Benton, Bryant Mayors Share their Views

On April 17, the Saline County Quorum Court passed an ordinance suggesting the county libraries take measures to limit access to certain books in the children’s sections. The Saline County Library System has two locations – the Bob Herzfeld Memorial Library in Benton (which also serves as system headquarters) and the Mabel Boswell Memorial Library in Bryant. We contacted Mayor Tom Farmer of Benton and Mayor Allen Scott of Bryant. Each sat for a face-to-face interview at their respective City Hall.

Benton, Arkansas is the county seat for Saline County. It is also the largest city in the county with a population of 35,675 residents in 2021. The city covers 23.42 square miles.

Mayor Farmer is currently serving his second term in office. In 2018 he won in a three-candidate race without the need for a runoff, followed by a 2022 election in which he ran unopposed.

Mayor Farmer sat down for an interview on May 1. Also present during the interview was Matt Thibault, Marketing Director for the City of Benton. In a statement issued to this writer prior to our interview, Mayor Farmer expressed his support of the quorum court related to the resolution, stating he is “the grandparent of seven kids.”

“Thank you to the Quorum Court for taking into consideration all views of the people before they made a decision on how to protect our children. They had a hard decision to make but I truly believe they made the right decision. We have to protect our children. Our children are our most precious blessing we will ever receive and as adults we have a responsibility to protect them, so thank you to the quorum court for taking the actions they took.”

In specific reference to the resolution, Mayor Farmer stated that he wasn’t aware of it before it came up at the April 17 quorum court meeting. He also stated that he had not seen a video of the meeting that particular night. He also stated that “The resolution wasn’t about banning books, was it?”

When asked if he would support defunding or reducing funding for the library, Mayor Farmer responded, “Number one I don’t even know how the library is funded.” Regarding the banning of books, he said “I believe there’s age-appropriate books that should be displayed to the proper aged. You know, like my grandkids, I’ve got a six-year-old grandson. When I was in school there wasn’t but maybe 20 books for that age. I will say this though, the library is different now than what it was 50 years ago or 30 years ago or even 20. I didn’t know that the library checked out kayaks or fishing poles or chocolate fountains or cake pans. Or get a passport or help you with your GED. When you think of our library, and ours is completely different, when you think of a library you go in there, you get a book and you quietly sit down and you read. There’s no noise. Just a peaceful environment. Well, our library is, there’s things going on all the time.” He continued by saying, “It’s not just a place to go get books. That’s what impressed me most about the library.”

Bryant, Arkansas is the second largest city in Saline County with a population of 21,073 in 2021 covering an area of 20.58 square miles.

Mayor Scott is currently serving his second term as mayor. His first race in 2018 was where he defeated incumbent Mayor Jill Dabbs. In 2022, he defeated challenger Rhonda Sanders. Before running for mayor, he served six years as an elected member of the Bryant City Council.

Mayor Scott is currently serving his second term as mayor. His first race in 2018 was where he defeated incumbent Mayor Jill Dabbs. In 2022, he defeated challenger Rhonda Sanders. Before running for mayor, he served six years as an elected member of the Bryant City Council.

Regarding the resolution passed on April 17 by the quorum court, Mayor Scott says he was not contacted about it. “They did not contact me, but I will say I contacted my JP (Justice of the Peace) Justin Rue, me and my wife both, and expressed our thoughts and opinions on what he should do. And, honestly, I think that’s what he did, but, honestly, I didn’t check on the vote to see if he voted yea or nay on it. My thought was on that, and this is my thought on libraries in general, is they’re a great repository of information and they are a place where people can go to get that information free and look at it. I think the librarians already do a good job of putting age-appropriate books where they belong. If a parent does not want their child to look at that age-appropriate book, I think it’s up to the parent to make that decision, not quorum courts or state law.”

When asked if he had been contacted by anyone from the quorum court or county government contact him after the vote on the resolution, Mayor Scott responded, “No, not really. I had a lunch date with Mayor Farmer and (County) Judge Brumley a few days after that. We have a standing lunch date once a month and we talked about it. He (Judge Brumley) said it was a wild show. We (Bryant) had a couple of special meetings that night and I didn’t get to watch it, but when I got home my wife was watching it. She said it was really interesting, some of the comments.” He went on to say that he couldn’t recall anyone coming to him and commenting about the resolution. “I think people in Bryant understand that it’s a county library. It’s not governed by the city at all. We have no say in the operation of it. I’m grateful that it’s here, I’m glad that it’s here.”

Mayor Scott then returned to the topic of the resolution in question. “I’ve since understood after the fact of that meeting that the quorum court didn’t consult with the head librarian with the Saline County Library to formulate that resolution to make sure it met what it really needed to meet. I think that’s unfortunate because they could have made a better resolution and one that would actually be effective, I think, if they would have done that.”

Even though actions of the quorum court did not mention “book banning”, this phrase has been part of the local discussion among various individuals and groups. Mayor Scott talked about his thoughts on the subject.

“(Book banning) has already been around for years. People have been working on that and a god classic example of a book that I remember years ago was “Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie. No one had ever heard of that book until someone started making a hoopla about it and then it became a bestseller. It was the best thing I can imagine that would happen to him and that book. Honestly, I think that’s what happens a lot of times when people try to ban books. One, I think it’s ineffective and it’s wrong, because I don’t need somebody telling me what books I should or should not read, just like I should not tell somebody else what books they should or should not read. That’s my choice, my thoughts and my opinion. I like to read a wide variety of books. Some are really off-the-wall and some are just historical and fact, and that’s fine. But it’s my choice what I read and not anyone else’s.”

Throughout 2021, the Saline County Library sought feedback from residents, library visitors, elected officials and local industries to formulate a Strategic Plan for growth in the years 2022 through 2025. In the finished document, there is a quote from Mayor Scott that reads, “I would like to see the library push inclusivity more by reaching out to fringe population groups and the underserved areas of our community.” We asked him if he still stands by this statement.

“Yes, absolutely”, he said. “And that’s one of things as a mayor that I’ve been trying to do as well because the fringe groups really don’t have a voice in city government. And I understand that from some of them because they are afraid of city government. They may be marginalized, they may be Hispanic and they may feel like sometimes they’re not welcomed, which is unfortunate, because as far as I’m concerned everybody is welcome and everybody has a voice and they’re more than welcome to come give that voice. Just like, if they are residents and they meet the qualifications, run for office, run for council.”

Finally, we asked Mayor Scott for his view on cutting back funding or defunding the library.

“I personally don’t think they should because if they do that, they are going to have to reduce services. That will hit those marginalized populations. People rely on the library to check out a book or work on a computer, write a resume, different things like that. Without those services there, those people won’t be able to do that. It will be a snowball effect, I think. I definitely think funding should not be reduced.”

NEXT: An Alliance is Formed


Saline County Library Strategic Plan

Interviews with Mayor Farmer and Mayor Scott, conducted by members of the Strategic Plan Committee

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