The Attempt to Fire Librarian Cara Chance
To see the July Executive Session Meeting Agenda, Click HERE.
For sample phone and email scripts to the board on behalf of Cara click HERE.
July was supposed to be quiet. The board of control frequently doesn't even meet during July, due to many folks taking vacation during the summer. This year an Executive Session was planned, which I had been told by more than one person was simply director Danny Gillane's annual employment review. No controversy, nothing surprising on the menu, which I was thankful for, because I was gearing up for a push in August to insist that the board revote on Section X, which, as you'll recall from February, gave the board the majority on reconsideration committees, and which, as you'll recall from April, are legally invalid. At the June meeting, in addition to (not) addressing the Display Ban, the board revoted to charge out-of-parish library patrons a $20 per year card fee, fixing one of their earlier violations of their own bylaws (and state law), but when I asked about also revoting on Section X, I was told "one thing at a time." So, I thought, ok, July for Danny's evaluation, and then in August we'll finally have a shot at making a public case for correcting this egregious overreach of board authority and standing blank check for censorship.
Instead, we've gone into an entirely new level of surrealist, proto-dystopian nightmare.
At the end of last month's recap I posted a photo of a display put up by Cara Chance, manager of the North Regional library, one of the branches in our public library system. Cara, having read Director Gillane's new display guidelines, had cleverly found a way to create an amazing display of books centered around the theme of Teen Romance. The display was three-sided. One side featured hetero love stories, one side featured LGBTQ love stories, and one side featured love stories made into movies. I snapped photos of it because I thought it illustrated exactly why librarians are superheroes in the war against censorship: it absolutely followed the guidelines 100%--the books were "representative of genre or trend," represented a "wide variety of interests and viewpoints," and were "inclusive and diverse with representation of different genders, races, orientations, etc." What more can I say? She did her job, and she did it well.
That's the thing about this policy, however. Despite the director's insistence that it was all about focusing on summer reading, we knew better. This was about Pride Month. This was about making sure that the same Board of Control members who had voted to ban This Book is Gay and restrict Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood could rest assured knowing that no Pride displays would go up this year. This was about censorship. It had always been about censorship. And Cara Chance has always stood up against censorship.
Of course, standing up to censorship makes those trying to impose censorship very, very angry. And so the little meeting that was simply supposed to be Mr. Gillane's performance review was changed. On Friday, July 22, at 2pm, 3 hours before the legal deadline, Cara received a letter from Mr. Judge saying her employment status would be discussed in Executive Session, along with Mr. Gillane's, on Monday afternoon. The online public agenda was changed soon after.
Of course, she knew what the letter meant; she was to be fired. But Friday afternoon is too late to find any kind of representation. This, in addition to the fact that she had a medical procedure planned and was going on leave starting Tuesday morning, was going to make things very difficult for her. So she wrote Mr. Judge back, asking if the hearing could possibly be delayed until her medical leave was over.
No, he said, we'll still fire you and take away your health insurance and paid leave, but like a good Christian, "I'll pray for your speedy recovery."
Nice, right? Very Christian.
This, of course, is where we come in. LCAC spent the weekend rallying support for Cara, getting the word out, making sure everyone on social media knew what was going on and what a miscarriage of justice was going to take place on Monday afternoon. And the response was amazing! We had hundreds of people reach out to us via social media, asking what they could do to help Cara. Authors like Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow, and actor Patton Oswalt retweeted our pleas for help, boosting the signal and bringing national attention to the story:
By Monday, we felt as if we had a pretty good chance for a great turnout at the Executive Session. Cara had opted to make the meeting public, as was her right. She had also managed to retain an attorney, who went with her to the hearing. When I showed up at 4:30pm, I was super early, and so was expecting an empty room.
When I arrived, people were already filing in, and the crowd just kept growing. Someone had printed out rainbow-hued sheets of paper with "Cara" on them, and was handing them out to supporters. News crews from all three local television stations arrived, some going live with reports on the hearing. In the end, the room was at overflow capacity. I'd estimate close to 100 people showed up, all of them to support Cara and tell the Board of Control that censorship is not welcome in our community. It was an amazing thing to see.
Board President Robert Judge opened the meeting by reading out a statement in which he accused Cara of willful insubordination relating to the display she'd created in June. In his estimation, the display, which, remember, was created to fully comply with Director Gillane's guidelines, meant that Cara, "refused or failed to comply with a lawful directive given by a supervisor or superior"--the Lafayette Consolidated Government's (the body under which Cara's employment falls) definition of willful insubordination. In addition, Judge waved around a letter Cara had written to Director Gillane, which he said contained an "inactionable claim of harassment," whatever that means. The letter, he said, meant that Director Gillane had "recused himself" from disciplining Cara. Finally, Judge cited a state law (RS 25:215), which he claims gives the Board the power to hire and fire any employee it wishes.
This is an extreme stretch at best, especially given that Cara was not hired by the Board of Control, her employee reviews are not conducted by the Board of Control, and she is the first employee of LPL to EVER be brought before them for dismissal. Judge then made a motion to dismiss her immediately, which was quickly seconded by his favorite ride-or-die, Stephanie Armbruster.
In the end, Judge's eagerness to deprive Cara of her insurance and medical leave benefits, I believe, did him in. In his impatience to get the agenda out the door on Friday, he failed to properly get his ducks in a row. This isn't a business, thankfully. (Louisiana is an Employment-at-Will state.) You can't just fire someone. Cara is a civil service employee, and has a right to due process. Remember, she hadn't even seen the charges against her until the hearing started on Monday. Robert Judge was literally expecting to go into that room, read a list of accusations against a librarian in a closed meeting, and then summarily dismiss her.
Immediately, when President Judge turned the motion over to the rest of the board for discussion, it was clear that he lacked the votes needed for passage. Board member Shane Landers, himself an employee of Lafayette Consolidated Government, seemed horrified at the treatment Cara was receiving. He pointed out that the board members had received an email from Director Gillane only an hour before the hearing, in which he asked them NOT to discipline Cara. (This was a detail Mr. Judge had conveniently left out of his portion of the program.) Landers also said he thought it would set a very "dangerous precedent" to forego due process and fire Cara on the spot, a remark that was met with loud cheers from the audience. Other board members agreed with Mr. Landers, and in the end, Mr. Judge was forced to content himself with tabling the motion until a later time. (We think at the next regular board meeting, which is scheduled for August 15, but I wouldn't be surprised if Judge didn't try to move it up in order to limit the public's participation - one of his favorite tricks.)
I am incredibly proud to know Cara. She is an unapologetic defender of the First Amendment, and an incredibly brave human. She truly understands what it means to be a librarian, not just as a job, but as a vocation. I hope she keeps her job for very selfish reasons - because I know any library would be lucky to have her, and I want our library to keep her here.
I am also incredibly proud of the effort we made on Cara's behalf. The love and strength this community showed when their librarian was threatened was (and is) amazing. Cara has, and continues, to touch so many lives, and we all rose up in defense of her because we know she would do the same for any one of us. It was a beautiful thing to watch in this cynical time we live in.
If you've come this far, I hope you'll come a little farther. (a little movie jam for all you Shawshank geeks out there). This fight isn't over. Judge is licking his wounds, but he still absolutely wants Cara gone, and now his ego's been bruised. There will be another hearing, and this time, he knows we're coming. We're going to need even more local, state, and national support for this fight.
As the time gets closer, we'll keep you updated on Cara's case, and what you can do to help. It may be calling, writing emails, or showing up at the next meeting. We're hoping to get some crowdfunding started very soon to help Cara with her legal bills. Thanks so much!
Latest Update, October, 2022:
I'll also post this on the October page, but I want to make sure and cover all the bases, in order to keep everyone updated on the progress of Cara's case. Since the July meeting, the public has gotten no updates on Cara's case - nothing has shown up on either the August or September meeting agendas, and the board has not issued any statements. So officially, we know nothing. However, given Robert Judge's intense, burning desire to see Cara fired, my personal opinion is that if he had the votes to do so, he would have. Therefore, I think the past (nearly) 90 days of silence speaks volumes. I believe Judge realized he didn't have the votes, and was forced to send the matter back through the proper HR channels.
I do know that Cara still has legal counsel retained in order to protect her rights throughout this continuing process. So to everyone who has contributed (or is thinking about contributing) to her legal fund, a GREAT BIG THANK YOU!! Having that money has made such a difference in her ability to feel confident she could defend herself against this - let's call it what it is - harassment and attempted character assassination. I'm so grateful to the community for coming together in such huge numbers to stand up for her, for librarians, and for freedom of expression in our community. I'm still in awe of the crowds we saw that day.
I'll keep you updated of any new developments!