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In full disclosure, I am involved with the Friends of the Arkansas State Archives as a life member and interested party in ways to maintain its archives and promote the history of this state. I am also a board member of the Arkansas Historical Association and the current president of the Washington County Historical Society; neither of those groups has asked I write about this topic.

Today, I am writing this column on the topic of involving the state's history and the constant upheaval ongoing at the Department of Arkansas Heritage under Stacy Hurst, the Asa Hutchinson-appointed director of DAH.

This week, I was disappointed to hear of the immediate resignation of Lisa Speer, the director of the State Archives.

In her own words sent out by email, read Speer's notice to the history community in Arkansas.

"It is with great regret that I let you know that I have tendered my resignation as director of the Arkansas State Archives, effective immediately. It has been my great privilege to serve the state of Arkansas as ASA director and State Historian the last 4 ½ years.

"I appreciate everything that the Friends group has done to support the Archives and its staff, and I hope that at this time, you will redouble your efforts to assist them during the transition ahead.

"The staff at the Archives is some of the best people I've ever worked with, and I love them like family. I look forward to supporting the Archives through the Friends group in the future. Sincerely, Lisa K. Speer, M.L.I.S., Ph.D., State Historian and Director."

Here are the official statements on Speer's resignation from both the Department of Arkansas Heritage and the Governor's office.

Both statements as put out for the public and press -- are chilling in what is not said.

From the DAH, directed by Stacy Hurst, through spokesperson Melissa Whitfield to the state's largest newspaper:

"Speer's resignation was her decision. There was no request to do so from DAH. She indicated she was unhappy with elements of her job that she felt she had no power to change."

From the Governor's Office and Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis came this icy reply:

"The governor (Hutchinson) was made aware after the fact that Speer resigned. He didn't have anything to do with her resignation."

So here is the deal. Stacy Hurst is a politically connected, rich, Republican in Little Rock.

In 2014, weeks after being elected and prior to being sworn in as governor, Asa Hutchinson announced that outgoing Little Rock city director Stacy Hurst will be his new director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

Hurst was appointed by Hutchinson to his six-person transition team immediately after the November election in 2013. She also ran for the state legislature as a Republican seeking the open seat in House District 35; she lost to Democrat Clarke Tucker after a deeply acrimonious race. Hurst and her husband own and operate a central Arkansas florist, Tipton & Hurst. She and First Lady Susan Hutchinson, it is well known, are close friends.

Since being named to head DAH, the move and dissolvent of the former Arkansas History Commission were done by administrative decree.

The History Commission went from the purview of the Arkansas Parks & Tourism Department to a newly formed Department of Arkansas Heritage.

During the last fiscal session, under Hurst, there was a move afoot within DAH to reach some administrative goals set by the governor to cut back its budget, which meant that the archives in Northeast Arkansas and archives in Southwest Arkansas staffs would be reduced and downsized to levels less than operational.

Only a last-second blow-back or questioning from two veteran state senators -- Sen. Larry Teague of Nashville (who is Joint Budget chairman) and Sen. Uvalde Lindsey of Fayetteville, thwarted this attempt.

There is more to come from this move and the problems at DAH. Just watch.

• • •

Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 02/14/2018

Print Headline: Pondering the changes at DHA with abrupt exit

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