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Washington County Update - July 2, 2023

What happened last week?

  1. Washington County Jobs Evaluation Salary Administration Program (JESAP) met on 6/26

  2. The Washington County Election Commission met 6/27

  3. There was a special Quorum Court meeting on 6/28

  4. Intro to Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (AOFIA) on 6/28

  5. Veterans Coffee with VA Director Dr. Velez on 6/30


But first, we need your help! Here's the CALL TO ACTION for the week:

  • Study up on the 2020 Criminal Justice Assessment Study This document is why the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee (CJCC) was formed in November 2020 (but have made no major changes in our justice system)

  • Reach out to all Veterans Re: The PACT Act, whether they are receiving benefits now or in the past, or if they have been denied benefits in the past. For all Veterans who file for benefits before August 10, 2023, their application will be backdated and if approved, they will receive benefits from August, 2022.

  • Let Veterans know they can call 1-800-827-1000 and say, “I want to file for The PACT Act benefits.”

  • Let Veterans know they can also call Mr. Dykes at (479) 444-1767. He will be glad to help get the process started.


Here's a few facts from the data: Source: Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition

  • Since 2020, the crime rate has steadily declined in Arkansas

  • Crime is down 1.14% from 2020 to 2022

  • 7.39% is the lowest crime rate that Arkansas has had in FIVE YEARS.

  • In 2022, 55% of all crime in Arkansas was non-violent crimes against property

Armed with this intel, we can hold our elected officials accountable!


Back to the meetings from the week!

1. WASHINGTON COUNTY JOBS EVALUATION SALARY ADMINISTRATION PROGRAM (JESAP) met Monday, June 26, 2023, 3:30 PM, 5th Floor Conference Room, Washington County Courthouse, Fayetteville.


What you need to know from the JESAP meeting: (1) a proposal to hire a deputy County Attorney was approved (2) This proposal will cost taxpayers more money [surprise, surprise] (3) changes to the catastrophic six leave policy was tabled until next month.


Let’s dig into the Deputy County Attorney proposal.

  1. Who did they hire? Catherine Baker.

  2. Who is she? Ms. Baker was the attorney who reviewed all the WC nonprofit ARPA applications and deemed only eleven as "eligible."

  3. How much did we pay for that? $35,000 to review the applications.

  4. How much will she get paid as Deputy County Attorney (per current proposal)? $109,119.

  5. How much does our County Attorney get paid? $119,336.

Seems like a lot of taxpayer dollars to spend on Attorneys, especially when the current County Attorney won’t provide legal insights to sitting Justices of the Peace.


Here's a bit more detail: County Judge Patrick Deakins brought forward a motion to hire Catherine Baker as Deputy County Attorney. Ms. Baker was formerly (as of last month) an attorney with the NWA Economic Development District in Harrison. She was the one who reviewed all the WC nonprofit ARPA applications and deemed only eleven as "eligible."


The proposal to pay Ms. Baker $12,000 more than the current budgeted amount for that position was was unanimously approved by JESAP. The last deputy county attorney's salary was $60,000. The justification for hiring Ms. Baker and the increased pay is that she is knowledgeable in HR, grant writing, procurement laws, and contract law and "construction industry standards."


Changes to the catastrophic sick leave policy (as stated in the county policy manual) was tabled until next month to give the members more time to review and study possible consequences of the proposed changes.


2. WASHINGTON COUNTY ELECTION COMMISSION met Tuesday, June 27, 2023, 9:00 o’clock a.m. at the WC Road Department, 2615 South Brink Drive, Fayetteville.


We learned that the 2024 election is expected to be more than our current election equipment can handle. We will need to buy three new Express-Vote Machines, three this year and three in 2024. This will cost approximately $1.3 million (with approximately 38% being reimbursed by the state). This will be voted on at the Quorum Court meeting. I know Washington County has the absolute best Election Commission Director anywhere in Jennifer Price. She will always find a way to make things work.


3. SPECIAL WASHINGTON COUNTY QUORUM COURT meeting on Wednesday, June 28th, included a road trip around the county to look at operations of the county’s road department. We learned:

  • We have about 944 miles of roads to maintain.

  • 467 paved miles and 477 gravel miles.

  • We're on target to 75 miles of county roads 2023.

  • 10 of those miles will be asphalt and 765 will be chip and seal paving.

It was a fun day trip and good for the JPs to get to know each other outside the quorum courtroom setting. Sheriff Jay Cantrell and the staff at the sheriff’s office provided us with a delicious lunch.


We met some of the road department employees working out in the 100+ degree weather that day. I’m very appreciative of the road department and all that they do. Our roads and bridges are crucial to economic development, safety, access to education and services.


4. INTRODUCTION TO THE ARKANSAS FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT (AFOIA) was held Wednesday, June 28, 2023, 7:00 PM, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 224 N East Avenue, Fayetteville.


I led a discussion and gave information on why our AFOIA is one of the best in the country and we must work to keep it that way. We talked about how to make AFOIA requests, what to do if the request is not answered, what information is covered, public meetings and access, private entities and FOIA, and more.


I have three dozen copies of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Handbook prepared by the Attorney General’s Office which I will share with anyone interested. Just let me know and I’ll get you a copy.


5. VETERANS COFFEE WITH VA DIRECTOR DR. VELEZ Friday, June 30, 2023, 12:00 PM, 62 W North Street, Fayetteville.


Dr. Velez spoke about a strategic plan to increase the number of veterans served by 5% over the next five years. The plan is to grow clinical services, deal with data, mental health, physical rehabilitation and cardiology. Dr. Velez is looking at leasing opportunities in the area in order to reclaim clinical space in the hospital.


Dr. Velez and VA Director of Services, Ben Dykes, spoke about the PACT Act which was passed by Congress last August. The PACT Act expands VA health care and benefits for Veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances. For Veterans from VietNam forward, there is a “presumption” that those Veterans were likely exposed to some sort of toxin.


Veterans do not have to prove exposure, just that they were in a “theater” at a certain time period. Veterans and survivors should file claims for all conditions outlined in the PACT Act immediately. Covered conditions include, but are not limited to, brain cancer, respiratory cancer of any type, gastrointestinal cancer of any type, head cancer, Lymphoma, Pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer, and much, much more. You can learn more and sign up here.


Interesting Fact: Our VA Hospital is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.




UPCOMING MEETINGS & EVENTS:


A huge shout out of thanks to Mr. Tad Sours, our Director of Communications, for posting the county calendar on social media today! Check it out here.


As of today, there are NO county meetings posted on the Washington County website.

Enjoy the holiday!


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.


See you at the courthouse!

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