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Prattville Library Board attorney’s retraction demand dubbed misleading, sources say

The attorney for the Autauga-Prattville Public Library Board sent APR a retraction demand Monday.

Laura Clark
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Laura Clark, attorney for the Autauga-Prattville Public Library Board, sent APR editor Bill Britt an email Monday demanding the retraction of a story that claimed the board had violated the Open Meetings Act.

Now a recording and sources have revealed information that drastically conflicts with the claims Clark made in that retraction demand.

In her email, Clark claimed that a meeting held Saturday morning at 9 a.m. was an “emergency meeting” under the Alabama Open Meetings Act, which only requires a one-hour notice. The law allows for an emergency meeting only for a very narrow set of circumstances.

Clark told APR the board called the meeting because immediate action was required to prevent damage to property.

“Given the protests by the library employees who were locking doors and causing other property damage (currently under police investigation so this cannot be discussed), an emergency meeting was required to hire an interim director to restore order and protect property,” Clark said.

Staff did lock down the doors and close down the library early on Thursday in protest of the board’s questionable termination of Library Director Andrew Foster, as APR and many other outlets have reported.

Chair Ray Boles and Vice Chair Rachel Daniels arrived shortly after, ultimately “terminating” four employees who refused to work unless the board reinstated Foster.

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However, multiple sources within the library told APR no property damage occurred. Police were called to the library Saturday in response to some of the 113 books on the list apparently being removed from the library facility by employees—which was discovered at least three hours after the special called meeting had already transpired. 

Assistant Director Kaitlin Wilson told APR that Bear called her “panicked about it at 10:19 Saturday morning because Ray had just realized.”

According to Wilson, Boles threatened to take legal action, while Bear pleaded with Boles to let her track down the books and have them returned. Wilson was not in the library as she does not work on Saturdays. But Wilson said she learned that Boles agreed to not pursue legal ramifications if the books were returned by 2 p.m.

Wilson got word that all books had been returned to the library by 11:38 a.m., but said police were called around noon on Saturday anyway.

If this is the “property damage” that Clark was referring to, it had not become an issue until Saturday when the meeting had already been held and Bear was already acting as interim director, not when the special meeting was called. The books were also back at the library just over an hour after Boles discovered they were missing.

Wilson said no property has been damaged and that staff was shocked to read Clark’s reasoning when it appeared in an updated version of APR’s story Monday.

APR has obtained an audio recording of Boles addressing staff Friday morning, which multiple sources confirm as happening around 9:50 a.m., 23 hours and 10 minutes before the special called meeting.

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“Last night we all let our emotions get the best of us,” Boles said. “Can we hug? … But we do love you guys. We’re here to help y’all, we’re here to support y’all. We want to run this library properly. I can never ever say what happened in that meeting—if it does come out y’all will understand.”

Boles was referencing the likely unlawful executive session in which the board discussed terminating Foster. Boles has the right to tell anyone what happened in the executive session, just as Foster almost certainly had the right to record it and broke no criminal laws when he attempted to record it. 

“Tomorrow morning at 9:00 we will have a meeting to hire an interim director,” Boles said on the recorded audio. “We will try to have a new director within a week, maybe two weeks. We’ve got a little bit of hiccups. The other three people—if they want to come back to work, they’re welcome to come back to work. We’re never going to hold it against them, we’re not going to write anybody up, we’re not going to do anything because we know emotions got out of hand last night. But I just could not let the library close; this library’s not ours, it’s the public’s.”

Boles makes no mention that the meeting is an emergency meeting or about any action to prevent the damage of property. No mention is made of staff damaging or threatening to damage any property. He simply tells staff the same thing that is listed on the public notice—that the meeting is to hire an interim director.

Also calling into question that the meeting was “an emergency meeting” requiring “immediate action” is that it was called nearly 23 hours in advance, and public notice was posted on Facebook 21 hours and 20 minutes before the meeting. If the meeting had simply been pushed back to noon, it would have had proper notice for any special called meeting, and would have resulted in only two additional hours of the library being open without a director. The library operated all of Friday without a director, and members or associates of Clean Up Alabama volunteered to keep the library open.

As far as locking doors, staff say Foster never locked his office but Boles and Daniels locked the office after seizing Foster’s computer. The staff later opened that door again with an additional key. On the recording, Boles specifically tells a member of staff “this is Foster’s office key” as jingling is heard. he also reveals that he has lost another key.

Boles told WSFA Saturday sometime between 9:15 a.m. and 10 a.m. that the books were “not currently on shelves because they are inside the former director’s office and they do not have the key.” This further clarifies that Boles did not know about any missing books until Saturday and could not have been a cause for concerns on Friday about property damage. Also, despite Boles’ assertion that they could not get into Foster’s office because they didn’t have a key, the recording reveals that staff did have a key that he himself gave them just 24 hours earlier, and he somehow learned the books were not in the office very shortly after the interview. 

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A locksmith was seen parked outside the library about 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, and staff confirmed that the library had been rekeyed on Monday morning when they arrived. At least one employee, probably two, have not returned their keys, but they also have not officially been terminated. As Boles is heard stating on the recording, he planned to allow all staff to return with no disciplinary action taken at all, and staff confirmed no termination letters have been sent to any employees. 

Boles likely did not even have the authority to terminate staff, as board members cannot act unilaterally and the Alabama Public Library Service trustee handbook specifies that the director controls the employment of staff, not the board. So as of this publication, the three employees that even APR has reported as being “terminated” are simply still refusing to work as nothing has been done procedurally to fire those employees. 

Even now, Bear still has the authority to make termination decisions for herself. She could choose instead to discipline the staff or possibly not even act at all, although that could lead to the board calling another meeting to terminate her employment as well. No individual board member can instruct or demand Bear to terminate the staff that has not returned.

As the recording continues, Boles shows no sign of the meeting being an emergency, or tensions with staff about the potential of damage to property, instead taking a conciliatory tone and even talking of potential raises.

“I really do apologize for yesterday, but sometimes in my line of work and my life, sometimes things have to be done,” Boles said. “But like I said, we’re here to help you guys. And quietly, I’m going to be working on getting everybody a raise. Because y’all are underpaid, and I see it and I know it. So I’ve already been working on that with the council and county commission. There’s one upside to me— I have a lot of downsides—is I’m really close to the council and I’m really close to the county commission. I talk to them all the time and that’s the number one thing I’ve been talking about the past three months.”

The recorded audio is similar to what terminated employees told APR Boles claimed right before firing them—that he had the support of the Prattville City Council as well as Mayor Bill Gillespie and the Autauga County Commission.

A majority of councilmembers told The Prattville Post that they are not actually close to Boles, with Council President Lora Lee Boone and District 2 Councilman Marcus Jackson saying they have not interacted with Boles in weeks.

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“I would first like to send prayers to the library staff members that were fired last week,” Jackson said. “My heart goes out to them. I do not support the decisions and actions of this current library board, especially the firing of people in the current state of our economy.”

Newly elected District 5 Councilman Michael Whaley said he has not spoken to Boles about the library or plans for the library at all. 

When asked whether Boles had his support, Council President Pro Tem Robert Strichik said simply, “Uh no.”

As for the other claim in Clark’s retraction demand, APR already demonstrated that Clark’s assertion that Foster’s attempt to record the executive session “can be considered criminal eavesdropping” holds no weight since Foster was an active part of the conversation, and the statute specifically states that criminal eavesdropping only applies if none of the parties to the conversation have consented to the recording.

Her other claim is that a section of the Open Meetings Act generally allowing the recording of public meetings makes an exception for executive sessions. This appears to be written to clarify that members of the general public do not have the right to record an executive session, not that the parties privy to the session have no such right.

The Autauga County Commission and Prattville City Council both have regularly scheduled meetings tonight where they are sure to hear comments from the public about this situation, although no action is expected based on the very recent escalation of the situation.

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

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