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Controversial library appointment defeated

JONESBORO — A Craighead County Quorum Court committee recommended one new member to the Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library Board of Directors Monday. But the public service committee split 2-2 on a motion to table the proposed appointment of Whitney Hicks to a second seat.

A motion to recommend her appointment to the full quorum court died for lack of a second.

County Judge Marvin Day said Tuesday he had not talked to Hicks since Monday’s vote and hasn’t decided what to do next.

Hicks would have succeeded Curt Hawkins, who had resigned from the board.

If the 13-member full quorum court approves, Michael Watkins of Bono will succeed Amanda Escue, who recently resigned due to residency questions.

The library has been embroiled in conflict since June following a display in the children’s library promoting Gay Pride Month.

Day responded to a question regarding his thought process for making his selections.

“Kind of my goal for the library board is to be a reflection of the whole community,” Day said. “I don’t want seven librarians sitting on the library board and I don’t want seven people from Jonesboro sitting on the library board.”

Day said librarians have their opinions on how the institution should operate and many patrons have differing views.

“My hope is that everyone can calm down and find a way that all parties involved in the county can find a way to utilize the library and feel safe and welcome,” Day said.

Day said he nominated Watkins, a retired farmer, in large part because of his experience as a former member of the Westside School Board.

“Not taking away from anyone, but from my watching the videos of the library board, I think someone with experience on how to manage a board, kind of like the quorum court, would be a benefit to them,” Day explained. “Being a little bit more organized, not allowing things to grow up.”

Hicks has a degree in elementary education and is a certified teacher.

“And she represents a lot of people that are home schooling, that utilize the library on a frequent basis, and there are a lot of them. And a lot of people that have those feelings and want to have the opportunity to be heard.”

Hicks is a daughter of state Rep. Brant Smith, R-Jonesboro, and one resident, Karen Newberry, said that relationship should disqualify her from consideration because of comments attributed to Smith that appeared to be threatening the library’s funding. Smith, who attended the meeting, denied making the threat. Newberry has served as assistant child librarian.

Others who applied for a board seat were: were Valerie Carroll, the Rev. Annie Jones, Daniel Parker, Jennifer Clack and Roseann Askeland.

Justice Jason Price sought to table the Hicks nomination until the committee’s next meeting. Price and Justice Brad Noel voted in favor of tabling the nomination while Richard Rogers and Kevin Williams voted against.

Don Clayton, seated, plays music Friday with Dennis Hammon at the Rotary Club of Jonesboro Centennial Plaza. Hammon, a guitar salesman, taught Clayton, a percussionist, a few chords to his favorite songs during Clayton’s visit.


Mayor assigns COVID funding to safety projects

JONESBORO — Mayor Harold Copenhaver announced Tuesday the city’s plan to designate $1.75 million in federal COVID relief funding to improving safety projects, primarily in Jonesboro’s police, fire and E911 departments.

The plan includes comprehensive traffic and safety camera upgrades used by the engineering and police departments, high-definition cameras at each of the city’s 22 parks, replacing outdated technology for the city-county 911 department, and modern radio and personal protection equipment and medical supplies for firefighters.

“These are all critical upgrades, not extravagances, that our first responders need and will literally save lives,” Copenhaver said. “The mandate when I was elected was safety and quality of life. We all know you can’t have quality of life without safety, so I expect this investment to be just the first in a series of projects that will continue to keep Jonesboro safe and sound well into the future.”

Funding for the improvements will be sourced from American Rescue Plan Act money the city received this year from the federal government in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities across America.

While final guidelines for using ARPA money have not been provided, city administrators are confident that this use will fall within the boundaries.

Traffic and safety camera upgrades will consolidate 10 video platforms currently in use by the city, greatly increasing network capabilities, crime-solving resources and the ability to apply both long-term and real-time data to improve traffic flow. The city has budgeted $650,000 for these upgrades.

“These purchases go hand in glove with recently approved GPS personal-camera gear approved for police officers by our city council,” Copenhaver said.

To replace aging 911 technology that serves Jonesboro and Craighead County at large, $176,000 has been designated for modern workstations, wireless headsets and software that supports immediate officer identification and location.

“Our 911 operators work in demanding conditions,” Copenhaver said. “They need more comfortable work stations and better equipment to reduce mental and physical fatigue.”

“I also appreciate County Judge Marvin Day and the rest of the 911 board for recognizing the need and contributing to the cause.”

The largest expenditure announced Tuesday is $740,000 to replace the outdated Station Alert System used by the Jonesboro Fire Department. The system is responsible for alerting the nearest response teams and communicating additional information to all field units. Ten portable radios will cost $50,000.

JFD officers will also receive $70,000 in personal-protection equipment to handle an increased number of medical calls during COVID, requiring more emergency medical equipment, including automated external defibrillators and disposable medical supplies.

Additional expenditures announced consist of 40 handheld radios for the Streets Department at a cost of $62,000 and a $5,000 updated dispatch system for Animal Control.

Board rejects removing books from children's section

JONESBORO — After a sometimes contentious public comments period, the Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library board of directors failed to remove three books from the children’s section.

Member Mark Nichols made three motions to remove “It’s Perfectly Normal,” “Gender Queer” and “Later Gator” from the children’s section. None of the motions received a second, thus dying.

The library has been a source of controversy since a display was set up in June in the children’s section celebrating Gay Pride month. Many parents thought the display and some books in the children’s section were inappropriate. Members of the LGBTQ community and its supporters backed the library.

Members tabled a report from the Sensitive Materials subcommittee because more work needed to be done on it.

At the start of the meeting David Eckert, the library’s director, addressed the board and the standing-room only crowd.

“I want to set the record straight. We don’t buy pornographic material,” he said. “Some books are graphic, but we not promoting anything.”

Eckert said the book “It’s Perfectly Normal” can be bought at Walmart or Target.

During the public comments, Steven Summers read a book titled “The GayBCs” which is in the children’s section. After reading it, Summers said people have been harassing the library and its staff over the books and the display.

Chenoa Summers spoke about the book and praised their inclusiveness of all people.

“Being gay is not a mental illness,” she said.

Jason Goad, who said he’s pastored churches in Northeast Arkansas for more than 20 year, said the library should keep materials like those books away from children.

Beth Tennison said she wants objectionable videos removed from where children can access them.

“Materials need to be free of propaganda,” Tennison said. “As a mother, I want the board to put protections in place.”

Kaila Henick thanked Nichols.

“I want to thank Mark for standing up for our kids,” Henick said.

She said one of the books in the children’s section was pornographic. Nichols said the book should be moved to a different section.

Mitch Doss addressed what he thinks is a lack of oversight.

There’s a lack of gatekeepers for children’s material,” he said. “The book ‘Gender Queer’ was next to a Superman comic.”

He said “Gender Queer” has depictions of oral sex and masturbation.

“Make this place a safe place,” Doss said.

Amanda Escue, a former board member, stressed the safety of children.

“We have to be good stewards,” she said. “I home-schooled my children using the Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library as their library. We want our children taken care of.”

Janice Porter said she’s a 38-year resident of Jonesboro and took her children to the library all of the time.

“The management thus far has been adamantly unwilling to take any measures to assist parents in protecting their children … I must question the judgment of the library management.”

She ended by saying, “I ask this board and director to end your shocking indifference and make accommodations for parents who wish to protect their children from early sexualization.”

Sharon Stallings spoke protesting Eckert requiring wearing a face mask during board meetings. She removed her mask as she began speaking, but was told by the board to put it back on.

Kimberly Owens praised the staff for the Gay Pride display.

“To the dismay of many, not all people here are Christians,” she said. “Let the professionals do the job they were hired to do.”

Rebecca Robinson said, “Jonesboro is more bigoted and hateful that I had ever imagined. I will raise my children with science and knowledge and compassion.”

Stephanie Nichols said the board and staff need to exercise more discretion over specific things.

Will Hose, a former member of the library staff, continued to push for inclusion.

“Kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for,” he said.

'Divisive' resolutions die in county committee

JONESBORO — An effort to declare Craighead a pro-life county went nowhere Monday when the quorum court’s public service committee considered the measure.

A second resolution, “supporting healthcare freedoms and choices regarding vaccine mandates,” died for lack of a motion.

Justice of the Peace Darrel Cook sponsored both proposed resolutions, but is not a member of the committee and therefore could not vote.

The two resolutions were almost identical to resolutions council member Bobby Long wanted the Jonesboro City Council to approve. However, both proposals died for lack of a second during a public services committee meeting.

Because of the lack of a second, Long was unable to advocate for his resolutions.

He was allowed to speak during Monday’s public comment period prior to the quorum court committee meeting.

“If a litmus test of whether you vote or even allow a vote on a particular item is disagreement or the perception of divisiveness, then there would never be a vote on anything,” Long said. “Whether you agree or disagree, the level of support that’s been expressed, along with the experiential evidence that Craighead as a whole holds the views of this resolution affirms that it should be ratified. I hope that you are not distracted by the attempts of those who would make it something that it is not.”

But resident Roseann Askeland said divisiveness is what the resolutions promote.

“I think everyone in this room supports life. Without any issue, I think we know that,” Askeland said. “But I don’t want this court to become a partisan vote, and I believe that what Mr. Long just gave us would create that partisan vote … And I don’t think we all want to be lumped into one thing, one way or the other. And I believe it will lead to divisiveness.”

Askeland said county officials have more important things to consider other than whether to put up pro-life signs.

“I wish that we would spend more time on the issue of improving the lives in the county, the people that are here,” Askeland said.

Before the committee decided the fate of the resolution aimed at fighting President Joe Biden’s vaccination mandate, County Judge Marvin Day was asked if Biden’s order even affects county government.

“From my understanding, President Biden was trying to make this mandate through OSHA, a regulation of OSHA,” Day replied, referring to the federal Occupation Safety and Health Administration. “Craighead County, as a vehicle under the state of Arkansas, we do not apply under OSHA regulations. We are under the state workforce. So I don’t think we do.”

With that answer, the COVID resolution died without a motion.

After completing a crash-course in comedy, two A-State faculty members, Dr. Virginie Rolland (top), associate professor of quantitative wildlife ecology, and Dr. John Artim, lecturer in biology, will perform stand-up comedy live on stage in Denver, Colo., along with other scientists in “Stand Up. For Science!” a part of the Arkansas Science Festival. A watch party will is set for 8:30-10 p.m. Friday in the Reng Student Union auditorium, 101 N. Caraway Road in Jonesboro with free food and entertainment. To attend guests can register at https://bit.ly/3oVdr7s.

Comedy added to Arkansas Science Festival