GILLETTE, Wyo. — This evening, the Campbell County Public Library board voted 4–1 to fire Executive Director Terri Lesley.
Board member Charlie Anderson was the only one to vote against the decision.
Lesley said that board chair Charles Butler and former board chair Sage Bear, who is now a member on the board, approached her the morning of July 27 and asked her to resign when she had understood that she was meeting with Butler to review the weeding process. She refused.
“They told me this was because I refused to move the books,” Lesley said. “They never told me which books they were referring to or why they should be removed.”
Bear said after the July 28 meeting that while she and Butler met Lesley on July 27, they didn’t state a reason for wanting to meet with her and they asked for her resignation without giving her a reason.
“There’s a lot of unknown facts and we did this with a heavy heart,” she said. “It wasn’t a goal of mine to have this happen. But it needed to happen.”
She said the weeding process, which occurs from time to time, is a removal of books from the library, not simply a move out of a section of the library. The board’s revisions to the collection development policy involve subjective standards for books that are “obscene” and “harmful to children.”
“As it turns out, the board’s lack of transparency regarding providing structure to the staff on what appears to be a flat refusal to follow its own policy regarding book challenges to provide structure to library staff is not accidental,” she said. “Mass Resistance has specifically outed the Campbell County Public Library Board and congratulated Liberty Counsel attorneys for this approach of removing books through the weeding process. They have suggested that other libraries around the country follow this procedure, which provides no avenue for challenge or for the public to in any respect, reasonably monitor, as a way of skirting First Amendment restrictions on moving these books.”
Lesley said she believes that since the board isn’t following its policy’s challenge procedure, the board is either afraid or has concerns that removing the books is a violation of the First Amendment.
“You would not be refusing to take responsibility for your own actions and now you are going to fire me because I didn’t want to be the scapegoat to your weeding scheme,” she said.
Lesley said she stayed at the library despite two years of pure hell because she wanted to support her staff.
“The easiest thing in the world would have been for me to resign at any time during the last two years, but these years have been hard on my staff as well,” she said, “and they have deserved my support and for me not to take the easy way out.”
She said much of the community has supported her in the past two years and she won’t be able to repay them for their kindness.
“They deserve a first-rate library,” she said. “All I have ever tried to do to the best of my ability was to provide them that. In the end, I feel like I’ve let them down in some regards, that there must have been something more I could have done. But that’s out of my hands now. It’s in the board’s hands. And I don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”
Roughly half of the crowd of 150 attendees stood in support of Lesley after her comments.
With a motion from Anderson and a second from board member Chelsea Collier, the board amended the agenda to add an hour of public comment.
Thirty-one people signed up for public comment, according to Butler. Following shouts, clapping and other sounds from some attendees, the board decided to return to executive session.
In June, the board approved, in a 3–2 vote, revisions to its collection development policy, culminating a line-by-line review of the document that began in January. They eliminated references to the American Library Association and the addition of a Policy for Protecting Children from Harmful, Sexually Explicit Material in Areas Designated for Minors.
Sage Bear, who was chair of the board before a scheduled vote July 24, said at the board meeting July 24 that if Executive Director Terri Lesley saw herself as personally responsible and in violation of the First Amendment for carrying out the board’s recently revised collection development policy, she should find another job.
Bear said that the staff are legally covered under the library and aren’t personally responsible.
“I feel like we are personally responsible. We’re the ones doing it. We’re the ones physically doing it,” Lesley said. “That’s how I see it.”
“Well, if that’s the way you feel, I feel like you should find another job,” Bear said.
“That’s a decision of the board, if that’s how you feel about it,” Lesley said. “I’m trying to do the best thing that we can. You have a process here. You have a chance to make these decisions. And now you want me to do it instead, and I’m worried about getting sued on First Amendment issues.”
Bear said that while the library will get sued, Lesley won’t.
Lesley said she will.
Bear said that library staff, who know many books’ content, can determine what’s sexually explicit.
Lesley had worked for the library since April 2013, according to her LinkedIn profile. She earned her master’s degree in library and information science from the University of North Texas in 2012. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wyoming in business administration and marketing.
G. Nolan Thomas and S. Gregory Thomas (older), of Thomas & Thomas LLC, are representing the library board.