Community fights back as questions swirl around undemocratic library CEO search in Indianapolis
A woman works from her laptop inside Indianapolis Public Library's Wayne Branch on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. | Mykal McEldowney / The Indianapolis Star via AP

INDIANAPOLIS—The Indianapolis Marion County Public Library has spent the last year searching for the library system’s next CEO. A private search consultancy firm, Bradbury Miller Associates, was hired, and a search committee comprising administration and staff was also put together.

Until very recently, the candidates under consideration were kept secret, and people on the search committee were bound by confidentiality and threatened with retaliation if any information breach was suspected.

So secretive was the committee’s work that even a Freedom of Information Act Request submitted by People’s World on Nov. 14 was quickly denied.

Tisha Galarce, the interim human resources director for IMCPL, cited a legal exemption for files and records of applicants for public employment, yet just a few days after this request, the names were released on the IMCPL website.

IMCPL’s most recent interim CEO was Nichelle Hayes. She was also a candidate under consideration for permanent CEO, along with Gabriel Morley, the former New Orleans Public Library director, who resigned after his tenure was embroiled in controversy.

Hayes has extensive experience at IMCPL and has the professional qualifications for the job. She holds a Master of Library Science from Indiana University and a Master of Public Administration from Valdosta State University. Most importantly, Hayes has worked as a frontline librarian at IMCPL.

The candidates: Gabriel Morley and Nichelle Hayes. | via IMCPL

During her tenure at the library, she founded and was the director of its Center for Black Literature at Culture, and she is the president of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. In February 2021, she wrote an article for the Indianapolis Recorder titled, “Well Past Time to Remove White Supremacy, Toxic Culture from the Art World.”

Hayes is supported by the frontline staff at IMCPL as well as AFSCME Local 3395, which represents library employees. In her short time as CEO, she has dedicated 5% of the library budget to raises and increased the minimum starting wage to $15 per hour.

She fought to bring staffing levels up to meet the needs of the community, and prioritized the wellness of her employees. She also has brought transparency to the library system and regularly seeks out staff input on policy.

Hayes took over the position from the previous CEO Jackie Nytes. Nytes was at the center of a public scandal for multiple allegations of racism, discrimination, and creating a toxic work environment.

Activists with local labor and social justice organizations, including the Ken Appelhans Club of the CPUSA, Jobs with Justice, and AFSCME, held several public demonstrations in support of library staff to ultimately force Nytes’ resignation in August 2021.

The other candidate for the position, Morley, came from Mississippi and recently resigned his position as New Orleans Public Library director after WWL-TV raised questions about his place of residence.

Community members attend the meeting of the search committee. | Jason Jones / People’s World

According to David Hammer, Eyewitness Investigator for the New Orleans news station, Morley never moved from his Hattiesburg, Miss., home to New Orleans, which was a requirement for the job of library director. During Morley’s tenure in New Orleans from 2020 to 2021, he oversaw the closure of 15 library locations amidst the pandemic. Morley also oversaw New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s plan to cut millions of dollars out of the library’s budget during the same time.

At a public forum held on Nov. 30, Morley was given nearly 50 minutes to address the public and answer questions, while Hayes was only allotted about 30 minutes. Morley was also asked what he would do during his first six months as CEO. He responded that he would spend that time getting to know the city and its neighborhoods, while Hayes is from Indianapolis and has worked at IMCPL for seven years and grew up here.

In anonymous conversations with people connected to IMCPL’s search committee, it seemed apparent that the board of directors, and even some prominent members of the search committee, had already made up their minds to elect Morley before any such recommendation was given by the search committee.

This is despite wide community and labor support for Hayes; an online petition has garnered nearly a thousand signatures from community members in support of her.

After nearly a year-long process, on Thursday, Dec. 8, the board met to announce their decision. In a 4-2 vote, with one member abstaining, the board elected Morley to the position of CEO.

The room where the committee was meeting, filled with about 50 members of the community and library workers, erupted in shouts of “Shame!” The two board members who voted against the resolution were Dr. Khaula Murtadha and Patricia Payne.

Murtadha was blindsided by the decision, stating, “I did not see this resolution (prior to the meeting) put before me today.” Murtadha told the library board that the decision did not serve the public and that it decision went against the choice and will of the community, whose members had signed petitions, made phone calls, and sent emails in support of Hayes.

Payne was also visibly upset, stating that the decision was “disheartening and a shame.” Community members in the room shouted, “You burned the community!”

Immediately following the meeting, the president of the board and Marion County Superior Court Judge Jose Salinas immediately tried to leave the room but was confronted by community members shouting, “Morley out! Nichelle in!”

Retired library employee and member of the AFSCME Council 962 Retirees Local Georgia Cravey told the World, “The fix was in,” meaning that Hayes’ qualifications and community support meant nothing to the board. Cravey also said this decision “doesn’t serve the public.”

Michael Torres, President of AFSCME Local 3395 and a member of the search committee, told the World that no recommendation on the candidates from the search committee was ever requested by the board.

He said the search committee requested and received information from the New Orleans Public Library board and library staff which was unflattering for Morley and that this was communicated to the IMCPL board members.

The IMCPL board. | Jason Jones / People’s World

Torres said he worried that the library board’s open contempt for Hayes is retaliation by some board members for Nytes’ ouster by workers asserting their rights and advancements for democracy in the workplace. Nytes, who is well-connected to influential people, still holds sway over some IMCPL board members. Torres also said, “We’ve made progress under a lot of the issues that happened last year, and it’s under Nichelle’s leadership.”

Torres said that the fight is not over. Indiana State Sen. Jean Breaux (D-34) attended the board meeting and encouraged everyone to “Keep the faith.”

As of the afternoon of the next day, Morley declined the board’s offer. The struggle waged by community members and labor had an impact on the process, but the fight is continuing.

Instead of appointing Hayes as the next IMCPL CEO or even as continuing interim CEO, the board appointed interim Chief Public Services Officer Gregory Hill as acting CEO and announced that the search for a permanent CEO will resume soon.

In a press release, Morley said, “Though it was an honor to be chosen by a majority of the board, it is clear that this is not the right fit for me at this time. I am disheartened by the way we have come to this point and decision. I wish IndyPL well in its future endeavors.”

A protest against the library board’s undemocratic process and open contempt for workers was organized by library union members and the community on Dec. 12 at the main branch of the Indianapolis Public Library.

Calls for a change in the makeup of the library board continue to grow, with a specific demand that Salinas resign.


Jason Jones
Jason Jones

Jason Jones is a social worker writing about Indiana. One of his favorite quotes is “I'm a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will." -Antonio Gramsci. Jones is a fan of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Beisbol Cubano.