County Officials respond to Resolution Reactions

The April 17 meeting of the Saline County Quorum Court included a resolution to suggest the county library system “ensure that materials contained within the children’s section of the library are subject matter and age appropriate.”

Justices of the Peace Jim Whitley (District 10) and Clint Chism (District 11) were co-sponsors of the resolution. We reached out to both of them, as well as Saline County Judge Matt Brumley for interviews. As of this posting, only JP Chism agreed to a face-to-face conversation.  Initial contact with each began via email on April 24.

Judge Brumley left a voicemail with this writer on May 1, followed by an email from him on May 4 with the following statement: “I want to first thank you for reaching out. As I communicated in the voice mail I left for you, I am going to respectfully decline an interview. Your questions on ‘my stance on book banning, defunding the library or cutting funding’ are subjects that have not been addressed nor entertained by Saline County Government. My team and I remain laser focused on county government efforts that positively affect our citizens.”

As of 4:30 p.m. on May 8, no response from JP Whitley has been received. Attempts to secure an interview or a statement from JP Whitley through a third party were also unsuccessful.

JP Chism was interviewed at his place of business, Rooster’s Main Street Barber Shop in Benton, on April 25.

Chism spoke of why he became involved with the resolution.

“I’ve been pretty vocal on Facebook and I’m going to tell you why.”, said Chism. “Because of the rumors and everything that’s been flying around, I’m trying to set the record straight. All that I can speak of, and I’m not speaking for all of the Justices of Peace, I’m going to speak for myself and what I did on the resolution before the quorum court. I can’t speak for those guys but, you know, we’ve got some good quorum court members. We’ve got some guys that are common sense and they’re going to vote their conscience. This is not a political thing, we’ve been accused of camaraderie, of always voting with one another. The quorum court is public record. There’s no secrets that go on up there.”

Chism talked about the first time he became aware of the book issue.

“At the end of the March (Quorum Court) meeting, a lady stood. She had three or four books, I didn’t count them, and she said I got books here that I went over to the public library and checked out. I thought you might want to be aware of what’s in these books. When the meeting was over, my recollection is that me and Jimmy Whitley, we caught her before she left. I wanted to see what she was talking about. I was concerned.” Chism recalls. “When I looked at the books and read some of what was in it, I was like ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. I had no idea.’”

He continued, “The next meeting (April), Jimmy called me and asked would I like to sponsor this resolution. I told him I wanted to see it first. I won’t put my name on something I ain’t seen. So he sent me the resolution that he had drawn up and I said, hey man, put me on it.”

Chism spoke on the confusion and information that has spread about the resolution.

“I don’t mind saying this. I feel like some of this is my fault and I’m going to tell you why. The quorum court appoints members on the library board. When one of them goes off, the librarian always sends a request for who they think should be put on in their place. To be honest with you, we have a liaison for the library. I’m not a sheriff. I’m not a county clerk. I don’t know how to run that place down there. I’m not an assessor. So you have to put a certain amount of trust in people, until they prove otherwise. Our main job on the quorum court is the budget of the county. We oversee the budget of the county and take care of the budget every year at the first of the year. Just make sure the ‘I’s are dotted and the ‘t’s are crossed. That’s our job. It’s not my job to run the jail or the library. So I have to put a certain amount of trust in these people. I’m not saying I don’t ever check into this or that, but for the most part, it’s done on a trust basis. So I trusted the library. I would have never thought that was in there. But what I’m saying when I say ‘my fault’, I think we need to take a bit of the fault, if you want to say it, because we’ve appointed these people on the board. I would think maybe they know what’s in there. Maybe they don’t. These are not sex education books that we are talking about. If you can’t print it in your blog (Common Man Gazette) or in the Democrat Gazette, that ain’t good.”

Chism then discussed feedback he has received.

“When this first started, I can’t tell you how many teachers have gotten hold of me. Either called me, emailed me, and I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to tell them we are talking about anal sex here. I didn’t want to tell some retired teacher. I just didn’t.” he said. “And now, I think it was a mistake at the quorum court meeting that night. Matt (County Judge Brumley) said ‘hey, we’re not gonna read that up here. There’s some children in here’. I didn’t think about that, that’s good. But then, when I walked out of there and all the backlash happened I thought, you know what, surely these people don’t know what we are talking about or they wouldn’t stand up for this. If they are, I’m totally surprised.”

Finally, Chism spoke about why a resolution was needed in light of the upcoming law, SB 81, which became Act 372, that addresses the same issue.

“I don’t know how many other quorum court members knew about SB 81, but I didn’t know anything about it. I’m not gonna lie to you and say ‘Yes I knew all about it’ but I didn’t. When I did find out about SB 81, I got a copy of it. I read it. I understand some of it. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t understand some of it but I’m going to get (State Senator Kim) Hammer to explain it to me. I think I understand the gist of it.” Chism said. “The best way I know how to explain why I’m voting for it is that I got to thinking that, if my children were little and somebody threw a Hustler magazine in my front yard, and this might not be a good scenario, and my kids play outside, how long am I going to let that lay there if I see it before I go pick it up and throw it in the trash. And when that came to question (before the quorum court) I said, hey, this isn’t a political thing and I can honestly say that the people up there (quorum court) they just want to do the right thing. To me it’s about protecting the children. This is a personal thing with me. Children can be damaged by learning things too young. Their minds aren’t mature enough to be able to handle some of this. This isn’t sex education as far as how do you keep from getting pregnant. Some kids might be able to look at some of this and go on about their merry way and never think another thing about it. But you take some kids, and maybe some kids from a good home, and maybe some kids are living in an unsafe home that isn’t stable, maybe one parent, maybe they’ve been molested. I know these are all assuming, and then they go over there and they get their minds and hands on this kind of stuff and then maybe find this acceptance from somebody they aren’t getting at home maybe. I just saying it can be harmful to these children. They’ve got this stuff in front of them and learning stuff way before their minds are ready for it. I personally know some people that has happened to, some of them still trying to dig out of it and that’s been years ago. I know that for a fact. But I’ve also talked to some social workers about some of this stuff. That’s how the resolution came about.”

When asked if there had been a lack of due diligence by the quorum court with the library staff before voting on the resolution, Chism responded, “I know where they are going with this, but when I read what I read, I didn’t have any questions for them. I don’t have anything against anyone over at the library. I don’t know the librarian or the workers over there. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t have anything bad to say about them. But when I read what I read, I didn’t have any questions. What’s this doing in front of our children, grandchildren? To me it has no business there. I can only speak for myself. This has nothing to do with LBGTQ. This has nothing to do with race. Now, I will say this. If it’s two gay guys or two women that’s got sexual content, it needs to be moved. But if it’s just two mommas raising a family or two daddies raising a family, that ain’t none of my business. If it doesn’t have sexual content in it, leave it where it’s at. I don’t have a problem with that. That’s the world we live in today. But my only questions for them would be why is this in here?”

In response to defunding the library or book bans, Chism said, “I would never ban books. I don’t believe in it. I don’t believe banning books is right. I would never defund the library. There’s a lot of people get a lot of good out of that library. There’s a lot of people who don’t have access to Wi-Fi, internet, computers. That’s how all these kids have to do their homework now. Once that’s gone and those kids don’t have that where they can go to, hey, I don’t know what would happen to them. That’s a bad thing all around to start talking about defunding the library. The quorum court never, ever mentioned anything about banning books or defunding the library inside of meetings or outside of meetings. Never heard that. Like I said, I can’t talk for all quorum court members, I don’t know where all of their heads are, but I don’t think the majority of them would be for defunding the library.”

Chism was born and raised in Benton and Saline County. He attended Benton Public Schools. “I was a Bulldog and then a Panther”, said Chism, referring to the mascots for West Side Junior High and Benton High School, respectively. His early work experiences ranged from working at Jacuzzi in Little Rock, to Pinecrest Cemetery to local construction work. Eventually, he was employed at Saline Memorial Hospital in the maintenance department for 20 years. He then partnered with his uncle as a paint contractor for six years. “I’ve worn many different hats.” he said.

The work was hard and the days were long. “One day I came home and my wife, Denise, said, ‘You’re killing yourself. Why don’t you go do something you enjoy? You’ve talked about being a barber ever since I’ve known you. Why don’t you think about that?’” Chism was convinced. After completing Barber School in 2006, he opened his shop in Downtown Benton and has been there ever since. With a location convenient to the courthouse, his shop has become a bit of a hangout for locals with lively conversations on a wide variety of topics ranging from politics to religion. He had plans to cut back to two days a week, but his grandson will finish Barber School in June and join him. Chism plans to turn the shop over to him and eventually cut back to one or two days a week while his grandson works full time.

This is Chism’s first venture into politics and public office. “If you would have told me ten years ago that I would be holding elected position in Saline County, I would have said you are crazy.” he said. However, Chism says he felt the time was right to get involved and is grateful to those voters in his district and the faith they have shown him.

Next: The mayors of Benton and Bryant are interviewed.

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