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Pikes Peak Library CEO resigns after City Council appoints conservative board members

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- John Spears has been the head of the Pikes Peak Library District for more than five years, but now he's leaving town for a gig in New York, and an appointment by the Colorado Springs City Council may have forced his hand.

Spears' resignation came after the city council voted on February 8 to appoint Conservatives Aaron Salt and Erin Bents to the board, replacing the term-limited Cathy Grossman and long-standing member Wayne Vanderschuere, who still had eligibility.

Salt, who was also recently elected to the Academy District 20 school board, told the city council in November that he wanted to remove certain books from the children’s sections that he found objectionable.

In a statement, Salt told KRDO:

I have always believed in freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of thought. Unfortunately, recent audits showed we have many community members that don't feel comfortable being in our libraries. I've heard from staff members who have quit because their conservative and religious viewpoints were not being respected.

Aaron Salt
Pikes Peak Library District Board of Trustees

Councilmen Wayne Williams and Randy Helms represented committees that voted to replace Vanderschuere and Grossman with Bents and Salt.

Helms said he voted to keep Vanderschuere during committee meetings but abided by the other's wishes.

"This is a volunteer board that people volunteer to be on, and time does run out for all individuals and we move on to different new people," Helms said at the council appointment.

That decision appears to have been the final straw for Spears, who resigned less than two weeks later for a job in Buffalo, New York.

Spears issued a statement to KRDO that reads,

The process surrounding how these appointments occurred was extremely contentious and pointed to the changes that are happening in our community such as the recent school board elections. It is my hope that the values that define a library such as freedom of expression, freedom of thought, and freedom of speech will continue to be honored. I look forward to moving to a community where they are not under threat.

John Spears
Former Chief Librarian and CEO at Pikes Peak Library District

City Councilwoman Yolanda Avila says she was appalled by the selection and shared similar sentiments.

"This is political and it's a culture war with taking books, banning books, censoring the library," she said. "It's a dark day today, what's happened here on city council."

Salt issued the following statement to KRDO on the comments by Spears:

I'm very excited to serve on the PPLD Board of Trustees. I developed my career through the library resources available, and I am looking forward to ensuring these opportunities maintain their availability to each of our community members. 

Since my appointment, Mr. Spears has been nothing but respectful during our interactions. He was courteous and amenable throughout the onboarding process. The only displeasure Mr. Spears ever indicated to me was directly relating to the politicization of the appointments from the City Council. 

I have always believed in freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of thought. Unfortunately, recent audits showed we have many community members that don't feel comfortable being in our libraries. I've heard from staff members who have quit because their conservative and religious viewpoints were not being respected.

I look forward to working on a library system that will truly be respectful of different perspectives and hold to the Library Bill of Rights.

I wish Mr. Spears all the best in his new role in Buffalo.

Aaron Salt
Pikes Peak Library District Board of Trustees
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Spencer Soicher

Spencer is the weekend evening anchor, and a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about him here.

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