Crawford County Library System funding approved; LBGQT+ book controversy continues

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 3,017 views 

In the midst of a controversial debate regarding whether to remove LBGQT+ books from the Crawford County Library System, the Crawford County Quorum Court on Tuesday (Jan. 17) approved a budget amendment of $25,000 for the library.

The ordinance passed with nine voting in favor, three voting against and Justice of the Peace Lonnie Jennings voting present. The apportion of additional funds was also the subject of a special called meeting of the Crawford County Library Board early Tuesday evening. The debate at the board meeting revolved around the library’s budget going $9,000 over the combined total of budgeted 2022 funds and $100,000 in discretionary funds for 2022, even though the library had an account balance of $624,000.

During the library board meeting, newly appointed chair Tammi Hamby questioned library director Deidre Grzymala about spending. After more than an hour of a circling discussion on whether Grzymala had authority to pay the bills once she knew the library’s budget was getting tight, Keith Pigg, the library board member from Mulberry, said the library board had approved all spending for the year and the contract for the expenses dealing with updating the library’s computers, wi-fi and other technology was signed in March 2022, before Grzymala was hired at the library director in July.

Hamby and her husband Dr. Jeffrey Hamby, a Van Buren family physician, are spearheading a campaign against LBGQT+ books being available through the Crawford County Library System and Grzymala’s book display of LBGQT+ children’s books set up at the Van Buren Public Library in November. Hamby was appointed to the Crawford County Library Board and named the board chair after Jamie Balkman, former chair, and two other board members resigned after a contentious Quorum Court meeting in December.

Many of those in attendance at the board meeting and the Quorum Court meeting expressed concern that moves were being made to either not give full funding to the library system or to find reason to terminate Grzymala from her position because of the LBGQT+ opposition.

In December the River Valley Elders posted on their Facebook page that representatives were needed at the Crawford County Quorum Court Meeting Dec. 19 in reference to books available at the Van Buren Public Library, saying attendance was absolutely needed to make public comment “on removing  sexualized ideology in children’s books in the Crawford County Library.” The top two tenets of the Elders is to “encourage and seek to establish Biblical values in all areas of civil government and economic systems,” and, “Draft civil laws which reflect a Biblical worldview, Judeo-Christian values and ethics.”

The Hambys sent a letter to the Quorum Court and Crawford County Judge, dated Nov. 10.

“We are concerned about the agenda that is being pushed by the Van Buren Public Library, aiming education of alternative lifestyles to prepubescent children. We have friends and employees that choose to live alternative lifestyles that we love dearly. We do not agree with that lifestyle but acknowledge their right to live the way they choose to live. We are not trying to infringe on those rights in any way. Our issue is with the constitutional rights of parents and our religious liberties being infringed upon by this progressive woke ideology normalizing and equating homosexual and transsexual lifestyles with heterosexual family units,” the letter said. “And doing this without parental consent or the ability to opt out. They have purchased, with taxpayer money, several books about alternative lifestyles that are aimed at prepubescent children. Some of these books are available in board book form which tells you the age they are targeting.”

The books listed by the Hamby’s were: “The Big Book of Pride Flags;” “Cinderelliot, A Scrumptious Fairytale;” “Uncle Bobby’s Wedding;” “Bye Bye, Binary;” and “Mommy, Mama, and Me.”

Grzymala said at the time she believed everyone was reaching a compromise and the books had been moved to their own section at each of the Crawford County Library System’s five libraries.

At a Jan. 10 meeting of the library board, Hamby presented a motion outlining basic criteria for assessing the merits of a requested book (not self-published, NYT bestseller, not $100+, etc), which are the normal criteria most library directors, including Grzymala, already use. Hamby, introduced an amendment to this motion that would take the decision on whether requested books were added to the library from the director and have the board approve or deny any new book requests.

“In her very first board meeting as chair, Tammi Hamby introduced an amendment to a motion that could cause the whole library to be defunded. In fact, she openly said in the discussion of that motion and its proposed amendment that she intends to see her amendment through even if defunding happens. Regardless of politics or opinion on social issues, that is in nobody’s best interest,” said the Rev. Nick Koontz, pastor at First Christian Church in Fort Smith, in a letter to Crawford County Judge Chris Keith. “(F)rom my perspective, if this isn’t content objections and attempts at banning books that the board just doesn’t like due to their religious views, then it’s the silliest and most infeasible proposed amendment I think I have ever heard in a public forum. Specifically, Tammi Hamby introduced an amendment that (if done in good faith) would require the board to read and review every single book that’s requested in or donated to Crawford county libraries in perpetuity.”

The motion was tabled until the next library board meeting March 14.