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Niagara Falls
Tuesday, May 28, 2024
NOTL library board remains tightlipped about firing of CEO Cathy Simpson, formally appoints new interim chief
Laura Tait, left, was officially named acting CEO and chief librarian at the April 17 meeting of the NOTL Public Library board. With Tait is board co-chair Wayne Scott. Richard Hutton
Former NOTL Library CEO Cathy Simpson with board co-chair Daryl Novak speak at a town council meeting during this year's budget debate. Richard Hutton

Directors appoint Laura Tait to top role for the time being

While the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library board has officially appointed an acting CEO and chief librarian, what happened with the person who held that role previously is still percolating in the background.

The board met behind closed doors as a part of its Wednesday, April 17 meeting to discuss what the agenda labelled as “personal matters about an identifiable individual.”

Afterward, board co-chair Wayne Scott was reluctant to speak about what went on during the closed session or acknowledge it was about the library’s former CEO, Cathy Simpson, who was fired in March.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first board session since Simpson was dismissed.

Simpson was let go after an op-ed in The Lake Report meant to draw attention to Freedom to Read Week, drew flak for supporting the views of the U.S.-based Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism.

FAIR has been accused in some quarters of spouting far-right talking points.

“I think you can draw your own conclusions,” Scott said. Board co-chair Daryl Novak was out of town and joined the meeting remotely.

Asked if the board or town had received any notice of legal action in the Simpson matter, Scott remained tightlipped.

“It would be inappropriate for any of us to talk about and speculate about what’s going on with respect to the completion of that termination process.”

Simpson, when contacted by The Lake Report, apologized and said, “I can’t comment at this time.”

Both FAIR and the Association of Library Professionals have spoken out against Simpson’s dismissal.

As for Simpson’s replacement, the board formally appointed Laura Tait to take over the role as acting CEO and chief librarian.

It’s a job she has been doing since March after the board fired Simpson, who had held that position for 11 years. Tait previously was library manager.

“It gives me the freedom to carry on what I’ve been doing,” Tait said after the meeting wrapped up. 

It is unknown how long Tait will do the job and when asked if she would consider taking on the role permanently if it was offered, Scott jumped in.

“I think that’s premature for the board and, perhaps, for Laura as well,” he said.

“There is in the background, the question of regional consolidation … because that changes everything because we would be combined as a library with either Niagara Falls — probably Niagara Falls — and St. Catharines.”

No further decision will happen “until there is enough information for us to take a next step and there is no timeline for that.”

As for the search for a permanent CEO, Scott said “there is no immediate plan to do that. The board has not even talked about the timeline on that.”

He refused to speculate on when the board might make a decision.

“We’re really in this story of transition,” Scott said. “I can’t responsibly give you anything more than that.”

While the board members were inundated with emails after Simpson was fired, things have calmed down considerably, he said.

“There are people in the community who feel very passionate about this,” Scott said.

“And they still feel passionate but it’s substantially less. There is a lower level of activity, communication.”

He added he is confident the community still supports the library.

“I personally don’t have enough of a network in the community to make a judgment … but I do know that we have evidence that there’s still lots of support in the community,” he said.

“The interaction between community members and library members and staff continues to be positive.”

Tait agreed.

“And day-to-day, there’s no difference in usage,” she said.

In other matters, the board noted that its $955,874 budget for 2024 has been approved by council. That was about $20,000 less than the $973,587 the board had requested.

The board made some changes in regard to its structure, elevating Scott from vice-chair to co-chair along with Novak.

The board also elected to remain at eight members for the remainder of the term and not replace Graham Bailey, who resigned from the board earlier this year. 

The eight members include one representative from council — Coun. Adriana Vizzari — and seven residents.

hutton@niagaranow.com

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