Tom Dillard, the retired head of special collections at the University of Arkansas and weekly history columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, turned his Sunday column to the present day and Stacy Hurst’s management of the Department of Arkansas Heritage. It’s a blistering assessment.
Some of what Dillard has written about has been chronicled in these pages, particularly the precipitating event: the recent resignation of state archivist Dr. Lisa Speer under heavy pressure from Hurst. Hurst has downgraded the qualifications for a successor, in keeping with her general downgrade of an operation with many supporters. (Observers are watching closely to see if an ally of Hurst with a sketchy academic record lands the position.) But there is more in the way of ousters of other veteran personnel and, what’s worse in Dillard’s view, little seeming appreciation on Hurst’s part for what the department is about by someone who brought little relevant to the job beyond her political support for Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
If you don’t read anything else in today’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, read this column.
It talks of Hurst’s “continuing purge” of employees including people doing their job of historic preservation.
Another tragic and especially repugnant personnel debacle involved Marian Boyd, the veteran Heritage employee whom Hurst named interim head of Historic Preservation, upon filling the position to which she had applied at the Arts Council. Among other disagreements which led to Boyd’s resignation, Hurst told Boyd that the National Register of Historic Places staff at AHPP was too aggressive, trying to do too much. According to a former staff member, she said, “It’s only Arkansas.”
Dillard writes that Hurst never attended an archives program and tried to defund regional archives. He writes of her unhappiness with the Black History Commission and touches on her ill feelings about aspects of the Mosaic Templar Cultural Center, which serves as a museum of African-Americans in Arkansas.
Hurst doesn’t talk to the Arkansas Times. I’d say it was lingering unhappiness of our coverage of her losing race for state representative four years ago. But she refused to answer questions then. She issued this prepared statement recently, through a press aide, to a question earlier about Dillard’s criticism:
Over 30 years ago, from 1981 to 1986, Tom Dillard was the director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, and he clearly still has thoughts on how things should be run. But the reality is that DAH is stronger than ever before, as is the Arkansas State Archives. Since joining DAH in 2016, the Archives has access to resources that it has not enjoyed before, such as conservation tax revenue. DAH has helped ASA market and promote its services and programming to a broader audience. ASA has worked with other DAH divisions, such as Historic Arkansas Museum, Mosaic Templars Cultural Center and Old State House Museum, in presenting public programming. The Archives is becoming a more accessible resource for all Arkansans.
Speer says the statement about conservation tax revenue is badly misleading. The archives got one small bit of money to help with
I think the Stacy Hurst situation is pretty simple. Think of the report cards that once were handed out with checklists of areas in which improvement was needed — “talks too much” was always checked on my report card. Here’s