Department of Arkansas Heritage Director Stacy Hurst fired two of her deputies yesterday — Kathy Holt and Marynell Branch — agency spokesperson Melissa Whitfield has confirmed. Whitfield said the positions were eliminated; one deputy director will be hired in the future.
Holt, deputy director for museums, had been with the agency for two and a half years; Branch, deputy director for heritage resources, has been with the agency 11 years. Hurst has served as director since January, when she was appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. She previously served on the Little Rock Board of Directors but quit to make an unsuccessful run for the legislature.
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“There will now only be one deputy director for the entire department,” Whitfield wrote in an email. “This will result in salary savings for the department. The positions are unclassified and serve at the will of the director. The new deputy position will also be an unclassified position.”
Whitfield called it a reorganization of DAH, but it could be the first step in a reorganization that would combine DAH with the Department of Parks and Tourism into what would be called the Department of Interior. Act 1202 of 2015 provides a framework for the state to consider moving 127 departments into 10 “principal departments” that would also include Agriculture; Commerce; Health and Human Services; Corrections; Education; Finance and Administration; Labor, Employment and Workforce; Natural Resources; and Homeland Security.
Hurst was not available for comment.
We had inquired at the governor’s office about agency reliance — and about a widely circulating report that Hurst was being considered for the job at the top of a combined Parks and Tourism/Heritage Interior Department.
J.R. Davis responded: “All efficiencies are being studied. There has been no decision on these two agencies or the leadership.”
The realignment also could verge into some combination of tourism efforts with Economic Development, which naturally views the lucrative tourism industry as a part of the state’s economic picture. Some other states have pursued such strategies.