The Arkansas History Commission will soon make a controversial move to the state Department of Arkansas Heritage under an “efficiency bill” the Arkansas Legislature advanced during last Friday’s special legislative session.
The bill disbands the existing 7-member History Commission board, giving its powers to the Director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, and renames the Commission the Arkansas History Division of the Department of Arkansas Heritage. The changes take effect on July 1, 2016.
In 1905, the General Assembly designated the newly created Arkansas History Commission as the official state archives; the organization collects and preserves source materials of the history of Arkansas. The History Commission had been part of the Parks and Tourism Department since 1971.
About the controversy, Tom Dillard (former head of Special Collections at the University of Arkansas Libraries, former head of the Heritage Department and instrumental in creating the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture) said, “There’s been no transparency in any of this….What’s the motivation for it? The History Commission, their entire state budget, is less than $2 million.” Dillard, who also writes a history column for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is married to Mary Dillard, current chair of the 7-member board that currently oversees the commission.
Arkansas House Speaker Jeremy Gillam said the controversial plan to transfer the Arkansas History Commission came from the governor’s office. Gillam told the House,
The commission itself — those seven members — are going to be brought over to form an advisory role to the director of the Department of Heritage. Now those commissioners themselves, understandably, don’t want to give up their independence and autonomy…Part of the thought behind this was because you have almost $2 million in general revenue — taxpayer dollars — having someone over their shoulders … is not a bad idea.