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These are stories related to the 2022 election.

Craighead Co.-Jonesboro Public Library funding issue featured during the NEA Political Animals debate

Industrial Maintenance Programmer J.D. Hagler (left) in a debate during the NEA Political Animals Club meeting on Oct. 28 against retired Chief Financial Officer Bill Harrison (center).   Hagler was defending proposals created by Citizens Taxed Enough and Citizens for Responsible Growth on the Nov. 8 ballot in Craighead County to cut the library's property tax income in half.  Harrison argued against the proposals on behalf of the group Save our Libraries.
Brandon Tabor
/
KASU News
Industrial Maintenance Programmer J.D. Hagler (left) in a debate during the NEA Political Animals Club meeting on Oct. 28 against retired Chief Financial Officer Bill Harrison (center). Hagler was defending proposals created by Citizens Taxed Enough and Citizens for Responsible Growth on the Nov. 8 ballot in Craighead County to cut the library's property tax income in half. Harrison argued against the proposals on behalf of the group Save our Libraries.

Representatives for-and-against proposals on the Nov. 8 ballot in Craighead County to cut the property tax revenue the local library would receive argued their points at the NEA Political Animals Club meeting on Oct. 28.

J.D. Hagler is an Industrial Maintenance Programmer who defended the proposals on behalf of the two groups who authored the measures, Citizens Taxed Enough and Citizens for Responsible Growth. Hagler accused the library for spending their million-dollar surplus on frivolous programs rather than on services help children improve their reading.

"If you want to do Zumba, you can do that [at the library]," Hagler said. "But we don't have anything that deals with dyslexia or neurodivergent learners, or executive functioning development. You have nothing in there that I would take my child to that would help them read better. So if that's what a library is concerned about, then they need to restructure what they're doing."

Hagler also argued that the library would still have enough revenue to operate with reduced tax revenue as property values are expected to increase in the near future.
However, retired Chief Financial Officer Bill Harrison disagreed.

Harrison spoke against the proposals on behalf of the group Save our Libraries. He said that cutting funds based on future property values could jeopardize the library's services and prevent it from addressing low literacy rates.

"They forecast large revenue increases despite falling real estate values," Harrison said in his opening statement. "And, their fully funded expense budget, is lower than the 2022 budget after six years of inflation in 2028."

Harrison repeatedly referred to the plan as "Pollyanna in rose colored glasses" throughout the debate.

"I couldn't live with a 50% revenue cut," Harrison said. "You couldn't live with a 50% revenue cut and certainly the library can't live without one without cutting it services."

Most of the debate was focused on the library's funding, however Hagler and Harrison were also questioned about the proposals seemingly being introduced as retaliation against the library's handling of a PRIDE month display in the children's section last year.

In June 2021, the library faced some backlash about the display in the children's section showcasing materials with sensitive content. In September 2022, proposals were added to the November ballot in Craighead County seeking to cut the library's funding.

When the moderator asked a question submitted by a member of the public if the proposals were an act of retaliation against the library, both sides for-and-against urged voters to separate the defunding proposals from the so-called "book controversy".

Harrison said books on the shelves that some patrons may disagree with is taken as a good sign by library workers.

"The librarian say that if there's not a book in the library, you don't like we haven't done our job in stacking the shelves properly," Harrison said. He then identified a book in the library that he, as a self-identified conservative, said he wouldn't check out.

"Somewhere on the library's bookshelf is Bernie Sanders: 'The Guide to American Revolution.' I found that book is tasteful, but I'm not going to check it out", said Harrison.

Hagler stressed that the main issue on the ballot is overfunding of the library, but he acknowledged that the "book controversy" will be a motivating factor for some voters.

"We can't deny that there's a number of parents out there that are going to vote on this issue based on how they feel about the library declining to move specific sexually graphic books to a parent section," Hagler said.

"I agree with [Harrison] that there's definitely books out there that I don't agree with. And other people are gonna want them in that library. But there are sections for those books for people to have access to them. And one of those sections is the parent section of the library."

The event was co-sponsored by content partners KAIT-TV and was held at the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce. You can watch the full debate below that was livestreamed on KAIT's Facebook page.

Corrected: November 2, 2022 at 4:57 AM CDT
Changed the name of Responsible Growth Arkansas to Citizens for Responsible Growth.
A Northeast Arkansas native from Wynne, I’ve been involved with radio for about 15 years. I got my Bachelor of Arts degree from Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, where I also served as an award-winning News Director for 2 years at KSWH-LP.