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Washington County News & Update 7/16/2023

HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED LAST WEEK:


UPDATE ON MY 2022 AFOIA LAWSUIT: In December of 2022, I obtained a judgment https://drive.google.com/file/d/1C0tQgqrJ4ft-nfdUx2YzEuO7RuCidprA/view?usp=sharing against Judge Wood, Brian Lester, Butch Pond, Lisa Ecke, Sidney Reynolds and Patty Burchett last December and was awarded $1,042.42 to be paid by defendants in their official capacities (for violation of Arkansas Freedom of Information Act). Repeated demand has been made and the county has refused to pay me. This writ of execution https://drive.google.com/file/d/1tnERA5akVVgLCg2Gau7DHdK0vDpcQQIJ/view?usp=sharing was filed Friday. The sheriff will serve the writ and confiscate sufficient county property to be sold at Sheriff’s Sale to satisfy my judgment. Has this ever happened?


The county is refusing to pay my judgment -- a debt which they owe -- causing me to incur additional fees and costs -- and causing Washington County taxpayers to incur additional fees and costs. Appeal time passed a long time ago.


The Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee met Tuesday. The meeting was good in that they talked about development of pretrial services.


For background, last year the full CJCC voted to move forward with pretrial services. Matt Durrett, Nick Robbins and Drew Smith asked me and Sarah Moore to meet with them and draft the ordinance and job descriptions. We did that and then it went nowhere.


Prosecutor Durrett brought it up at Tuesday's meeting. He said the committee "...should make a determination on pretrial services, do enough research to see what we need. Then figure out what we need in terms of staffing, community partners, etc. and make a proposal to submit to the full committee."


It was pointed out the two biggest drivers of the jail population are (1) FTAs and (2) continuances because defendants have not been in contact with their attorney.


Mike Parker with Probation & Parole, was onboard with pretrial service. He's been doing it for over twenty years, and "person to person works."


Leanna Houston said, "Pretrial services in drug court have 100% of people showing up."


The meeting concluded with a plan that Drew Smith, CJCC coordinator, and this subcommittee will work "via email exchanges" this month and come up with a plan to submit to the full CJCC next month.


Leanna Houston asked what would be different about this plan and the one they'd already voted on. Drew said that "when the new administration came in, that plan hadn't moved forward."


My fear is that they (the CJCC) will go too low ball and create a program that will not be successful, that we won’t think big enough to really make a difference, because if it’s not properly funded and, thus, not properly staffed, it will be starting off with a great disadvantage. With pretrial, you will certainly get what you pay for and I want us to have the best.


The Washington County Election Commission met Tuesday also and hosted an information and training session of county election commissioners, county clerks, and election coordinators. Representatives were present from the State Board of Election Commissioners and the Secretary of State. Our Washington County Election Coordinator, Jennifer Price, is always in the know and ahead of anything that’s going on with election laws in Arkansas.


The Washington County Planning Board met Thursday and unanimously approved (only four members were present) the following three Conditional Use Permits (CUP. Watch the meeting here: https://www.youtube.com/live/r7YGm8bec_0?feature=share


Three Conditional Use Permits (CUPs):


(a) Anytime Hauling, 22296 North WC 678, Summers, AR 72769, proposed commercial use, one acre, applicant Kevin Smith. Approved with staff conditions added;

(b) Wrapology, 4707 E Mission Blvd., Fayetteville, AR 72703, proposed commercial use, 0.86 acres. This business has already been operating for two years and the applicant was not aware until this year that he needed a permit from the county. ;

( c) Langham Shop Addition, 18946 Harmon Road, Fayetteville, AR 72704, proposed commercial warehouse, 2 acres, MOL. This warehouse will not be open to the public and will employ up to four employees. It will be mostly for storage of construction equipment and supplies. Two neighbors spoke against this CUP with concerns of incompatibility and loss of property values. The board added restrictions on operating hours - 7:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday through Saturday - closed Sundays.


The Washington County Quorum Court Finance & Budget Committee met Thursday. The entire meeting can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hu6sipvGXMs


You should watch the entire video if you haven’t already, though this was a short meeting, some very important actions occurred, including but not limited to:


Approved an Ordinance to finance four new dump trucks at a cost of $814,360 principal, plus interest at 6.62% for five years, to be paid for by road fund revenues. Judge Deakins said the financing was so the road department would have funds available now for projects that need attention. So instead of paying cash for the four trucks, we will make installment payments. What are your thoughts on this, pay cash or finance?


Approved an Ordinance to appropriate $150,000 for three Peer Recovery Support Specialist (PRSS) positions. The county anticipates being reimbursed for this by the State of Arkansas. Peer Support Specialists are individuals with lived experience with substance misuse and recovery. Through lived experience, shared understanding, respect, and mutual empowerment, PRSS supports others to stay engaged in the recovery process. The Drug Court in Madison County has had a PRSS for several months and has zero (0) failures to appear since installing the PRSS.


Approved an Ordinance appropriating $743,212.00 to cover 2023 budget shortfalls in insurance premiums for the county.


Our Fire and Extended Coverage insurance premiums were 77% more than budgeted for 2023. That makes our premium for this year almost One Million Dollars ($998,000+). There was zero discussion on what we should be doing to address why this happened. Certainly I know everything costs more and continues to cost more, and my own homeowner’s insurance increased 30% this year. However, what steps might the county take with regard to education, risk management, proactive steps to take to better manage our insurance costs, such as risk tolerance; claims management; coverages and exposures; risk transfer (such as paying for and providing a defense to Dr. Karas for “covered claims” - forever, or as long as the Statute of Limitations allow); quotes for insurance?


Approved an Ordinance appropriating $7,469.12 to cover an increase in the newly hired deputy county attorney’s salary for the remainder of 2023. This position was already budgeted for 2023 at $97,119, so adding $6,069.89 will bring her total salary to $109,258.78. The most recent (prior to this hire) deputy county attorney's salary was $60,000. Washington County Attorney Brian Lester’s salary is $119,336. The attorney at the Sheriff’s Office makes $90,145 annually.


When I asked the judge (who is chair of our committee) starting at 41:30 in the video about this and why we pay so much for lawyers when our neighbor up in Benton County contracts out for a civil attorney at $80,000 per year, his response was: “... plus we have a very good and active (@42:56 in video) citizenry body here in Washington County that keeps us very busy with the legal representation so, uh, too much to my chagrin we've had to bone up there in several years.”


WHAT’S HAPPENING THIS WEEK JULY 16, 2023: All these meetings are at the Washington County Courthouse, Quorum Court Room. All are in person meetings and only the Quorum Court meeting is live streamed:


1. WASHINGTON COUNTY CRIMINAL JUSTICE COORDINATING COMMITTEE (CJCC) COURTS SUBCOMMITTEE meets Tuesday, July 17, 2023, 12:00 PM. No agenda posted.


2. WASHINGTON COUNTY QUORUM COURT REGULAR MONTHLY MEETING Thursday, July 19, 2023, 6:00 PM. The agenda is here: https://www.washingtoncountyar.gov/home/showpublisheddocument/29434


Agenda Highlights & Concerns:


1. LIKELY SUPPORT: AN ORDINANCE AMENDING ORDINANCE 2018-50 TO UPDATE THE VACATION POLICY IN THE WASHINGTON COUNTY EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK. This is on for its third and final reading and will likely pass. I have not heard from any county employees about this and unless I hear otherwise, I will be voting “yes.” So if any county employees have concerns, please let me know before Thursday’s meeting.


2. STRONGLY OPPOSE: AN ORDINANCE TO ALLOW APPEALS OF THE WC PLANNING BOARD DECISIONS TO BE FILED DIRECTLY IN CIRCUIT COURT. This is a terrible idea (on for its second reading this month) and, if passed, will completely do away with the quorum court’s ability to hear appeals from the WC Planning Board. The process now is that an applicant files for a permit with the Planning Board. The Planning Board hears the request and votes either for or against. Then any party may appeal to the full Quorum Court. There’s no charge for filing that appeal and both sides come to the court and present their cases, either for or against, and we vote on it.


This ordinance will be unfair to the average citizen and will place a heavy burden on those who cannot afford to hire and pay for lawyers, engineers and experts to testify as to loss of land values, compatibility, loss of enjoyment of property, etc .


Hearing appeals is our job and we knew it when we ran for office. Let’s just do our job and help the people we were elected to serve. Why are we, the Quorum Court, even considering giving up more of our legislative authority? Is it even legal? What about “exhaustion of remedies?” Will this harm or help our community members?


3. HIGHLY SUPPORT: AN ORDINANCE AMENDING THE ARPA FUND BUDGET FOR 2023. This is the ordinance I am sponsoring to award grants of American Rescue Plan Act money to local nonprofits - non governmental organizations (NGOs) totaling $598,117.00. This is on for its second reading.


Last year then County Judge Joseph Wood said the county would set aside ten percent or $2.3M for nonprofits. Actually ten percent would be $4.3M, not $2.3, but anyway, that’s what he said.


At the first reading last month, four JPs voted against funding the nonprofits. They were District 1 JP Coleman Taylor; District 5 JP Kyle Lyons; District 6 JP Lisa Ecke; and District 7 JP Charles Dean.


District 2 JP David Wilson and District 13 JP Willie Leming were absent. District 4 is still vacant.


I would love to hear from constituents on any questions or comments you have about any agenda item, or any concerns.



WASHINGTON COUNTY CRIMINAL JUSTICE COORDINATING COMMITTEE (CJCC) PROGRAMS SUBCOMMITTEE meets Friday, July 21, 2023, 12:00 PM. No agenda posted.




CALLS TO ACTION:

* Attend both CJCC subcommittee meetings.

* Attend the regular WC Quorum Court meeting Thursday. Take advantage of the fifteen (15) minute public comment period at the beginning of the meeting and the twelve (12) minute public comment period before the vote on any ordinance. We need a huge community showing for Thursday’s meeting. Show up! Speak up! Keep showing up and speaking up!

* Before Thursday’s QC meeting, call and write all JPs and Judge Deakins. Tell them you want all the nonprofits funded with ARPA grants. Tell the county it should keep its word.

* Get to know your JPs, the County Judge, and Sheriff Cantrell. Tell them you want pretrial services in Washington County.

* Read the Criminal Justice Assessment Study https://drive.google.com/file/d/17m7hr9qfgx61LxJOZC4FuQzk93brB6ZQ/view?usp=sharing and learn what we should be doing to address jail over incarceration, i.e., pretrial services, expanded drug and veterans court, supportive housing, mental health court, sobering center, drug addiction and alcohol addiction treatment, education, job training, paying the public defender’s equal to the prosecutors, and more.




I welcome your questions and comments, also suggestions you have for any county related business. You can reach me at ejcoger@gmail.com or text or call 479-306-9994.


Here’s the link to email addresses and telephone numbers for JPs, County Judge, and others.


See you at the courthouse!


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