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Another top Prattville librarian fired in wake of chaos

Assistant Director Kaitlin Wilson was fired days after being disciplined for speaking to APR.

Lettering on the outside of the Prattville Public Library against a brick wall.
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When the termination of former Autauga-Prattville Public Library Director Andrew Foster was announced two weeks ago, it sent Assistant Director Kaitlin Wilson into a panic attack. Wilson lives with generalized anxiety disorder, and she said the chaos that ensued in the wake of Foster’s sudden termination greatly exacerbated her condition.

“I was getting work messages all weekend and then all week from literally every employee trying to figure out what was going on, who would stay, who had been fired,” Wilson said. “…Literally every 10 to 30 minutes. I was dealing with it until 2 a.m. a few days. The stress and the hostile environment started giving me nightmares and I ended up having to take the extra medication my doctor prescribed literally every night just not to have a panic attack trying to fall asleep—then I still had nightmares.”

So on March 20, with a note from her doctor, Wilson went on medical leave to deal with the new stressors coming from her workplace, with plans to remain on leave through March 30. APR previously reported in error that Wilson had turned in a two-week notice and was taking accrued PTO to finish out her resignation, but Wilson clarified she never notified anyone that she was resigning.

Wilson will not be finishing her medical leave, as interim director Tammy Bear notified her by text on Wednesday that her employment with the Autauga-Prattville Public Library had been terminated.

No reason was given in the termination, and Wilson said no clarification has been given. Alabama is an at-will state where employers can fire employees without cause at any time as long as they don’t run afoul of a handful of federal and state protections.

Although no reason accompanied the termination text, Wilson had been disciplined on March 21, the day after she went on leave, for speaking with APR for a story about how the APPL board violated the Open Meetings Act by convening a special meeting with less than 24 hours notice.

Wilson spoke with APR for a March 19 story outlining inconsistencies in APPL board attorney Laura Clark’s retraction demand to the outlet, specifically the portion that claimed the special meeting to hire Bear as interim director was actually an “emergency meeting” due to imminent threat of property damage by employees.

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In the story, Wilson said staff were shocked by Clark’s assertion that employees were a danger to property, and also clarified the timeline of the public notice and that the meeting was never referred to as an “emergency meeting” to her knowledge.

The board is now facing a potential charge that it violated the Open Meetings Act for this very reason, alongside three other allegation by Foster that the board violated the OMA, plus two charges that the board or chair Ray Boles violated his rights to due process.

“Mrs. Clark appears to have concocted a post-hoc emergency to rationalize the board’s clear violation of the OMA’s twenty-four hour minimum notice requirement,” attorney Chris Weller wrote to the board in a letter calling for Foster’s reinstatement.

The next day, Wilson got a call from Bear, who told her she had violated the APPL employee handbook by speaking to the press.

“Kaitlin, in the employee handbook, page 65, the fifth one, I’m going to read it to you, OK,” Bear told Wilson on the phone. “If a member of the media contacts you about any APPL post or discussion thread, you are to forward that media inquiry immediately to the Library Director. All media relations will be handled by the Library Director. See my problem? You’ve been talking to the press and giving out false information.”

Wilson denied giving out false information, and told Bear she believed she was covered by the Whistleblower Protection Act because she was reporting on “illegal actions taken by the board.”

It is doubtful that Wilson is actually covered by the Act, which is narrowly tailored outside of state employees, and Bear would call Wilson with Clark in two to tell her as much the very next day, which Wilson described as “an ambush.”

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“I have a couple of questions for you: are you a state employee?” Clark asks Wilson over the phone. Wilson replies that the librarians are local government employees.

“Would you say that you were reporting all of this to local law enforcement or a public authority?” Clark asked.

“As far as I understand, the Whistleblower Protection Act—” Wilson said.

“I didn’t ask you that,” Clark interrupts. “Answer the question you were asked.”

Wilson then informs Clark that she does not feel comfortable continuing the conversation without a lawyer present, since Clark is an attorney.

“Go ahead, that’s fine with me,” Clark said “I’m just letting you know the Whistleblower Protection Act does not apply to you because you’re not a state employee nor are you reporting this to local law enforcement or a public authority …”

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“You are not to talk to the media anymore,” Bear follows.

Bear and Clark tell Wilson on the phone that she is not facing a disciplinary action, but then confirm that they were filing an incident report on her employee record. Wilson said she has asked to see the incident report but has not received it.

On Monday, March 25, APR released a new story on the Prattville library about how leaders and associates of Clean Up Alabama, including Clark, were violating APPL policy by standing in place of staff to run programs. The story also detailed how the library staff had dwindled to just nine active employees, and detailed how some part-time workers are strung between the main branch and the system’s three satellite branches.

Wilson shared with APR texts she received from Bear following the publication of that article. In the messages, Bear asks Wilson to please call her, and explains that she wanted to ask Wilson about the “two-week notice” APR errantly described in the article.

Wilson explained in response that she believes that “was a miscommunication with APR reporter, Mr. Jacob Holmes, which happened prior to our previous communication. I had spoken with him and told him that I was on sick leave and would probably not return. I have not put anything on record with Mr. Holmes since our last conversation.”

“So the hours and employees names were information you gave in the first interview?” Bear responds. Wilson asks Bear to clarify because she says she legitimately doesn’t know what Bear means.

“The AL Political Reporter article yesterday,” Bear responds. “He mentions your two week notice and sick leave.”

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“All I’ve spoken with him at all about since our last conversation was personal matters,” Wilson texts back. “I have put nothing on record with Mr. Holmes or any other press since our last conversation. You’re also welcome to ask him and I’m sure he’ll say the same.”

Based on context, it appears Bear is insinuating that Wilson told APR about employees’ names and hours for the aforementioned article.

The APPL website lists employees names, and APR has become familiar with the roles of employees over the course of reporting on the library over the past year. APR previously referenced an audio recording of Boles meeting with staff on the Friday morning following the tumultuous Thursday evening in which four employees were fired. During that recording, Boles and staff talk about part-time employees having their hour limit raised from 19 hours to 26 hours. 

The hours of operation for the system’s county branches are also publicly available information on the APPL website. APR combined its knowledge of which employees operate the branch locations and which employees are part-time vs full-time to paint a picture of how thinly spread the current staff is. No sources were necessary to put those pieces together.

Wilson’s next text again asks for a copy of the incident report. Bear does not reply. Instead, the following morning, Bear asks Wilson for a one-time password from Amazon sent to Wilson’s phone for two-factor authentication. Wilson responds with the code, and an hour later, Bear sends the text terminating Wilson’s employment.

Foster’s letter to the board demanded action to be taken by today, March 29. The board has not called a special meeting, so it appears that deadline will not be met, as the board cannot call an emergency meeting for this purpose. APR reached out to Weller to learn more, but has not yet received a response.

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

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