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Prattville Library settles suit with former director, payment details confidential

The board terminated Foster after he responded to a public records request from APR.

Andrew Foster, former director of the Autauga-Prattville Public Library, is demanding reinstatement in a set of certified letters released Friday.
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“I’m proud of this board for being the most transparent board ever,” said Ray Boles, chair of the Autauga-Prattville Public Library Board, at a Thursday meeting.

Just minutes earlier, the board voted unanimously to agree to a settlement with terminated director Andrew Foster without announcing any details of the settlement including, presumably, a settlement payment.

The board later apparently released a joint statement with Foster concerning the settlement, although it does not appear the statement was sent to APR.

“Andrew Foster and the Autauga-Prattville Public Library Board of Trustees have reached a final settlement agreement under which Mr. Foster will not be reinstated; Mr. Foster releases all claims against the Board, its members, and its counsel, and, in lieu of a name-clearing hearing, the Board states that Mr. Foster was not terminated for a violation of criminal or ethics laws as later reported in press accounts, but for other stated reasons,” reported the Elmore-Autauga-News. “Under the agreement, all parties deny any wrongdoing.”

The settlement seems to be confidential, as Foster and his counsel said they could not speak on the lawsuit’s resolution. The language of the joint statement also appears crafted to ensure Foster doesn’t follow through on defamation suits against Boles or attorney Laura Clark.

It’s standard practice for settlement agreements to be reached that allow all parties to deny wrongdoing.

Foster’s lawsuit, however, had at least one solid allegation of the board violating the Open Meetings Act by failing to state a purpose for entering an executive session. The requirement is plainly stated in the Alabama Open Meetings Act and video evidence confirms Vice Chair Rachel Daniels failed to include such a purpose when making her motion to enter executive session. 

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In addition to that allegation were four other allegations of Open Meetings Act violations, most of them during the meeting in which the board terminated Foster’s employment.

The board terminated Foster after he responded to a public records request by APR that included an email sent by Clark to the board, which the board has claimed is “confidential information.”

Interim library director Tammy Bear also fired assistant director Kaitlin Wilson in apparent retaliation for speaking to APR despite Wilson not speaking to APR for the instigating article.

The board has routinely violated the Open Meetings Act in its conducting of meetings, but appeared to operate within the law at its meeting Thursday.

Board hires Bryan Taylor again to defend it in federal suit

At the meeting, the board also authorized Boles to enter a representative agreement with Bryan Taylor, the same attorney it brought in to negotiate the settlement agreement with Foster.

Clark could not represent the board in the lawsuit brought by Foster due to a conflict of interest. No reason was given by the board for bringing in an outside attorney for the federal lawsuit. 

Taylor, who briefly appeared via Zoom, emphasized  the connections that Democracy Forward—counsel representing plaintiffs in the federal suit—have to prominent Democrats including former general counsel for Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama.

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“This is a serious lawsuit,” Taylor said.

The federal suit is brought by Read Freely Alabama, the Alabama Library Association and multiple patrons of the Autauga-Prattville Public Library. The suit challenges the board’s Feb. 8 policy as vague and overbroad, and states the policy unconstitutionally discriminates against content based on viewpoint.

Taylor said he thinks there are several strong defenses in the case and expects to respond “fairly quickly.”

Clark says new state code reinforces Prattville policies

“The APLS voted to have libraries across the state change their polices,” Clark told the board after they returned from executive session. “They passed something that incorporated the governors changes, but also amendments to strengthen the policies of the libraries across the state. It says to ban—or to shape your curriculum in a way that leaves out inappropriate materials.”

The Prattville library board meeting and the Alabama Public Library Service board meeting happened at the same time Thursday morning after the board moved the meeting to align with the state meeting.

Clark said a “memo” is coming from APLS to further clarify inappropriate materials, which she said she expects Prattville’s current policy to be in line with.

Library turns off Facebook comments after ‘death threats’

Some patrons have noticed that there have been changes to comments on the Autauga-Prattville library Facebook page. 

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Clark somewhat addressed these changes, although they don’t align with the current reality of the Facebook page.

“Police have recommended that the library shut down comments on the social media page,” Clark said. “This is because of several death threats made on the comments section … there is not a first amendment right to comment on social media so please continue with that practice.”

Government entities blocking social comments is a complicated and evolving legal area. Government bodies cannot block individual comments if the page had created a public forum. However, turning off comments altogether could be a valid avenue to avoiding first amendment violations.

The library page does not currently have commenting turned off. Patrons previously reported the comments being turned off, but the option to comment has since returned. Patrons report that they now appear to see only comments from people they are friends with.

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

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