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Newport fires its city librarian

Mike Laughton, pictured here earlier this year, was fired from his position as part-time librarian at the Newport Library and Community Center. Bulletin file photo

Newport has fired the part-time librarian who launched the city's library and community center but whose at-times rogue approach to the job found him in conflict with city officials.

Mike Laughton said Wednesday he was terminated after failing to show up at a meeting with two city officials to discuss a personnel issue, the last in a series of dust-ups between him and his boss, Bruce Hanson. Hanson is Newport's public works supervisor.

City Administrator Deb Hill confirmed Wednesday that Laughton no longer works for the city, but said she could not discuss the issue further.

Laughton provided a copy of a letter from Hill that said he was terminated for cause. The letter read in part: "Your absence at today's meeting -- a meeting in which you decided that your presence wasn't necessary, your continued behavior of insolence and insubordination, and your unwillingness to accept basic directions that avoids city liability are the grounds in which this action is taken."

Laughton said he didn't show up for the meeting after he said Hanson did not respond to his request for information prior to the meeting. But Laughton also said that probably was "the last straw" for the city after he repeatedly violated city policies he said he hadn't been told about until after he violated them.

Laughton said he had a "strong personality conflict" with Hanson and he did not agree with some of the city policies he was told to institute at the library.

"I probably created my own hell here," Laughton said.

The City Council approved Laughton's hiring in late 2011 after Washington County closed its branch library building in Newport and replaced it with digital library services and a county library book kiosk at City Hall. The city is operating its library out of the same former church that the county library used.

Prior to Laughton's firing, Mayor Tim Geraghty had praised Laughton's work and enthusiasm while also saying the city needed to adopt some formal policies for the library. That process started recently, following a council debate over whether the library should be open on holidays. Laughton wanted the library to be open, citing interest from the public. Despite strong initial objections from council member Tom Ingemann, the council decided the library could be open on holidays but only if it was staffed with volunteers, not a city employee.

When he started in 2012, Laughton said he was given little direction and was OK with that. He solicited book, magazine and video donations, and he organized events.

"It started out as a Wild West -- just do what you've got to do," Laughton said, adding that he initially worked many hours for which he was not paid but did so in order to get the library up and running.

Some of the things Laughton did at the library did not fall within city policy, such as how donations were handled and his willingness to give a tour of the century-old building's basement to a visiting Girl Scout group. He said people find the basement neat and spooky, but that he was told only employees can go down there.

"There's been a history of me breaking rules that I did not know existed until they told me that I broke them," he said.

Laughton said he was in his driveway Wednesday morning when a Newport police officer delivered his termination letter and then escorted Laughton to the library so he could gather his personal items and turn over keys.

"I just had a screwdriver and a pair of pliers there," he said.

Offered to respond to Laughton's claims, Hanson said "there's always more to the story" but said he could not discuss it further at the advice of the city attorney.

The city will hire a part-time librarian to replace Laughton, Hill said. In the meantime, the hours he worked are being filled by part-time employee Gina Dueffert. The council will have to formally approve Laughton's termination, likely at its Thursday, May 2 meeting.

Laughton said he wants the city-run library to succeed.

"I'm not here to tear the library down," he said. "I don't want the library to go down in flames with me."

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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