Eyes on the Board: IndyPL trustees to take $800k from workers while tuition reimbursement stalled

by Indianapolis Liberation Center Staff

Introduction to “Eyes on the Board” series

Those of us who work for a living are well-acquainted with the instability of living under capitalism: piling medical bills that insurance won’t cover, student loan debt that never goes away, and workplace abuse are just a few examples of the struggles we face. This is not “just how the world works,” but a consequence of the systems that rule our lives.

The toxic work environment at the Indianapolis Public Library is especially bad for hourly, part-time, and marginalized staff who face daily racism and ableism from management. This toxicity begins at the top, in the executive suite and the library board majority that supports them. What is the point of keeping the lives of library professionals in such a state of instability and toxicity? The answer is simple: those at the top benefit materially when their workers are too busy dealing with racism, homophobia, ableism, etc. to fight back against toxic leadership. 

Let us provide ourselves some clarity in the eye of the storm. Let us see things clearly for how they really are and not how the executives want us to see it – from their perspective. Their task is to maintain the status quo and convince us that we are all on the same side. The past two years of struggle against racist leadership in IndyPL has shown that for the lie it is. This monthly column will provide updates on the public library board’s actions from the side of library workers. To all workers and patrons who seek to end the abuse and win a democratic public library that serves us all, this column is for you!

Board to vote on moving $800k from staff salary fund, no money to hire children’s librarians

At their next meeting on July 24, the IndyPL Board of Trustees will hear a Board Action Request from the Finance Committee, composed of pro-people member Dr. Patricia A. Payne and two of Board President Hope Tribble’s henchmen, Dr. Luis A. Palacio and Dr. Eugene G. White. The Tribble-dominated committee is asking the Board to move $800,000 from the staff salary budget into the budget for contracted services. Among the contracted services the library must pay for are:

  • $250,000 in legal services
  • $100,000 in security services
  • $25,000 in consulting services

The reallocation of funds in a budget is not an uncommon practice. It is who is considered deserving of such adjustments that is in question. Just three months ago, library worker Amira Malcolm was told there were no funds available in IndyPL’s college reimbursement program to pay her spring tuition.

In the absence of an itemized list of the “unexpected” security costs that are being paid for with staff salaries, one might wonder if it includes the uniformed police officers Tribble hired to intimidate the public for the low, low price of $80 per officer per hour. Almost certainly the $250,000 in legal services include paying the board’s lawyers to remind Tribble how to properly conduct a board meeting.

The $25,000 is unlikely to be going to Tribble’s prior PR consultant, Deana Haworth, as her contract ended in April of this year. It might, however, be making up for a budget shortfall caused by the $39,600 contract with Hiron, where Haworth serves as CEO. Because Tribble hired Haworth for less than $50,000, she was allowed to bypass the board’s ability to democratically approve the contract. Just as with the decision to bring violent IMPD officers into the board room, Tribble made a unilateral decision on how to spend public funds and refused to be transparent about their use.

What’s more, when asked about hiring more children’s librarians at the June board meeting, IndyPL CEO Greg Hill stated that there was no money in the budget this year to hire more children’s librarians for Haughville, Martindale-Brightwood, and West Indy. Yet here is $800,000 in funds originally allocated for staff! Hill was recently appointed as CEO of the Indianapolis Public Library system in a corrupt and undemocratic fashion. Hill never went through a hiring process, revealing a clear double-standard. Nichelle M. Hayes, the people’s choice for CEO, demonstrated her immense qualifications for the position through public presentations and interviews. Despite months of protests and public condemnation, the Board refuses to hire her or to provide not any legitimate justification; instead they have only delivered a series of contradictory lies.

Clearly, the faction of the board represented by Tribble values scaring patrons and staff out of board meetings more than they do serving our communities. And we haven’t even talked about the $15,000 the library shells out every month for Anita Harden to “learn” how the library works!

Those who control the money control the system. Right now, the money is controlled by people like Tribble, who is determined to run the library exactly like a corporation; with top-down leadership, backdoor politicking, and the ability to punish workers for speaking up about their treatment. Imagine if library workers controlled the money instead? They could collectively decide to hire more library support staff and allocate funds in ways that improve their working conditions – like funding the college tuition reimbursement program. Ensuring that library workers are well-paid, well-supported, and have access to increase their education in library sciences won’t just benefit staff – it would benefit their patrons as well!

Hill’s embarrassing lack of understanding showcased at Municipal Corporations Committee meeting

We need visionary leadership that can move the public library into the 21st century, which is why library staff and patrons united behind Nichelle Hayes after the public CEO candidate presentations last year. Unfortunately, the board has appointed Greg Hill to the position in an attempt to stifle resistance but has only resulted in even more embarrassment.

On June 7, Hill met with the Municipal Corporation Committee, where Councillor Brian Mowery asked him how library programs get funded. Hill almost had it – he explained the Community Action Plan process, but couldn’t recall what happens after a staff member submits a CAP to the library system. 

To answer Mowery’s question, since he believes it morally wrong for public libraries to fund popular drag queen story times, programs are funded through the hard work of the Indianapolis Public Library Foundation, who match up grant funding to library programs. Hopefully Mowery isn’t thinking of advocating for funding cuts to the public library because of his bigoted views. 

John Helling to return to IndyPL, tail tucked, as he flees yet another library system embroiled in controversy

John Helling will be familiar to library workers from his 8 months as interim CEO following the forced resignation of racist “leader” Jackie Nytes, a victory hard-won by the joint efforts of the union and the community. Helling left IndyPL in April 2022 having accomplished little of note – certainly it seems that his biggest accomplishment was proving just how unprepared he was for the position.

Helling left IndyPL to take on a Deputy Director position at Hamilton East Public Library, which made headlines in May for their board’s decision to require staff to review over 18,000 children’s and teens’ books for “material or pictures that are not age-appropriate.” The new policy will require over 8,000 hours of workers’ time and up to $335,000 of library funds to be wasted, thanks in large part to the Hamilton East board’s own shady dealings.

With Helling’s tendency to bounce when things get messy, his return to IndyPL showcases the lack of seriousness held by library leadership. After the board snubbed the people’s choice for CEO in favor of an incompetent fool from New Orleans, much has been said about “moving forward.” Hiring back a failed “leader” who has fled the fallout caused by self-interested, reactionary board members multiple times reveals that for the lie it is. Library leadership doesn’t want to move forward; they want to return to the status quo.

Dates to remember

First, AFSCME Local 3395, the union representing library workers and all of us, is hosting a “Solidarity Bash” together with AFSCME Local 661IPS and Local 827 Marion County Workers on August 12 at the Riverside Park Shelter #3 (next to the Aquatic Center), from 11:00 am – 3:00 pm. We will be there and hope you will too! Please RSVP to Local 3395 Union President Michael Torres by August 1 through email.

The Fort Ben branch opens August 19th. Opening day celebrations include face painting, cake, Silly Safari animal meet and greets, and live performances. Join the festivities between 10am and 4:30pm at 9330 East 56th St.!

The next Board of Trustees meeting is Monday, July 24th at 6:30pm at the Irvington Branch. Download the agenda ahead of time here.

Unpopular and undemocratic board cannot avoid accountability forever

Reflecting upon the actions of board members past and present like Judge Jose Salinas, Curtis Bigsbee, Raymond Biederman, and Tribble, it is clear that library workers themselves are the ones best suited to make decisive improvements to the library system. The indispensable and consistent work of AFSCME Local 3395 advancing worker benefits for close to 20 years. The union, together with allied community organizations and leaders, waged a successful campaign that exposed the racism of former CEO Jackie Nytes and, through a summer of resistance in 2021, forced her resignation.

Yet the same forces that tried to protect abusive and racist Nytes has, so far, successfully prevented the workers and community from having any real input into hiring the new CEO. IndyPL, now approaching 150 years of age, is still rife with systemic racism that a majority-Black board refuses to do anything about. Real change must come from below. The status quo must be disrupted if we are going to have a democratic library where all voices within the library system feel safe enough to speak.

The executive suite and their cronies on the board believe they’ve won the battle by appointing Greg Hill as CEO. But Hill is woefully unqualified to bridge the divide between staff and leadership, and the pro-worker voices on the board – Dr. Murtadha, Dr. Payne, Mr. Lane – have had their hands tied by several carefully selected appointments designed to give Tribble a majority. However, the contradictions that gave rise to the struggle remain unchanged, and will reemerge sooner rather than later. That’s why this column is dedicated to reporting on the actions of library leadership; if leadership won’t be honest about their intentions, then we the people must call out their lies!