Angry at a librarian who dared respect diversity and opposed book banning, the Crawford County Quorum Court is scheduled to consider a severance package in exchange for her resignation when it meets Tuesday night in Van Buren.
Proposed Ordinance 2023-11 would pay Deidre Grzymala $40,687.50 from the county’s general fund by Friday. The sum includes her personal and sick-leave payments.
Sponsored by Justice of the Peace Jayson Peppas of Alma, the proposal further says the county has been “directed” to approve Grzymala’s health and dental benefit premiums through Sept. 1.
In an email to the Arkansas Times, the county’s attorney, Gentry Wahlmeier, said, “The separation is amicable.”
Grzymala and her attorney, Christopher Hooks, declined comment today.
Tuesday night’s vote follows much contention since an almost entirely new library board took over in Crawford County. Upset over some children’s books, especially those dealing with gay or transgender topics, the board has been considering a proposal that it review the purchase and donation of all library books.
That proposal by board chairwoman Tammi Hamby came during a Jan. 10 meeting as support for librarians in Arkansas plunges and as far-right outrage escalates over LGBTQ issues and any books about them. The board opted to table the measure until March. We will have to wait to see if the library board will still pursue the measure or just hire someone willing to ban any books board members don’t like.
Among those pressuring the library to ban books was a far-right group that calls itself the River Valley City Elders Organization and professes to be “guarding the gates.”
In December, the group made a downright scary Facebook post with its usual mascot lion and urged all “Watchmen on the Wall” in Crawford County to help protect the children. The post said in part: “The library Director & staff have chosen and stocked the library with radical sexual ideological picture books which run the danger of premature sexualization of prepubescent children!”
As you might expect, the main books upsetting the complainers are those about LGBQT issues — certainly not Harlequin romances that likely appeal to some of these watchmen’s middle-aged and elderly wives.
In a letter Hooks sent last month to Wahlmeier and obtained under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, Hooks indicated Grzymala declined an earlier, much less substantial severance offer. The proposed severance package also requires a positive reference for Grzymala, the letter said.
Though Wahlmeier said Grzymala is resigning, it clearly is a forced and negotiated departure. In an email exchange between Wahlmeier and Hooks, Hooks wrote on Jan. 17 that he understood it was “the intention of the Crawford County Library Board of Directors to terminate” Grzymala at a meeting that evening.
“The severance package of $10,000 offered to Deidre to resign … is declined. She will accept no less than one year’s salary ($52,000),” Hooks wrote.
“The proffered reasons for termination of Mrs. Grzymala are in violation of the color and spirit of the law,” Hooks added. “If the board moves forward with her termination, then legal action will be imminent.”
The board did not fire her that night.
Wahlmeier replied in part, “It is my understanding that your client, despite warnings from the past Chairman of the Board of Directors and from the Crawford County Treasurer, exceeded her budget by more than $89,000.”
Under the severance package, Grzymala would be required to “peaceably resign” Tuesday, presumably after the Quorum Court approves the buyout; sign a separation agreement and agree not to sue a bunch of people. Perhaps the most appalling detail of the proposed separation agreement is this section, which seems to ignore the right to freedom of speech by even Grzymala’s “close acquaintances.”
It says: “Employee and Employer agree that they will not criticize, denigrate, or disparage each other as set forth herein. To that end, Employee and Employer will not make any comments or statements to the press, Employer’s current or former employees, any individual or entity with whom Employer has a transactional relationship, or any other person if such comment or statement could be likely to adversely affect the conduct of the governance of Employer, or any of the plans or reputation of Employer. … By agreeing to this provision, Employer is not accepting liability for statements made by current or former employees made outside the scope of employment. Employee is obligated to keep her close acquaintances from denigrating or disparaging Employer or its agents. Employee shall not contact any of Employer’s employees for any reason related to her separation.”
Hamby had little to say when contacted last week about the proposed buyout, referring questions to the quorum court. “There’s been nothing from us to them,” she said.