Tom Dillard, a historian and retired head of special collections at the University of Arkansas, has raised an alarm about Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s proposal on the special session call to put the state History Commission under the control of the Arkansas Department of Heritage, headed by Stacy Hurst. Dillard is concerned about the power the legislation would invest in Hurst, a former city director with no experience in history or archiving.
He sent this letter to others on an Arkansas history mailing list:
The Hutchinson Administration has prepared draft legislation for consideration in the current Special which would completely strip the Arkansas History Commission of its authority. The legislation would transfer the History Commission from the Department of Parks & Tourism to the Department of Arkansas Heritage. So far, so good. But, the devil is in the details.
In governmental jargon, the proposal is a “Type 2” transfer—meaning that the Commission will not only be transferred but that the Commissioners will lose all powers to hire and fire the AHC director, develop budgets, issue rules and regulations, and deciding on the physical location of the History Commission. All powers would be transferred to the director of the Heritage Department, Stacy Hurst—who has absolutely no background in history and archives. The Commission could not even meet without being convened by Hurst.
The adoption of this legislation would enable a single person, Hurst, to determine where to house the History Commission. Her original plan was to move the History Commission to the old Balch Automobile building on Cantrell Road at the foot of Chester Street. Moving the History Commission’s location might be a good idea, but the decision should be carefully thought out since archival collections must be stored in the proper environmental conditions.
Even the name of the Arkansas History Commission would be changed, despite the fact that it has operated for more than a century under that name.
The proposed legislation would also adversely impact the Arkansas Black History Commission—which is a component of the AHC.
There is no compelling reason to adopt this legislation—especially in a hurried 3-day special session. Arkansas History deserves better!
There is no time to waste as the bill will probably be considered this week—possibly tomorrow. I urge everyone to contact both the governor and your local legislators. You can find your legislator and contact information at www.arkleg.state.ar.us. It is too late to send snail mail, so emails and phone calls are necessary. You can call your State Representative at 501-682-6211 and Senators can be called at 501-682-6107. You can leave a message. Unfortunately, we do not have a bill number, so refer to the Governor’s Efficiency Bill.
Please ask your legislators to delay considering this issue until a regular session. Do it now!
A question about the Black History Commission might further stir people in the legislature already upset about the retreat by the Hutchinson administration, through Hurst, from buying the historic Masonic Templars building available for sale next door to the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, a museum of the African-American experience in Arkansas. It has undergone personnel changes amid supporters’ concerns that it ranks low on Hutchinson administration concerns.