Stacy Hurst, director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, has sent a note to staff responding to blistering criticism of her management.
The departure of Lisa Speer as state archivist under pressure from Hurst led to other criticism of Hurst’s leadership, particularly by retired historian Tom Dillard, a former Heritage director, who used his Sunday column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to list perceived shortcomings in Hurst’s leadership. A flower shop owner and former city director, she was appointed to the job by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Her memo to staff:
Dear DAH Staff:
Most of you are probably aware of several accusations made in the media lately about the operation of this department. Let me assure you: those accusations are blatantly inaccurate and misrepresentative of our work here.
First, I do not have, nor do I want, “total control over our heritage as a people.” When the Legislature transferred the then-Arkansas History Commission to the Department of Arkansas Heritage, one person wrote: “This means that a single state employee … has total control over our heritage as a people.” This is a gross exaggeration, to put it mildly. Certainly, I have a serious role, but there are many entities and individuals, such as each of you, that contribute daily to our collective heritage as Arkansans. Each of you works every day to contribute to our heritage, and I appreciate the expertise and professionalism you bring to our work to identify, conserve and preserve Arkansas history and to make it available to our state’s residents.
Several other false statements are being perpetuated about changes to our operations and/or facilities.
Let me reassure you: There is no effort being made to defund or close any of our facilities; we are not closing either of the regional Archives, as has been reported.
Nor are there efforts underway to dissolve any of the existing commissions or advisory boards. We are not dismantling the Black History Commission of Arkansas, as has been erroneously reported.
Regarding the advertisement for a new Archives director and state historian, we have listed the position with both the minimum qualifications for a DAH agency director and the preferred qualifications for the State Archives director, as required by the state’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM). It is my intention to hire the most-qualified individual possible for this important role; the search has already begun.
The “mass defections” reported of late are, again, simply not true. According to OPM, the state’s current turnover rate is 10.25%, and DAH’s is 7.6%. Certainly, we experience attrition as does every state agency, but we have many longtime (and new!) employees that are passionate and positive about their work.
I am really proud of and inspired by the team that leads our department and its divisions. Our directors are top-notch, bringing outstanding leadership, unmatched creativity, true professionalism and venerated expertise to their roles. Thank you to Rebecca Burkes as deputy director, David Bell as CFO, Debra Fithen as grants manager, Scott Kaufman at AHPP, Christina Shutt at Mosaic Templars, Patrick Ralston at the Arts Council and Dr. Kyle Miller at the Delta Cultural Center for joining our team. And, to Swannee Bennett at HAM and Darrell Bowman at ANHC, both of whom accepted offers of promotion to directors of their respective entities and have served with dignity and enthusiasm. And, to Bill Gatewood, who remains the longtime, respected leader at OSHM, to Melissa Whitfield, who has remained as our unflappable communications director, and, to Debbie Biggs, our seasoned and trusted HR manager. All of our individual efforts are collectively enhanced by their support and leadership.
I take seriously our shared responsibility to tell the story of Arkansas. As Bill Worthen, longtime and beloved former director at HAM, said, “We protect the best of Arkansas.” We have all been charged by the Governor to look for efficiencies within our operations, and we have done that, all the while keeping an eye on our responsibilities. Change is hard, and it is often met with suspicion and resistance. But I will not apologize for asking you to consider a new way of doing things. It is our duty, as good stewards of the taxpayer resources we’re entrusted with, to always look for ways to streamline, be innovative, and do more with what we have. That’s good government.
In conclusion, I’ll simply repeat something I’ve been correctly quoted in the press as saying: “[DAH] enjoys many long-term, fantastic employees who are passionate about their work.” Make no mistake: I mean every word of this, and I am talking about you. Thank you for staying focused on our mission and for doing your best work every day to protect Arkansas’s natural, cultural and historic resources.