Autauga-Prattville Public Library Board hires new attorney to replace Laura Clark

A shelf of books
A shelf of books

Signs are posted in the young adult section of the Autauga-Prattville Public Library on Feb. 23, 2024. (Ralph Chapoco/ Alabama Reflector)

The governing board of the Autauga-Prattville Public Library Tuesday dismissed their attorney over what they described as a conflict of interest.

The Board of Trustees made their decision during a special meeting Tuesday to replace Laura Clark, who had been hired by the newly-installed board in February. The board did not specify what the conflict of interest was.

Bryan Taylor, a former state senator and recent Republican candidate for Alabama chief justice, will represent the board. The board also officially recommended Donnie Bethel to fill the remaining vacancy on the board appointed by the Prattville City Council.

Members of the board went into executive session shortly after the meeting convened and met for about 20 minutes before publicly recommending Bethel to the final vacancy.

A message seeking comment was left Tuesday with Clark. Ray Boles, the chair of the board, declined comment.

The Autauga-Prattville Public Library has been swept up in a right-wing panic over the governance and contents of libraries. A group called Clean Up Alabama organized last year to challenge books in the library, many with LGBTQ+ themes. A group called Read Freely Alabama organized in opposition to the group.

The library’s Board of Trustees resigned en masse last year in protest of appointments made by the Autauga County Commission without consultation. The new members, all sympathetic with Clean Up Alabama, hired Clark, interim president of a conservative nonprofit called the Alabama Center for Law and Liberty, as the library’s attorney in February.

“I was advised by the city attorney that we needed an attorney,” Boles said soon after the Feb. 8 meeting. “We were just advised that we needed an attorney, so we went out and got an attorney. She is a constitutional attorney. That is why we picked her.”

In addition to hiring Clark at that February meeting, members also transferred $2,000 from the library’s marketing budget and adopted a set of policies that Clean Up Alabama had urged the Prattville City Council and the Autauga County Commission to set for months.

During that February meeting, the board adopted a policy that restricted books for people younger than 17 that involved sex and obscenity as well as sexual orientation and gender identity.

The new board terminated Andrew Foster, the library’s former director, after spending 20 minutes in executive session at a special called meeting in March.

No board member spoke with the media after the meeting, but Boles left an official statement for the press stating that Foster was terminated for revealing confidential information to the press after he fulfilled a records request from the media. Also scrawled on the paper in ink was “and violation of criminal law.”

About one week later, Foster and his attorney sent a letter to members of the board demanding that he be reinstated director of the library, have his rights restored so that he may enter the facility, and clear his good name and reputation.

In the letter, Foster and his attorney said that board members violated the Open Meetings Act when they terminated him and that he did not commit a criminal act when he recorded the audio of the meeting because he was a party to the meeting.

He also sent a letter to Clark and Boles demanding an apology and a retraction and correction of statements they made about Foster..

Clark, however, has refused to retract any of the statements she made regarding Foster. In a letter Clark sent to Christopher Weller, the attorney representing Foster, Clark said that Foster’s allegations are “baseless in law and fact.”

She said in her letter that nearly all statements she made regarding Foster were directed at members of the library board and as such, are privileged communications between herself as the attorney and the board members which are her client.

Taylor also served as legal counsel for the Alabama Republican Party and for Republican Govs. Bob Riley and Kay Ivey.

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