Grant money approved for Alma Public Library after ‘beholden’ concerns addressed

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 511 views 

A week after voting to put off approving a $10,000 grant for the Alma Public Library because there might be strings attached concerning controversial books, the Crawford County Quorum Court approved the grant during a special meeting Tuesday (Aug. 29).

The Quorum Court voted Aug. 21 in its regular monthly meeting to pull the appropriation of the $10,000 grant from an appropriation ordinance after Justice of the Peace Jayson Peppas said an unnamed constituent had sent him information that if the county was to accept the money, that the library would then be “beholden to that group and the books that they want in the library.”

“He sent me a link that had some of the same books that we have had all the issues with. He said this group is sponsoring them. He said from his standpoint that if you accept the grant money, then you have to accept the books that they want,” Peppas said at the Aug. 21 meeting.

Eva White, interim director of the Crawford County Library system, said in a memo that the Alma Public Library had received a $10,000 Libraries Transforming Communities grant from the American Library Association. The grant is to be used to replace the library’s front doors to bring them into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. She said that was not true and the only strings attached to the grant is that the money has to be used for what the grant is awarded to be used to do.

Tuesday night the 10 members of the Quorum Court in attendance unanimously agreed to appropriate the money.

“All this started because I heard from a constituent…, since then I have heard from two known constituents of mine, one … who has a disability and she asked me to vote for it, and I heard from another known constituent who speaks at libraries and he’s going to be speaking at one soon, and he asked me to vote for it. So it’s two to one. I had one person who was against and two who are for. So I’m about to vote for, but this had nothing to do with anybody being against people with disabilities. … It has to do with being a representative of the people. No one contacted me before. I was just contacted by that one person. You need to understand that. I was just doing my job,” Peppas said Tuesday night.

On Aug. 21, the court decided to wait until the September meeting to vote on the appropriation in order to give court members time to research whether there were any strings attached. Justice of the Peace Robert Arnold said in an email to a constituent, dated Aug. 25 and posted on the Facebook Page of Mandy Steele, a resident of Crawford County who has acted as an advocate for those with disabilities for many years, that the quorum court was working to make certain the grant money had no requirements attached to it.

“The door will be fixed accordingly as soon as we clear those ‘dirty money hoops’ in my words for people with disabilities. Many grants if you take the money, you are beholden to their requirements, to display their books, and we’ve been informed that some children’s porn books are on the lists, just making sure we don’t allow such said books in our libraries,” Arnold said in the email.

Many in the county contacted their justices of the peace following the Aug. 21 decision to express concern for holding back money meant to help better accessibility by those who are disabled.

“They will use 40,000 of taxpayer money to pay off a fully qualified library director to resign, but will deny 10,000 funding to make doors more accessible to individuals with disabilities. Just because Justice Peppas ‘got an email’ from a concerned citizen about THE BOOKS. Keep in mind – right now they can’t move any books into or out of the ‘social section,’” Steele wrote in a Facebook post.

The Crawford County Quorum Court approved a $60,000 appropriation June 20 for anticipated legal costs to defend against two lawsuits alleging unconstitutional library censorship. If the amount is spent, it would bring the county’s cost to almost $130,000 over the issue.

On June 2, several Arkansas libraries and library associations filed a lawsuit in the Fayetteville Division of the Western District Court of Arkansas against Crawford County officials and state prosecuting attorneys to overturn Act 372. The Act is primarily a measure allowing books in public libraries to be banned or relocated. U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Brooks granted a preliminary injunction July 29 against Act 372 implementation, which was set to go into effect Aug. 1.

The Crawford County Library Board agreed during a meeting July 11 that it would not hear Requests for Reconsideration concerning moving books in or out of its social section until a lawsuit on the social section is resolved.

The June 2 lawsuit is the second to be filed attempting to block libraries from censoring books. Attorney Brian Meadors filed a federal complaint May 30 against book censorship actions by the Crawford County Public Library. The Crawford County Library has in recent months approved the removal and relocation of books largely because of objections from citizens to LGBTQ content.

The controversy began in November 2022 when Tammi Hamby and her husband Dr. Jeffrey Hamby, a Van Buren family physician, spearheaded a campaign against LBGQT+ books being available through the library system, and then Library Director Diedre Grzymala’s book display of LBGQT+ children’s books set up at the Van Buren Public Library. Hamby was appointed to the Crawford County Library Board by Keith and named the board chair after Jamie Balkman, former chair, and two other board members resigned after a contentious Quorum Court meeting in December.

Gryzmala resigned with a $40,687.50 severance deal Feb. 21. Eva White was appointed interim director during a special called meeting Feb. 24. White was the library director for Crawford County from 1999 to 2012 and then again from 2013 to January 2021.

The Crawford County Quorum Court has approved a $60,000 appropriation for anticipated legal costs to defend against two lawsuits alleging unconstitutional library censorship. If the amount is spent, it would bring the county’s cost to almost $130,000 over the issue.