The Autauga County Commission and Prattville City Council both made appointments to the public library board Tuesday night, with the county pick courting controversy.
While the Prattville City Council followed the standard procedure of appointing a nominee presented by the Autauga-Prattville Public Library board, the Autauga County Commission instead chose to make an appointment without input from current board members.
The commission had proposed to place former Prattville City Councilman Tony Moore on the board according to its agenda.
Moore has spoken out against the library board for refusing to move some of the books challenged by Clean Up Alabama, with which he is openly affiliated.
Moore’s presumed selection, and the commission’s pivot from the precedence of allowing the library board to nominate appointees, drew the ire of several citizens aligned with Read Freely Alabama.
“As one of your constituents, I was pretty shocked today that the county commission was blatantly subverting the autonomy of the library board and you deviated entirely from the traditional process of board member appointments,” said Angie Hayden, a founding member of Read Freely Alabama. “Not only this, but I feel that you’ve kept concealed this information from the current library board, city leaders, the library director and the general public until the las possible second … even worse, you did it to conceal how you were nominating an anti-library extremist candidate who is erratic, litigious, has threatened violence against a sitting city council member, is ignorant to how libraries operate and stands opposed to the principles of Constitutional librarianship.
The threat of violence Hayden is referring to is based on Prattville Councilman Robert Strichik reportedly telling a group of people, including Hayden, that he had been physically threatened by a former city councilman. When Alabama Political Reporter asked Moore if he knew who Strichik was referring to, Moore confirmed he was the former councilman Strichik was referencing, but disputed physically threatening him. Strichik stood by his version of events when asked by APR, although he did not go into details of the conversation.
Sam Olson told the commission she did not know Tony Moore, but identified him as a man who had “flipped off” her husband at a library board meeting, with both hands.
Other citizens, aligned with Clean Up Alabama, noted that governing bodies can select whatever appointees they like and are not bound to the precedent of choosing the existing library board’s nominee.
“I am not aware of any such policy that says the library itself—or the board, that body—gets to pick the next library board member,” said Sarah Sanchez, a founding member of Clean Up Alabama. “That might be something that you do as sort of a gentleman’s understanding … but from my reading of the policy, I don’t see where we’ve gone amiss here.”
The Alabama Public Library Service handbook notes that many communities do ask library boards to select nominees when vacancies occur, but the appointing authority has the power to appoint any candidate of its choice.
Hannah Rees, executive director of Clean Up Alabama, said the proposed appointment of Moore showed “leadership in the face of adversity.”
“It’s a choice that is reflective of your community, despite pressure from media or whatever it is, that likes to pressure during these times,” Rees said. “Conservatives, although we’re quiet, we will stand up for what’s right when it’s important.”
After the back and forth in the public comment session of the meeting, Moore asked to speak, telling the commission he wanted to withdraw his name from consideration.
“First of all, what was said about me tonight was total lies,” Moore said. “But the overall project, I want the kids protected in this community; and if I’m controversial and I’m too passionate about what I believe, I would ask you to submit someone else’s name—but be careful with this group over here (motioning to members of Read Freely Alabama).”
With Moore withdrawing his name from consideration, the Commissioner Rusty Jacksland amended the motion to nominate Doug Darr instead. The commission unanimously approved Darr without discussion.
Although Moore withdrew his name publicly during the meeting, Jacksland said the commission was already pivoting away from Moore after backlash Monday afternoon.
“A lot of the community members got a hold of us this afternoon and we took their recommendation and advisement on Mr. Moore and decided that we maybe do need to go a different route,” Jacksland said. “(Moore) is a very passionate, and very nice, person; but we want to make the community as whole fee safe and comfortable.”
Darr told The Prattville Post that his wife and daughter both work in libraries, so he decided to put his name in contention for the seat when it became available.
Dar said he is “concerned about some of the stuff in the kids section” and is interested to discuss more with the library board about its handling of the situation.
About half an hour later and a just around the corner, the Prattville City Council made its own selection for its library board seat, this time honoring the tradition of selecting the library board’s nominee, Christine Sellers.
Library board vice chair Wayne Lambert told the council it chose Sellers out of 40 candidates largely because of her experience handling social media.
“We have a subcommittee, and they’re looking for someone who can be unbiased, and who understands how public library supposed to operate,” Lambert said. “We’re also looking for people with a niche, or a gift.”
Councilman Tommy Merrick, who previously voted in favor of a contract for services that would have tied library funding to a set of parameters the current library board found unacceptable, said he reached out to Sellers.
“She knew about how I felt about the vote back in September, but also the need to go forward,” Merrick said. “I asked her a few questions on how do you feel about this position, and she painted a picture for me … of her love for the library. I was really impressed with her. I really feel that she is going to be a good candidate and I think for our community.
“We need to move forward, we don’t need to have this—I know we have two parties, Clean Up Alabama and Read Freely—we’ve got to somehow find a way to get together. We don’t need to be the Hatfields and McCoys.”
The appointment process isn’t over, as the county still has one more vacancy to fill, which it could fill at any future meeting.