Monday, November 20, 2006

Librarian fired over squirrel trap

By Jason Miller, The News-Dispatch

The story of Cindee Goetz began more than a year ago with a scared squirrel, a trap and a library roof, and ended last month with the 52-year-old librarian's termination after nearly 21 years on the job.

“My life of 21 years is pretty much different now,” Goetz said Friday from her LaPorte home. “For 18 years I've had absolutely wonderful evaluations, but lately I've had a target on my back. And now it's all changed.

“Everything as I've known it for so long is completely different.”

Goetz said she'd been fired from her job as a librarian at the Coolspring branch of the LaPorte County Public Library in early October.

The termination didn't come as a surprise to Goetz, although the timing of it did. An animal activist and rescuer, Goetz gained notoriety locally last year after she removed what she called “inhumane traps” from the Coolspring branch.

The traps had been put out to catch a squirrel that had found its way into the library and was in danger, officials said then, of damaging the building or coming in contact with library patrons.

Goetz was suspended for a week in December 2005 without pay. Library Director Judy Hamilton said at the time the squirrel incident was the tipping point for the suspension.

She said the incident - in which Goetz was said to have gone around the chain of command to remove the traps - was not the first for Goetz. Hamilton said then that Goetz's animal advocacy was interfering with her job.

Hamilton Friday said she cannot comment on Goetz's claims because they are personnel matters.

“I can't give you any information,” she said. “I can't say whether you have correct information or incorrect information.”

Goetz was surprised by the timing of her termination because she said she'd been adhering to restrictions placed on her by library management. She said in the months before her firing she was restricted from conversing with patrons and could not say or do anything that had anything to do with animals inside or directly outside the library.

<>After her termination, she was told she couldn't go to the Coolspring branch for 30 days. If she was spotted at the branch, she said, she'd be arrested.

“It was tough, because the branch is like a family place. I've known a lot of those patrons for a long time and it's hard to just essentially stop speaking to them,” she said. “I could only be suddenly abrupt, which was difficult. But I did it. I've been very good.”

Since her firing, Goetz - who lives on a single income with “a large pet family to take care of” - has struggled to make ends meet. She's working part-time for a friend at a bookstore at Lighthouse Place Mall, but still struggles.

She said she's been denied unemployment benefits.

"I really appreciate that I've got something. I'm so thankful,” she said. “But it's tough. I can't lose my house. I've got to find something to get me through all this.”

Goetz said she's appealing the denial of benefits.

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