Ex-library director runs for Saline County JP; library advocate also announces JP run

The Saline County Courthouse in Benton is shown in this 2019 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette file photo)
The Saline County Courthouse in Benton is shown in this 2019 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette file photo)

Former Saline County Library director Patty Hector filed Tuesday to run for justice of the peace in District 13.

Hector, a Democrat, is running against Republican Karen Crowson. The seat is currently occupied by Keith Keck, who announced in June that he would not seek a new term. Tuesday was the last day to file to run.

Hector was fired by County Judge Matt Brumley in October, after justices of the peace approved an ordinance that broadened their control over the local library system. She is now working as a part-time librarian in Hot Springs Village.

Keck, who was one of two justices of the peace who voted against the ordinance, has endorsed Crowson, according to Hector. A real estate agent working as a managing broker for Crye-Leike Realtors, Crowson said she was not immediately available for an interview on Tuesday.

A news release from Hector lists her concerns for the county as transparency at the local government level, access to broadband, First Amendment rights and “giving a voice in government to all Saline County residents.”

She has 35 years of experience in public service, according to the release. Nearly all of that has been spent working in some capacity with libraries.

In an interview on Tuesday, she cited that experience running library systems as something among her qualifications for the seat.

“I’ve been a library director in rural areas and more urban areas, and there’s really a lot of transferable skills in local government,” she said.

Much of her time as director was spent listening to patrons and figuring out how best to help them, while aiming to do so transparently, according to Hector. In addition to planning expansions to library systems, Hector said she also has experience in managing finances.

She also said she believed it was important that local government should “represent everybody.”

“I don’t think we have that right now,” she said.

With regard to her firing, Hector said, “I said no to people in authority and I don’t think they liked that.”

She had voiced opposition to a resolution approved by justices of the peace over the summer that “requested” the library move certain materials with sexual content or imagery to a location inaccessible to children. The resolution was unnecessary, as the materials were already placed in appropriate areas, she said.

In the months that followed, as justices of the peace read, discussed and ultimately voted on the ordinance expanding their control over the library system, several justices of the peace expressed concern about what they said was a lack of financial oversight. Brumley, the county judge, said during a June committee meeting that increasing the Quorum Court’s oversight of the library was critical.

“This county judge believes that when you have an organization that’s last budget was $4.167 million, that that is a good idea,” he said.

He also said during that meeting that he had “lost confidence” in the library’s leadership and announced the resignation of the library board’s chairperson. At least one additional library board member has resigned since then.

However, Hector said a lot of “inaccurate information” and “hateful rhetoric” had been spread about the library system and its staff, and that the library had gone through a legislative audit “with not a problem.”

“I think that speaks for itself,” she said.

She blamed the scrutiny placed on the library and her termination on “extremist” members she said are running the county’s Republican Party. All 13 of the county’s current justices of the peace are Republicans.

The county Republican Committee had been a vocal supporter of the efforts to increase oversight of the library, and a critic of the library system’s leadership. In July, they passed a resolution urging the Quorum Court to “remove Director Hector at the earliest possible time,” and to “replace the three most senior members of the library board and the current vacancy with community members who better reflect the conservative nature, ethics and morals of the county as a whole.”

Hector said she doesn’t believe most people feel that way, however.

“I think most people are reasonable and I think it’s good for democracy to have a choice in your candidates,” she said. “There should be more people running, not less.”

Another opponent of restrictions placed on the county library system also filed to run Tuesday.

Bailey Morgan, who is also the chair of the county’s Democratic Party and lead organizer of the Saline County Library Alliance, filed to run for the District 5 justice of the peace seat. He is running against incumbent Justin Rue.

Morgan is running on a platform that includes renters’ rights, government accountability, green spaces, renewable energy and “library independence,” according to a Tuesday news release.

In an interview, Morgan said he and Rue differ in terms of their priorities, saying the latter has largely “voted in lockstep with his parties’ priorities,” such as restricting access to library materials and opposition to spending county funds, including grant money, on new programs.

“I think in a lot of ways, it’s I’m pro-library, he has shown to be against it,” he said. “And also I am in favor of innovating and providing services and protections for the residents of Saline County that he hasn’t shown any real interest in doing.”

Rue objected to Morgan's contention that he is against the library.

"As usual, the Democratic candidate continues to twist words and be deceitful," he said. "I am 100 percent pro library. The Saline County Library has never been in a better position with such great leadership on its board to guide it."

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