March 29, 2023

Turmoil on Indianapolis Public Library board continues

A tense March 27 meeting of the library board lasted more than four hours. - Doug Jaggers/WFYI

A tense March 27 meeting of the library board lasted more than four hours.

Doug Jaggers/WFYI

Dr. Eugene White supported Nichelle M. Hayes for CEO of the Indianapolis Public Library when he was appointed to the library’s Board of Trustees. Now he doesn’t. 

During a tense March 27 meeting of the library board, White shocked many people when he announced he’d “changed his mind” about supporting Hayes for the position.  

Many people in the community welcomed White to the board and expressed hope for his leadership and encouraged him to “do the right thing” by appointing Hayes.

“So many people told me tonight that you expect me to break this thing,” White said, referring to a previous statement in support of Hayes. “I changed my mind on that when I learned all the facts involved.”

The room at the Southport Branch Library was packed, and the meeting lasted more than four hours — including an hour and a half of public comment, where more than 20 library workers and community members voiced concerns regarding armed IMPD presence at meetings, spending $15,000 of tax dollars a month on a CAO and, most recently, canceling HIV testing at library locations.  

Board member Stephen Lane later proposed a resolution to appoint Hayes as CEO. But before the board had the chance to vote on the motion, White announced it would end in another tie and “this is gonna be lost tonight,” because he no longer supported Hayes.

White, a former IPS superintendent and former Martin University president, is the board’s newest member, appointed by the City-County Council on March 6 to fill the vacancy left by TD Robinson.

Lane addressed White and said he was excited for him to join the board initially but is now disappointed after reading the email White sent to Hayes last week “disparaging Nichelle and her qualifications.” 

Although White said he was willing to share that email with the public and the media in the spirit of transparency, board president Hope Tribble and legal counsel advised him against doing so at the time.

The Recorder filed a records request for a copy of the March 21 email but was denied. However, The Indianapolis Star published a copy of the email in full on March 29 — which White sent to Hayes on March 21 at 2:34 a.m.

“From the outside looking in, I thought a great legal injustice had occurred and I agreed to join the Library Board to provide Justice for you,” White wrote in the email.

White continued, stating Hayes hadn’t gotten the CEO position because they “knew she wasn’t ‘ready’ for the job” due to her lack of experience in leadership positions prior to being the interim CEO.

“They played the game of keeping you in the process because they just knew the lady from California or the guy from Atlanta [Dr. Gabriel Morley] would beat you out,” White continued in the email. “They never thought that you would be the last candidate standing and when you were they didn’t have the courage to tell the community why they didn’t give you the job.”

In the email, White also stated Hayes was given the interim CEO position because she volunteered and “others, more experienced than yourself, refused to take the job.”

“So, you got the opportunity to run the show, but you still haven’t done a budget,” White said in the email, “you did not evaluate the administrators in executive positions under you and there were real concerns with your interpersonal relations with others.”

White and acting CEO Greg Hill offered Hayes two administrative positions, according to the email, as well as “coaching” and “support” because they “wanted to make this a ‘win-win’ situation and try to make up for the hurt and harm done to you.”

According to White’s email, Hayes has not yet responded to these offers, but White said he hoped she would accept the branch manager position at Martindale-Brightwood.

Neither Hayes nor White have responded to the Recorder’s request for comment.

Other business 

During the meeting, Tribble proposed a motion to appoint a new vice president after Curtis Bigbsee announced his resignation on March 10 due to him moving out of Marion County. Dr. Khaula Murtadha nominated Lane and Dr. White nominated Raymond Biederman. However, the board tied 3-3, thus tabling the motion until the board vacancy is filled.

The board was also divided and failed to pass the motion to shift funds over to pay Anita J. Harden as chief administrative officer.

Harden, who gave an update on the climate study, said they’ve been making progress in addressing several of the 12 recommendations provided during the study. 

Deb Lambert, director of collection management, outlined concerns over local legislation that would threaten school and potentially IndyPL librarians. This included Senate Bill 12 — which threatens jail time and a $10,000 fine for librarians who distribute “harmful materials” to minors.

“The definition of ‘harmful to minors’ is vague and can be interpreted in different ways,” Lambert said. “A lot of the people who are pushing this and are supportive of this are anti- LGBT. That’s a big problem for our library and our community.”

The “harmful material” references any material that includes content related to sex, Lambert said, such as John Green’s “Looking for Alaska” and “The Color Purple.” Lambert said this extends to any library displays that could be seen by a child.

“We as libraries are obligated to resist all forms of censorship,” Lambert continued. “And we feel that librarians charged with felonies is an inappropriate level of response to book challenges, and that’s what’s happening here.”

Contact Indianapolis Recorder staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848 or Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.

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