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Saline County quorum court to consider measure to increase oversight of library board

by Josh Snyder | June 7, 2023 at 4:03 a.m.

The Saline County Library board will find many of its powers placed under the oversight of the county judge if a proposed ordinance is approved at the county's next Quorum Court meeting later this month.

The ordinance would also remove the board's ability to hire or fire the library's employees, and to regulate their salaries.

It was presented Monday evening at a meeting of the county's Public Works and Safety and Finance committees, during which County Judge Matt Brumley also told members of the Quorum Court that he had "lost confidence" in the library's leadership, announced the resignation of the library board's chairperson and recommended her replacement. The Quorum Court will vote on the proposed ordinance and select a new board member during its next meeting, which is scheduled for June 19.

District 7 Justice of the Peace Josh Curtis sponsored the ordinance, which would amend the 1978 rule that first established the county's library board.

The ordinance states that the Quorum Court "has determined that it is in the best interest of Saline County residents that the Library Ordinance be amended to provide greater oversight to the County Judge of Saline County and Quorum Court." It adds the phrase "subject to oversight by the Saline County Judge" to an existing section of the rule that states the library board has "full and complete authority ... to manage, operate, maintain and keep in a good state of repair any and all buildings, equipment or installations of any kind used and devoted to the purpose of the Saline County Public Library."

The library would still have the authority to fill out a budget, according to Brumley. However, the county judge would have oversight of the budget, which would be submitted to the Quorum Court for approval.

The ordinance also removes a section of the original rule that states "The Saline County Library Board shall have the power and duty to employ or remove all employees of the Saline County Public Library and to fix, regulate, and pay their salaries."

Curtis cited Amendment 55 of the Arkansas Constitution, which states that any county employee who is not employed by other elected officials of the county will report to the county judge.

Brumley said that the ordinance, through the Quorum Court's oversight, would allow the library board and the system's readership to "navigate operations" with better efficiency.

"But it is going to take some work on the front end to get to that spot," he acknowledged.

During discussion among the justices of the peace, Jim Whitley, representing District 10, said the ordinance "makes a lot of sense, because every other department in the county is answerable to an elected official, and I think the Saline County Library should be no different."

Keith Keck, who represents District 13, expressed concern in light of a lawsuit filed last week in federal court that asks a judge to strike down as unconstitutional two sections of Act 372, a new Arkansas law on school and public library materials.

"What I don't want to do is go down the track where we're creating legal work, and for a potential lawsuit," he said.

The county judge replied that his "No. 1 priority" was to ensure the Quorum Court remained in compliance with the law, saying "there's been a lot of work and research done." He also encouraged the justices to read through the lawsuit.

District 8 Justice of the Peace Ed Albares asked whether anything could "be done about people that are on the board that are basically totally against what we've been trying to do?" Albares added that he asked the question because he wanted to know "what kind of cooperation" the court would see from a board that may oppose its goals.

"I want to know what kind of cooperation I'm going to get also," Brumley answered. "So that's why I'm hoping that this ordinance passes."

Roughly 15 minutes after Curtis introduced the ordinance, it was unanimously approved for consideration at the June 19 Quorum Court meeting.


During the Public Works and Safety Committee meeting, Brumley told Quorum Court members that he had "lost confidence" in the library system's leadership.

Brumley said an April resolution requesting the library relocate certain material "due to their sexual content or imagery" had been "met with resistance" by library leaders.

"This isn't a personal attack from anyone," he said. "This is a statement made so that we can get out of neutral and go forward, I hope."

During discussion, Whitley praised Brumley's comments, saying "that it takes a lot of courage to stand there and say that."

He said that the members of the Quorum Court were elected to make difficult decisions, and that "I think this is one of those times."

"I believe that each and every one of us need to, in our heart of hearts, decide whether we have confidence in the leadership of the Saline County Library," he said.

During the meeting Brumley also said he was notified Monday afternoon of a message to library executive director Patty Hector that stated Caroline Miller Robinson, who served as the library board's chair, had resigned, "effective immediately."

The county judge announced the appointment of Jamie D. Clemmer, a former election commissioner for Saline County and Air Force veteran, to the role and asked the justices of the peace to confirm the appointment during their June 19 meeting.

Brumley said he had "known Jamie for a little bit of time now," calling him "objective" and "honest."

"I view his perspective in high degree, although it may not always be mine," he said. "I know that comes from an objective place of high integrity."

Brumley also mused on the unexpected significance he feels the role now has.

"Never this time last year did I think that an appointment to the library board would be so important," he said.

Clemmer said in an interview on Tuesday that the appointment "came out of the blue, but it was something I was willing to accept."

While Clemmer said he hasn't followed the operation of the library system long enough to identify any personal priorities he might pursue if confirmed to the board, he said, "I know we've got a mess here with some differing viewpoints in the county. I'd like to think that we can find some common ground and get past this."

He stressed the importance of following the law, "whether that's the First Amendment or Act 372," and encouraged rational decision making.

Calm deliberation over library materials "seems to be lacking right now on both sides of the issue," he said. "I think it's time we ratchet down the rhetoric and start to actually see if we can't find some common ground."

When asked how a community engaged in heated debate might find that common ground, Clemmer said, "I don't know, but we'll find out. In my experience you try to talk it through."

Robinson, the resigning board chair, attributed her departure to her term ending around the end of June.

"I just decided that there would be little business between now and June, and whatever's there the others can handle," she said on Tuesday.


At the close of the meeting, 19 people signed up to make public comments. Several speakers, including those who were in favor of and against moving library materials, argued against the divisive tenor of the debate over the issue.

Bob Vitt, who criticized the ordinance, cited a message his pastor preached the previous day, saying, "as Christians and as people we can disagree, but we don't need to attack people."

"That is not godly," he said. "That is not Christian."

Richard Mills, who supported the ordinance, described himself as a Christian and conservative and decried the hate he said he'd seen in service of both.

"I personally am disgusted with some of the posts that have attacked our library, front line staff, especially," he said. "And it hurts my heart that their hearts have been hurt so badly by some of these comments."

Bailey Morgan, organizer for the Saline County Library Alliance, accused a group of leaking library supporters' home addresses and phone numbers on Facebook. Speaking to the justices of the peace, he said, "You might not be doing that, but the people pushing this here are."

"I understand where you're coming from as a Quorum Court, I really do, but if you think that this is where it stops you are so off-base. It's going to keep going."

Print Headline: Proposed Saline County ordinance puts library under county judge


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