother and son enjoying the gift.

Sadly, the Collins family returned from a trip to find a letter from code enforcement alerting them that the library was “an illegal dwelling or structure” and that the family faced fines of up to $25 per day if they did not remove it. The law prohibits the presence of any detached structure in the front yard of single-family homes.

Spencer said the inspiration for the gift came from his mother, an elementary school teacher, who has clearly impressed upon the little boy her own love of sharing and learning. In addition, he said it would be a way to “get into reading, get to know your neighbors, meet new people, [and] make friends.”

The incident has led to an outpouring of support for Spencer, and condemnation for the city. Reach Out and Read Kansas City, a local non-profit dedicated to getting kids to embrace and enjoy reading, has encouraged citizens to keep constructing the “free little libraries” and to not let misguided codes and regulations get in the way.

Spencer Collins isn’t giving up the fight. Along with his father, the courageous 9-year-old is planning to speak in front of City Council on July 7th to discuss changes to the law that would allow his Mother’s Day gift to remain. “I want them to change the law. That’s my main thought. I just don’t like it. I think it’s unfair because it’s really good [for] the community.”

Spencer’s father had similar thoughts, acknowledging that while he is “all for the law” and its intent, it has clearly been misapplied in this situation. He was forced to remove the structure on June 18th to avoid paying a truly unnecessary fine.

Leawood officials should be delighted that its residents, especially children, are collaborating with one another to improve their education and foster their imaginations. If you or someone you know has experienced a similar story of government overreach, contact us at ij.org/action. We would love to hear about it!

— Javier Sosa
Javier Sosa is a Maffucci Fellow at the Institute for Justice

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