Winter 2022 County Lines

Page 1

County Lines

Winter 2022

Project Blueprint Steel industry to grow in Mississippi County. County. Page 24


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In This Issue Winter 2022

COVER STORY U.S. Steel to Locate in Mississippi County....................................24

Features AAC Calendar.......................................................................................6 Explaining the Arkansas Unpaved Roads Program ...................32 American Rescue Plan Hits Anniversary......................................34 AAC Board Profile: Deanna Sivley..................................................36 AAC Staff Profile: Amanda Freudensprung..................................37

AAC Photo Recap: County Sheriffs............................................43 AAC Photo Recap: County Collectors...........................................44


From the Director’s Desk...................................................................7 President’sPerspective....................................................................11 From the Governor............................................................................13 AAC Research Corner.......................................................................14 Seems to Me..................................................................................... 18 Governmental Affairs.......................................................................20

AAC Staff Profile: Shantina Osborn...............................................37

Legal Corner.......................................................................................22

AAC Photo Recap: County Treasurers..........................................39

Risk Management Services............................................................26

AAC Photo Recap: County Clerks...............................................40

Litigation Lessons.............................................................................27

AAC Photo Recap: County Judges.................................................41

Wellness & Safety............................................................................30

AAC Photo Recap: County Coroners..............................................42

News from NACo...............................................................................46

Cover Notes: Project Blueprint

( P hoto provided b y United States Steel)

United States Steel Corp. announced Jan. 11 it would locate a new $3 billion steel factory in Osceola (Mississippi County), a move expected to create 900 jobs with an average pay over $100,000 annually. It is the largest capital investment project in Arkansas history. Mississippi County also is home to Nucor and BRS. It has become the largest county in the U.S. for steel production. Billions of dollars of infrastructure investment and thousands of jobs in the region rely on the steel industry. There are more than 20 steel-related businesses in the county employing more than 3,600 workers. See the story on page 24. — Photo provided by United States Steel






AAC Mission Statement

June 5-8 Sheriffs Embassy Suites, Rogers

June 22-24 Treasurers Cobblestone Inn, Fairfield Bay

June 6-8 Collectors Cobblestone, Fairfield Bay

June 22-24 Judges Hotel Hot Springs, Hot Springs

June 15-17 Circuit Clerks The Graduate, Fayetteville

June 27-30 County Clerks Cobblestone Inn, Fairfield Bay

June 20-24 Assessors Ozark Folk Center, Mountain View

Aug. 10-12 AAC Annual Conference Hot Springs Convention Center

Calendar activities also are posted on our website:

Contact AAC Chris Villines, Executive Director Anne Baker, Executive Assistant


he Association of Arkansas Counties supports and promotes the idea that all elected officials must have the opportunity to act together in order to solve mutual problems as a unified group. To further this goal, the Association of Arkansas Counties is committed to providing a single source of cooperative support and information for all counties and county and district officials. The overall purpose of the Association of Arkansas Counties is to work for the improvement of county government in the state of Arkansas. The Association accomplishes this purpose by providing legislative representation, on-site assistance, general research, training, various publications and conferences to assist county officials in carrying out the duties and responsibilities of their office.

1415 West Third Street Little Rock, AR 72201 (501) 372-7550 phone / (501) 372-0611 fax Mark Harrell, IT Manager Ellen Wood, Admin. Asst./Receptionist

Risk Management/ Workers’ Compensation

Brandy McAllister, RMS Counsel

Christy L. Smith, Communications Director

Debbie Norman, Risk Mgmt. & Insurance Director Colin Jorgensen, RMF Litigation Counsel Debbie Lakey, Workers’ Comp Claims Mgr. JaNan Thomas, RMF Litigation Counsel Cathy Perry, Program Analyst Melissa Dugger, RMF Litigation Counsel Kim Nash, Workers’ Comp Claims Adjuster Camille Neemann, RMF Litigation Counsel Renee Turner,Workers’ Comp Claims Adjuster Fonda Fitzgerald, RMF Paralegal Riley Groover, Claims Analyst

Caitlin Brown, Communications Coordinator

Greg Hunt, Claims Analyst

Karan Skarda, ACE Program Coordinator

Samantha Wren, RMF Paralegal Kim Mitchell, Premium Analyst

Cindy Posey, Accountant

Karen Bell, Program Assistant Becky Comet, Member Benefits Manager

Amanda Freudensprung, Receptionist/ Law Clerk

Eddie Jones, Consultant Mark Whitmore, Chief Legal Counsel Josh Curtis, Governmental Affairs Director Lindsey French, Legal Counsel


Shantina Osborn, RMF Paralegal



County Lines County Lines [(ISSN 2576-1137 (print) and ISSN 2576-1145 (online)] is the official publication of the AAC. It is published quarterly. For advertising inquiries, subscriptions or other information, please contact Christy L. Smith at 501.372.7550. Executive Director/Publisher Chris Villines Communications Director/ Managing Editor Christy L. Smith Communications Coordinator/ Editor Caitlin Brown

AAC Executive Board: Debbie Wise – President Brandon Ellison – Vice President Jimmy Hart – Secretary-Treasurer Tommy Young Deanna Sivley Debra Buckner Dana Baker Kevin Cleghorn Terry McNatt Debbie Cross Brenda DeShields Ellen Foote Doug Curtis Gerone Hobbs Marty Boyd John Montgomery Heather Stevens Randy Higgins National Association of Counties (NACo) Board Affiliations Debbie Wise: NACo board member. She is Randolph County Circuit Clerk and president of the AAC Board of Directors. Brandon Ellison: NACo board member. He is Polk County Judge and vice-president of the AAC Board of Directors. Ted Harden: Finance & Intergovernmental Affairs Steering Committee. He is a member of the Jefferson County Quorum Court. David Hudson: Vice-Chair of Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee. He is Sebastian Co. Judge and member of Rural Action Caucus Steering Committee and IT Standing Committee. Barry Hyde: Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee. He is the Pulaski County Judge. Rusty McMillon: Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee. He is Greene County Judge Joseph Wood: Community, Economic and Workforce Development Steering Committee. He is Washington County Judge. Kevin Smith: IT Standing Committee. He is the Sebastian County Director of Information Technology Services. Gerone Hobbs: Membership Committee. He is the Pulaski County Coroner. Paul Elliott: Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee, vice-chair of law enforcement subcommittee. He is a member of the Pulaski County Quorum Court. Ellen Foote: Community, Economic & Workforce Development Steering Committee. She is the Crittenden County Tax Collector. Tawanna Brown:Telecommunications & Technology Steering Committee. She is Crittenden County Chief Computer Operator.



A hat tip to county and state officials for their dedication


s I write this, our world is lurching back to life. The COVID pandemic, while not over, has hopefully seen its highest tide and will ebb and Chris Villines AAC flow lightly until it becomes similar to an outExecutive Director break of colds or disappears altogether. But getting to that point may prove to be more awkward to our strained society than the rapid ramp up to masking and thermometers was on the front end. In the span of the last 72 hours, I went to an airport and boarded a plane on the first day of no mask requirements, then returned to the AAC offices only to find an employee has tested positive and masks were in order again within our building. We’ve shelved our thermometer but may need it again. I suspect all of you in courthouses around the state will be experiencing this same type of sputtering return to life that we are. Of course, I wish, as do all of you, that we could snap our fingers and this would be all over like a bad dream. This has been a difficult time and in its wake is a new world, with good people gone, work from home a new normal, a worn-out workforce and inflationary pressures, which concern me for our county government. We will see a record number of newly elected officials this year and, in my opinion, this stems from two specific factors: First, we are for the first time nearing the end of a four-year term. It is logical that the turnover would double compared to our historical two-year terms. Second, managing offices of people during the covid pandemic has been extremely difficult — I say especially so in county government. I’ve written about this before, but it is worth mentioning again … county offices (and all front-facing government for that matter) were in the unenviable position of not being able to work from home during the pandemic. We provide necessary, not optional, services to the public and most of these services simply cannot be performed remotely. Furthermore, the need for these services may have slowed during the pandemic, but they never ceased. My hat is tipped to all of you for making this somehow work even during our scariest days of virus spread and hospitalizations. As we move into the new future, we face a workforce that is now accustomed to being able to work from home in many jobs in the private sector. This will make it difficult for counties to recruit and retain employees. As if this pressure wasn’t enough, add in the inflationary issues and rising wages, which the private sector can adjust to quickly. County governments are funded through very slow to change mechanisms such as sales taxes and property taxes. Meanwhile we will have to hire from a pool of workers now seeing four-figure sign-on bonuses from our labor competitors. The CARES Act and ARP money has proven helpful for many of our counties to provide one-time payments, but I’m afraid two or three years down the road, if wage inflation doesn’t subside, we will be looking at the south end of a northbound train. I urge all of you to look at our wages and constantly compare them to the private sector in your county, remembering all the while that our >>> 7



employees must be physically present in our offices, not projects for our state’s schools which are feeling incredible working from home. inflationary pressures. I’m beginning to sound a little bit like Eeyore from WinSchool millage increases, once thought to fund in excess nie the Pooh. It is absotheir needed construction lutely not my intent to be projects, now fall short a Debbie Downer. What I with rising capital costs. want you to do, as counGovernor Hutchinson is s you are looking at the future needs for ties, is to be cognizant wisely asking that some that these pressures exist of this surplus be set aside your counties, please remember that inflaand may even worsen to offset these increasing over time. The best way costs. Meanwhile he’d like tionary pricing will affect everything we are lookto deal with problems is to strike a balance with ing to accomplish. Setting aside the funds now, to plan for them now — returning some of the something our counties surplus to the taxpayers with a keen eye on these increases, will help you are very skilled at. The of Arkansas. Governor recently held a As you are looking at accomplish your goals more easily. session with the media, the future needs for your at which he announced counties, please remember an incredible surplus for that inflationary pricour state. Be wise though, ing will affect everything this surplus is made larger by the fact that so much federal we are looking to accomplish. Setting aside the funds now, money (CARES Act, ARP, Infrastructure etc.) has flowed with a keen eye on these increases, will help you accomplish into state coffers. What I found interesting, and I praise the your goals more easily. As billionaire Warren Buffett once Governor for recognizing it, is that we have many capital said, “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone


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AAC planted a tree a long time ago.” ••• Speaking of county needs, I am extremely proud of two major accomplishments in the 2022 Fiscal Session. Both involve law enforcement, and both are the result of many months of work among a coalition of Governor Hutchinson, Speaker of the House Matthew Shepherd, President Pro-Tempore Jimmy Hickey, Arkansas Sheriffs Association Director Scott Bradley, Chiefs of Police Director Gary Sipes, AAC policy team members, and law enforcement personnel from across the state. First, we are facing a crisis at a local level hiring and retaining certified law enforcement officers (LEOs). Many of you have been working on this issue and we are seeing rises in LEO pay in many of our counties. The state, both aware of this crisis and invested in supporting LEOs, worked with the coalition to offer a $5,000 one-time stipend to specific LEOs



in our state. This move seeks to stimulate local governments to follow this with increased pay. In addition to this, many members of the coalition also worked towards addressing our under-funding of counties to operate jails. Our statewide average cost in 2021 to house state prisoners in our jails (a fifteen-jail sample) was more than $60 per day. The state, however, pays counties only $32 per day. I cannot tell you how thankful we are to the Governor, President Pro-Tempore, and Speaker for their leadership in helping to move the needle closer to actual costs. The Fiscal Session resulted in the largest increase in recent years for jail reimbursement by moving the pay from $32 per day to $40 per day. It is so refreshing to see government openly and vocally support its law enforcement. This is not the case in some states, and I point to a quote from Robert Kennedy that rings true today, “Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.” I am thankful and blessed to live in a state that has this level of respect for her officers.

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Let your voice be heard through NACo


had the honor and pleasure of attending the National Association of Counties (NACo) 2022 Legislative Conference, held in Washington, D.C., in February. The four-day event brings together nearly 2,200 county officials from across the country. These national meetings offer an opportunity for association board members and executive directors, as well as elected officials, to visit, network and learn what is happening at the county level in various states. I also find it valuable to attend the Legislative Conference because it gives county officials the opportunity to meet and to educate federal government officials about the needs in our communities. This year’s Legislative Conference focused heavily on the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, both of which infused many dollars and resources into county government, the likes of which we have never seen before. There were several breakout sessions focusing on how to maximize the funding and how to tap into new resources. More importantly, there were opportunities to ask policy experts specific questions about the ARPA and the infrastructure package. There also was a meet and greet with representatives from several federal agencies. County officials visited with those representatives over coffee and walked away with a better idea of how federal agencies can work with counties. Some of the dignitaries who joined us in person were Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who discussed efforts to make the application process for infrastructure dollars simple for counties and a focus on making sure rural counties can access that funding; and U.S. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who compared the impact of the coronavirus pandemic to the “domestic version of World War II,” a view that

prompted him co-sponsor legislation to give counties more flexibility when it came to spending CARES Act and ARPA funding. President Biden also spoke to attendees about the ARPA and infrastructure package, the progress DEBBIE WISE our country has made in vaccinatAAC Board President; ing people against COVID-19, and Randolph County Circuit Clerk the recovering economy. As a former New Castle County, Delaware Council member, he knows we are on the frontlines of public service and admitted that federal officials need the counties’ input on local needs. So, I encourage you to become involved in NACo. Every county in Arkansas is a member thanks to the Association of Arkansas Counties (AAC), which pays the NACo membership dues. As a county or district official, you can become as involved in NACo as you like — from attending NACo meetings to serving on a committee, caucus, task force or advisory board. Arkansas counties will be well represented at NACo’s 2022 Annual Conference & Exposition, to be held in Adams County, Colorado, July 21-24. If you haven’t already registered to attend, I encourage you to do so. Let your voice be heard.

Debbie Wise Debbie Wise Randolph County Circuit Clerk / AAC Board President

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Showing appreciation for our Law Enforcement Officers

he 93rd General Assembly wrapped up its fiscal session, and I’d like to commend legislators for their support of law enforcement in Arkansas. The 93rd General Assembly was one of the most law enforcement friendly sessions ever. Legislators voted to fund stipends, pay raises, new positions, and equipment. They increased the reimbursement to county jails for the care of state prisoners and allocated money for the expansion of a prison in Calico Rock. Legislators and leaders of law enforcement joined me at a table in the rotunda as I signed three bills that the General Assembly passed with unanimous bipartisan support. The new laws were recommendations from a task force which I created during the national unrest that swept the nation after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in the summer of 2020. At the time, protesters around the country were burning buildings in cities. Many demanded that cities slash spending on police departments or disband them altogether. When I introduced the task force, I stated clearly that there would be no discussions of diminishing our support of law enforcement. The task force’s mission was to find ways that the state and cities could support law enforcement. I wanted to ensure that officers were as safe on the job as humanly possible. I wanted to improve the relationship between police officers and their communities. This is why I signed into law 3 bills that support our police officers across the state. Senate Bill 103 grants a onetime stipend of $5,000 to full-time certified city and county law enforcement officers and full-time certified state Department of Corrections probation and parole officers. The bill gives a one-time stipend of $2,000 to fulltime certified state troopers and other certified law enforcement officers of the Department of Public Safety. Officers who are employed by July 1 of this year, or who are

hired by January 3 of next year, are eligible for the stipend. The bonus is a show of appreciation for our current officers, and it’s also a recruiting tool as we seek to hire great officers. House Bill 1026, which Hon. ASA became Act 223, increases the averHuTCHINSON age annual starting salary for state Governor of Arkansas troopers from around $42,000 to $54,000. That raises the salary by more than $11,000. The raise moves us up in the rankings in surrounding states from seventh for starting salaries to second. Act 223 also funds salaries for five more forensic employees for the Arkansas Crime Lab to accelerate the testing of sexual assault kits, which must be completed within 60 days of submission. Act 225 includes money to fund a prison construction project at Calico Rock. This is important to assure space for those who are currently backed up in our county jails. It also provides $10 million for body cameras, bullet-proof vests, and other equipment that will improve safety for officers and build community confidence in their professionalism. Government has no greater responsibility than to assure public safety. We also owe it to our police officers, who risk their lives every day to keep us safe and to provide cuttingedge training and the best equipment to keep them on the job and safe from their work. Our support of law enforcement did not begin with the 93rd General Assembly, but we certainly put an exclamation point on our support this year.

Asa Hutchinson The Honorable Asa Hutchinson Governor of Arkansas

We want to hear from YOU Tell us your good news. Be sure to let us know if an aspect of county government “made news” recently in your county. Or if your county officials or staff get an award, appointment or pat on the back. We want the whole state to know about your successes and accomplishments. Contact Communications Director Christy L. Smith at





The Criminal Justice System in Arkansas: Where we’ve been and where we are heading


he criminal justice system in Arkansas has traditionally been reactionary. The few times the system attempted to be proactive the plans enacted into law were not fully funded or fully implemented. However, we have made significant strides bending the growth curve on criminal offenses in Arkansas. The objective studies of our criminal justice system have consistently demonstrated the annual growth in crime, including violent crime, and the need for additional state prison beds, including additional maximum-security beds. This is primarily due to population growth and the high rate of violent crime in Arkansas. Legislation such as Act 570 of 2011 — the “Public Safety Improvement Act” — and Act 423 of 2017 — the “Criminal Justice Efficiency and Safety Act” — sought to bend the corrections growth curve, not cause there to be zero growth. According to corrections officials, the crime rate in Arkansas has decreased from approximately 3.5 percent in 2015 to 1.2 percent in 2021. However, the growth curve in Arkansas has consistently and reliably reflected some level of growth in crime, including violent crime. In recent years violent crime in Arkansas has grown, on average, by 1.5 percent annually. Again, the key word is “growth.” It remains that Arkansas ranks 4th nationally in violent crime. As stated by Governor Asa Hutchinson in his State of the State speech, “We are increasing support and affirming that the first duty of government is public safety.” He also expressed when he came into office that he planned to “improve the quality of life in Arkansas.” Governor Hutchinson and the General Assembly have made major strides in corrections, community corrections, and behavioral health. Ask any Arkansan if they expect persons convicted of violent crimes to be incarcerated in accordance with their judgment of conviction, and the answer will be a resounding, “Yes.” Are they aware that the criminal justice system has been continually under-funded? Are they aware that violent criminals are released after serving a fraction of their sentence — sometimes 1/6th of their sentence? Are they aware that Arkansas ranks 4th nationally in the United States for violent crime? Early release of violent state inmates due to prison overcrowding is a conscious decision based upon the capacity of maximum-security beds in the state prison system. We’ve made several strides in corrections and community corrections. However, we need far more maximum-security beds in the state prisons for holding violent criminals for the term of their sentence. 14

To compound matters, we now have unprecedented overcrowding in our county jails and an unprecedented case load upon our circuit courts, prosecuting attorneys, and Jordyn Nykaza public defenders. Due to COLaw Clerk VID-19, there have been few jury trials over the past two years. There have been bottlenecks in the transfer of convicted felons from our county jails to the state prison system. Due to the overcrowded jails, the backlog of unserved warrants has swelled. The backlog of criminal cases and state inmates backed up in our county jails will persist for years.

History of State Prison Beds in Arkansas

The last time Arkansas opened a new prison was in 2003 with the Ouachita River Unit. Mike Huckabee was Governor. According to the 2021 U.S. Census, the population of Arkansas has increased from 2.72 million to 3.01 million since the prison was built. Currently, the state prison system has a total of approximately 16,000 prison beds spread among 17 state prisons. JFA Institute has been engaged in studying and reporting on the criminal justice system in Arkansas for over a quarter of a century. According to the institute, Arkansans should anticipate prison population growth to increase to 18,100 by 2026 and reach over 19,000 by 2030. Where are the thousands of convicted felons, many of whom are violent felons, going to serve their sentences? In our county jails by default? Because Arkansas is ranked 4th in the nation for reported violent crime rates, national organizations have focused studies on the prison population and how it is predicted to increase. JFA has released annual reports studying Arkansas, and those results consistently show a need for additional state prison beds. The reports also explain how violent crimes have been increasing by an average of 1 percent each year from 2010 to 2018. From the growth curve, JFA predicts what the population will become in the years that follow. When looking at the predictions and actual populations, the average percent difference between the predicted Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) population and the actual ADC population from 2009 to 2019 was 1.8 percent, according to JFA. This means JFA has reliably predicted the population the year prior and only overestimated the population by at most 500 people. Since 2015 the state of Arkansas has increased the number of state prison beds by over 1,000. However, the state also closed COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2022

AAC over 700 beds. Given the openings and closures, the state has increased prison beds by only a few hundred since 2015. Since 2015 county jails have added 2,154 beds. Counties have added 433 beds by adding onto existing jails, and they have added another 1,721 beds by building a new county jail with additional bed capacity. Counties are having to expand their jails, not to hold misdemeanors, but to hold the backlog of state inmates. The state prison system in Arkansas has been experiencing an average daily prison population of 15,606, with approximately 2,300 of those backed up in county jails. The backup has been reduced to 1,500 as of this year. Holding inmates for the state of Arkansas is not the intended purpose of a county jail. A convicted felon is directed to be taken by the Sheriff to the custody of the state of Arkansas, Division of Corrections, or Division of Community Corrections to serve their sentence as per the judgment of conviction. Several sheriffs recently testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the current level of overcrowding of state detainees in county jails is unsustainable. This level of overcrowding makes segregation of detainees difficult. The number of violent state inmates in county jails is creating a safety risk to jailers and other detainees. These are some of the reasons counties like Benton, Washington, Sebastian, Craighead, Saline, and Stone are considering adding to their jails. County jails cannot be the default residence for convicted violent felons. If the state wants to decrease the Arkansas crime rate and keep citizens safe, it will put violent criminals into a new state prison and not allow for early release. Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder, a law enforcement officer with 43 years of experience, accurately described the position that most county jails are in: “[We] simply do not have the space to house other people’s prisoners.” An additional 498 beds will be added in Brickey’s state prison near Calico Rock in 2024. These new beds are not a substitute for the new state prison that was proposed in 2013 but not funded, but they will serve as a temporary relief to the evergrowing problem. This is a band aid type of fix, not a cure.

Act 570 of 2011 the “Public Safety Improvement Act”

State officials have been aware of the problem Arkansas has with crime and have taken measures to reduce the growth curve. Act 570 of 2011, the “Public Safety Improvement Act,” was passed to reduce inmate population growth and provide more complete services to offenders in the community. The changes Act 570 implemented were assumed to reduce the overall net sentences for Level 1 through 5 offenders by 20 percent. The prison population decreased from 15,035 to 14,627 the following year. However, this reduction did not last. In 2013, two years after Act 570 was implemented, the prison population increased to 17,850 inmates. The number COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2022


of convicted felons directed to the state of Arkansas has continued to rise. Act 570 created a mass release of state inmates. Parole officers suddenly had a significant increase in parolees, and it became unmanageable with the resources they had. The state has since added more parole officers. After Act 570 was implemented, the Legislature voted on adding a new state prison to the joint budget in 2013. A supermajority is needed to pass a budget item, and this proposal did not have it. The Legislature recognized that while Act 570 may have reduced the growth curve, it was not going to eliminate growth and the need for additional state prison beds. A new state prison was necessary, yet the vote to fund it failed.

Act 423 of 2017 “the Criminal Justice Efficiency and Safety Act”

Act 423 of 2017 implemented new programs for sanctioned parolees and probationers to attempt to curb the increasing prison population. These programs would send people who violated their parole for minor offenses to community corrections to be held for 60, 90 or 120 days rather than having their parole revoked and being held by the state prison to serve their remaining original sentence. Act 423 of 2017 specifically directed that community corrections would hold these sanctioned parolees and probationers. On paper the act sought a laudable initiative. However, many of those directed to serve a parole sanction by the law or the parole board are being detained for the period of their sanction in county jails. Act 423 of 2017 also said parolees sanctioned under the law or parole board would be directed to the community correction facilities to receive treatment, counseling, and programming. Because parolees are being detained in county jails, they are not receiving the intended treatment, counseling, and programming. Not only are the counties burdened by holding parolees, but the parolees are being dealt a disservice. These are people who need rehabilitative help to stay out of the prison system. Parolees sanctioned under the law or the parole board are supposed to go to a community corrections facility or program to receive their necessary treatment from the state of Arkansas, but often this is not the reality. The state recently purchased the White River juvenile detention center, and it is being renovated to become a community correction facility. This Independence County location will be used for parolees and will hold 178 beds. It may take 18 months to open, but it will cycle hundreds of parolees that would otherwise go to a county jail. This is an excellent development. We are hopeful this facility will allow parolees to serve their sanctions with community corrections and receive their directed programming and treatment. On Monday, March 28, 2022, Wendy Ware, the JFA consultant that has been engaged in making state inmate population See


Page 16





Justice predictions for the past 28 years, testified before a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She indicated that the efforts of Act 570 of 2011 and Act 423 of 2017 are not showing up in the numbers. These acts are not making big strides in reducing the growth curve. They were never intended to eliminate the growth curve but were intended to reduce the growth curve, yet no reduction is apparent. Further testimony indicated that approximately 55 percent of the felony offenders in our prisons are violent offenders. There’s a persistent and erroneous misconception that the majority of offenders in our state prisons are non-violent. According to the Arkansas Division of Corrections, the breakdown of violent crimes is as follows: 8.3 percent are battery/assault offenses, 4.7 percent are violent/firearm offenses, 14.5 percent are homicide offenses, 18.7 percent are sexual offenses, and 25.8 percent are robbery/ burglary offenses.

Recent Affirmative Actions of the Governor and General Assembly

During the fiscal session of 2022 several significant measures were enacted to address these priority issues. These measures are greatly appreciated. Gov. Hutchinson and the General Assembly have announced and approved the following: 1. An additional 498 beds to be added in Brickey’s state prison near Calico Rock. There is a record backlog of state prisoners in county jails, which limits counties in their ability to enforce local laws. Because of this backlog, Governor Hutchinson recommends a one-time investment from the state’s surplus. This will greatly address the backup of state inmates in county jails. 2. The state has purchased the White River juvenile detention center, and it is being renovated to become a community correction facility. This Independence County location will be used for parolees and will hold 178 beds. This may take 18 months to open, but it will cycle hundreds of parolees that would otherwise go to a county jail. We are hopeful this will allow for community corrections, not the jails, to detain parolees for their directed programming and treatment. 3. A $45 million, one-time stipend to provide $5,000 to every local city and county full-time certified law enforcement officers. This payment will be taken from the state’s surplus when the fiscal year ends. Gov. Hutchinson has expressed this stipend is to “reward and incentivize those dedicated officers who keep our streets safe and our homes protected.” Our full-time law enforcement officers are appreciative of this kind recognition of their 16

Continued From Page 15


service. Counties will need to do their part to assure they close the compensation gap as needed to recruit, hire, and retain law enforcement officers in Arkansas. 4. The Governor also implemented Act 786 of 2021, the “Public Safety Grant Program.” This Act is to increase trust between the police and our communities, and to enhance availability of equipment for greater transparency and enhanced safety. The Governor proposed in the fiscal session to appropriate $10 million to fund equipment grant requests for law enforcement. This will be divided up to fund $5 million in equipment grant requests and $5 million for future grant requests. This was a recommendation given by the Advancement of Law Enforcement Task Force.

Emergency Powers Act Releases

Arkansas has an Emergency Powers Act (EPA), which allows the Board of Corrections to declare a prison overcrowding emergency. Through this declaration, current inmates eligible for parole are released early to make room for more recently convicted criminals. According to Ark. Code §12-28-604, current class 1 and 2 inmates qualify for an EPA early release of one year if they have served at least six months in a division facility for a nonviolent offense. When this Act was enacted, the Legislature did not imagine the backlog would be so high, which has caused problems in applying the EPA to release current inmates. Three hundred eighty-seven inmates are being released in the next 90 days despite many of them being convicted of a violent felony. At least 132 inmates out of the 387 being released are in prison for a violent felony. These felonies include, but are not limited to, sexual assault, aggravated assault, and aggravated residential burglary. The violent convictions are not the only aspect that violate the EPA. Inmates qualifying for the 90-day EPA can get released 90 days before their actual release date if they are already approved for parole. Inmates qualifying for the one-year EPA release can only be let out up to one year before their actual release day. Felons, including violent offenders, are being let out after serving only 1/5 or 1/6 of their sentence. On the next page is a table indicating how many inmates have been released early due to the EPA over the last 10 years. Act 418 of 1987 creates a threshold that is triggered when the ADC prison population reaches 98 percent rated capacity. Individuals eligible for parole may have their release date moved up to 90 days when this Act is triggered. Act 1721 of 2003 addresses overcrowding in county jails. The provisions in this Act are triggered when the county jail backup exceeds COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2022



their full sentence. The JFA consultants and corrections officials have testified before the General Assembly as to these important needs.


500 offenders. These individuals eligible for parole may be released up to one year early when this Act is triggered. This chart indicates there has been an emergency prison overcrowding since at least 2010 and separates how many offenders have been released under each Act. To have thousands of criminals, some with violent crimes and felonies, released early is a public safety issue and counteracts efforts put in place to deter crime. If an inmate will be let out significantly early, it does not have the same level of deterrence for the commitment of future crimes. The intent of the EPA is to operate in cases of an emergency to benefit our state. However, the EPA in Arkansas is not a benefit. It is invoked for thousands of offenders routinely and periodically every year. This is indication that something is wrong with our prison system. The solution is to ensure there is enough room in prisons to hold all offenders for the bulk of

We’ve made substantial strides in recent years in corrections, community corrections, and behavioral health. The accomplishments have been the result of a working partnership with county officials, state officials, the Governor, and the General Assembly. The state of Arkansas in partnership with the counties has made strides in reducing the growth of the rate of crime in general. However, it remains that Arkansas ranks 4th in the United States in violent crime. Those at JFA Institute have predictably projected the state inmate populations. While the growth rate of violent crime is more manageable, the rate of growth directs that additional maximum security state prison beds are necessary. The recent proposals for adding state prison beds at Calico Rock will be of assistance. The addition of more treatment beds at the new community corrections facility at White River will also be of assistance for addressing the needs of parolees. However, more maximum-security state prison beds will be needed to address the projections of growth in violent state inmates, particularly over the next decade. County jails cannot sustain the current level of overcrowding due to state inmates being backed up into those facilities. Additionally, the catch and release of misdemeanors due to the overcrowding is no way to run a society. More importantly, Arkansans expect public safety to be the paramount priority. Continued early release of violent felons is not acceptable and is a contributing factor to Arkansas’ high ranking for violent crime.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson held a signing ceremony in the Capitol rotunda following the fiscal session to sign into law several bills that benefit law enforcement officers. Among them are measures to grant one-time stipends of up to $5,000 to police and probation and parole officers; increase salaries for Arkansas State Troopers and other certified law enforcement officers of the Department of Public Safety; funding for prison construction at Calico Rock; funding for five more forensic professionals at the Arkansas Crime Lab to complete testing of sexual assault kits within 60 days; and funding for equipment to keep officers safe. — Photo by Caitlin Brown COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2022




Keep it clean — the campaign, that is.


eems to me, words matter. So do actions and intent. This is 2022 — an election year for county officials in Arkansas along with many other offices. Let’s keep it clean — the campaigns! You will never regret being kind. As my mother might say, “anyone with one eye and half sense” would agree that we find ourselves in a very politically polarized time; a time of partisan bickering that keeps government from working like it should to provide protections and services for the people. It starts on the campaign trail and continues in the halls of Congress, in the Statehouses, in the courthouses and city halls. We have lost ground when the words “conservative” and “liberal” are hurled as insults as opposed to them being used to provide a general picture of a person’s political persuasion. Especially when the vast majority of the populace tends to be “moderate”. A moderate is conservative on some issues; liberal on others; but has the wisdom and fortitude to work with others to reach a compromise for the good of all. Notice that I used “compromise” as a noun — not a verb. Used as a verb it takes on the connotation of imperiling or jeopardizing with an attached idiom of “cook one’s goose” or “play havoc with.” Using the word “compromise” as a noun means a settlement or agreement reached by mutual concession with the attached idiom of “happy medium.” Our nation, state and counties are comprised of people that represent different backgrounds, political philosophies, races, professions, and religious persuasions. We must look upon diversity of experiences as a strength rather than something to exploit for political gain. I believe county officials can, should, and must set the standard for political discourse for others to follow. And we can start this political campaign season, if you haven’t already, by challenging those that want to divide us by communicating in a manner that upholds the ideal that our republic democracy is grounded in the respect and dignity of every man and woman. Seems to me that with each successive election cycle we see and hear more negativity. More time and money is spent to attack and belittle the character of a candidate’s opponent rather than using the time, money, and effort to espouse the candidate’s virtues and his or her views on relevant issues for the office being sought. Many years ago, humorist Will Rogers said, “Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.” That statement is truer today than the day Rogers said it. Why? I’ve already ad18

dressed it. It’s because of the mean and dirty tone of our political campaigns which sets the stage for the same type of governing. Can candidates win elections by running positive campaigns? Absolutely. Eddie A. Jones A positive campaign is a campaign County Consultant in which a candidate focuses primarily on relevant issues related to the office for which they are a candidate, their own views, their own experiences, and their own virtues — without attacking their opponent in an attempt to gain votes. On the other hand, a negative campaign is one where a candidate uses attack ads and rhetoric to deliberately frame his or her opponent as foolish, inexperienced, irresponsible, disconnected, or just a bad person as a means of presenting him or herself as a more desirable alternative. Why anyone would listen to that kind of malarkey is beyond me. Campaign and win on your own merits — not someone else’s demerits. Dirty campaigns [that’s what I call them] are nothing new. Negative campaigns go at least as far back as Cicero and the Roman Republic. In the United States, specifically, smear campaigns have a long and dishonorable tradition, all the way back to the first contested American presidential election in 1796. But, just because dirty campaigning has existed for centuries does not mean that it’s right. Words matter. In democracies, elections are essentially popularity contests — the possible exception being the presidential election which has the Electoral College to complicate things and make it possible for a candidate to win the popular vote and still lose an election. However, that’s the exception and not the rule. If, then, the goal of candidates is to get the majority of voters to “like” them, human psychology would support the argument that their best option would be to behave and campaign positively. People naturally prefer positive people to negative ones. They naturally respond better to those who are kind than those who are not. Logically, then, the ideal strategy for a candidate would be to make his or her campaign as positive and cordial as possible. The best way for a candidate to increase favorability among voters is to run a positive campaign. Much has been written about voters’ attitudes towards elections, their perceptions, and how positive and negative campaigns affect voters differently. Americans love to hate political campaigns. Majorities believe that negative, attack-oriented campaigning is undermining and damagCOUNTY LINES, WINTER 2022

AAC ing our democracy; that unethical practices in campaigns occur often; and that in terms of ethics and values, election campaigns in this country have gotten much worse in the last 20 years. Studies have shown that negative campaigning reduces the total number of citizens involved in democratic elections, thus undermining the power of the people to voice their options. The virtue of positive campaigning is reflected in results. West Virginia has been in the news a lot lately, so let’s start with a campaign of yesteryear from West Virginia: In 1958, Ken Hechler, a 44-year-old political science professor at Marshall College in Huntington, West Virginia, ran a successful campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. His victory surprised many. After all, when he entered the race he was a plain looking bachelor who had never run a campaign before, had no backing from any politicians or organized labor groups, had only lived in his congressional district for a year before he started campaigning, and was campaigning against two candidates who had both been born and raised in the district, one of whom was a two-time Congressman and distinguished obstetrician. Ken worked tirelessly. Given the fact that hardly anyone in his district knew who he was, and the other disadvantages already discussed, he also had to be quite creative in order to get publicity. After winning his first election, Hechler served as representative of West Virginia for 18 years and later as the West Virginia Secretary of State for an additional 16 years. This means that over 34 years of service as an elected public official, Hechler won over a dozen elections. Hechler had 10 rules for his campaign, rules to which he attributes much of his success. The third of these rules was “Be constructive and campaign cleanly.” This he did. The results speak for themselves. As the results rolled in on election day, Fischer was congratulated by Nebraska Governor Dave Heinemann and Senator Mike Johanns for her campaign’s positive tone in the face of a deluge of attack ads. Her strategy from the beginning was to remain positive. It worked. Also in 2012, Pat McCrory was elected as North Carolina’s first Republican governor in 20 years. Although he had lost the previous race in 2008, McCrory decided to run again, and this time he promised to run an only positive campaign. He made good on his promise. During his campaign McCrory never ran one negative TV or radio ad against his opponent. In every ad his campaign created he talked about what he wanted to do as governor of North Carolina, his policies, his issues, and his plan for the future. COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2022


In his first news conference as the state’s new governor, McCrory attributed his election to the fact that he ran a positive campaign, stating that candidates “can win with a positive message.” Each of these three individuals ran positive campaigns. Each of these individuals won the campaigns they were in. Each of these individuals, along with their various supporters, believe that they were better for having campaigned cleanly and that they won their elections, in part at least, because they refrained from negativity and campaigned positively. Positive campaigning is more likely to garner a candidate a larger number of voters and those voters will also be more trusting of and optimistic about the candidate they choose to support due to the positivity of his or her campaign. Some would say that even in a positive campaign it is fair for the candidate to deliver a fact-based criticism of an opponent or to refute falsehoods and inaccuracies. That’s a judgment call — but in many cases it is best to leave it alone. If anything must be refuted it must be done in a way that is dignified and without anger. And you never, I repeat NEVER mention the name of your opponent or his or her campaign. Don’t provide them free advertising. In one of my campaigns 35 years ago, I told one of my friends, “Take a good look at me, because you’ll never recognize me once my opponent gets done with me.” It was a rough campaign. Not so much at the hands of my opponent but by my opponent’s handlers and supporters. But I stayed on the high road and conducted a clean campaign. I never mentioned my opponent or my opponent’s campaign. I ran a campaign based on my merits. When it was all said and done, I won that election with 67.6 percent of the vote — garnering the largest percentage of votes cast for any candidate on the ballot that year. I felt fortunate and was honored to have polled more votes than anyone else on the ballot — but truly believed that I could have lost that race if I had decided to go negative. The preponderance of the evidence shows that positive campaigns are more effective than negative campaigns. Conducting a clean campaign should not be an apparition or an anomaly. It should be the norm. Words matter. Actions matter. Use your words and actions in your political campaign to unify; to build up; to provide hope; to spread truth; and, of course, tout what you will strive to accomplish in that office. Remember that a healthy mind does not speak ill of others. Help to reset the tone of our political discourse. Seems to me if we want politics and government to be better, we must be better. 19


GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS Electronic Recording: Staying on track in an unpredictable time


By Josh curtis Governmental Affairs Director and Cagney Kilgore AAC Law Clerk

ver the past couple of years, we have seen the pandemic shut down or significantly alter the way businesses handle their operations. One thing that didn’t shut down was recording documents in our clerk’s and recorder’s office. Many Circuit Judges were shutting down their courtrooms. Court house officials were looking to keep staff safe and handle county business in different ways. Circuit Clerks and Recorders who utilize electronic recording were prepared to continue recording documents. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson pushed back on shutting everything down because he knew commerce had to continue. County recorders play a significant role in our state’s economy. Recording business transactions such as deeds, mortgages, liens, and plats could not come to a sudden halt. Gov. Hutchinson said no to shelter in place to allow critical businesses to continue their operations. eRecording allowed for those businesses to continue recording necessary real property documents so that little to no impact was felt. Each county is unique, just like each state is unique. One thing unique about Arkansas is we have a constitutional office that is devoted to collecting delinquent property taxes. The State Land Commissioner’s Office produces tens of thousands of records each year, and they have always recorded these the old-fashioned way. Arkansas Land Commissioner Tommy Land recently met with members of the Electronic Recording Commission and committed to begin e-recording these records July 1 of this year. This is not the first time Commissioner Land has embarked on an innovative project. Last year he introduced an online auction for properties not sold at the live auction. Having an online auction increases the number of buyers competing for these properties and has proven to be a huge success. This allows these properties to be returned to the tax rolls more quickly. We applaud the commitment from Commissioner Land to enter this partnership to implement electronic recording. This will be beneficial for the counties, the Commissioner’s Office, and all Arkansans we serve collectively. What is e-recording? E-recording is the name given to the process of creating, managing, and safeguarding digital copies of official public information. It’s far more complicated than simply scanning documents because these records are legally binding and often highly valuable, such as land ownership records. Brian Blackman, vice president and general counsel 20

for Allegiance Title Co., said, “We love e-recording because of the efficiency it offers to our industry, as well as to the consumer. The ease with which it allows us to get documents of record helps to improve the customer experience and decrease risk for those involved in the transaction. Most consumers complete only a few real estate transactions in their lifetime, so the overall process is foreign to many of them. In my view, anything we can do to simplify that process, such as e-recording, is a huge win.” The Electronic Recording Commission was created in 2007 under the Uniform Real Property Electronic Recording Act (URPERA). This Commission is appointed by the Governor and works together supporting the URPERA. They consider the views and resources of all interested parties as it pertains to the county recorders, title industry, financial industry, legal community, and the private sector. The Commission works to develop standards and practices that work in harmony with other jurisdictions. Once developed and approved, it will implement and carry forward the most recent standards of the Property Records Industry Association (PRIA). The Commission will review and make recommendations for possible policy and statutory changes that would bring statewide continuity to the electronic recording process so that we are promoting the most efficient and secure services to all citizens. Electronic recording is the way of the future, and with more than 60 percent of counties e-recording in our state, Arkansas is keeping step and outpacing many of our Southern counterparts (only 43 percent of counties in Mississippi e-record and only 38 percent in Texas, for example). Every state in the nation allows documents to be e-recorded in some fashion, but the type of documents e-recorded and the extent of each state’s e-recording capabilities vary significantly. E-recording is not yet mandatory in any state, but there are almost 15 states in which every county accepts e-recorded documents. The most common type of e-recorded documents are real estate records thanks to the passage of the URPERA in 38 states and the District of Columbia. URPERA empowers county officials to officially accept and record electronic real estate documents because the legislation equates electronic documents and signatures with original paper documents and wet ink signatures. Act 3 of the third extraordinary session of the 90th General Assembly moved the Electronic Recording Commission out from under the Bureau of Legislative Research and appointed the Association of Arkansas Counties to support its mission. This was one of many bills the Commission worked on with the legislature to keep the standards and practices of county recorders in this state updated with the standards and practices COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2022

AAC of recording offices in other jurisdictions. The Commission adopted a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that they encouraged all recorders to use between them and trusted submitters. The Arkansas Circuit Clerks Association voted to support and use the recommended MOU. The Commission takes pride in promoting e-recording. On multiple occasions they have taken their meetings on the road and into communities to show off the benefits of this service. “E-recording is a much faster and more efficient way of receiving and recording documents. It allows for the Recorder to communicate any errors to the submitter immediately and resolve the errors and to record within minutes to a few hours, eliminating wasted waiting time that traditional ways can take,” said Brenda DeShields, Benton County Circuit Clerk and Recorder and the chair of the Arkansas Electronic Recording Commission. “It also allows for guaranteed funds as they are transmitted daily by ACH files so no longer having to wait on checks to clear or hassles of insufficient funding, which makes the accounting process much more streamlined for all involved. It is a wonderful service for a Recorder to offer as really all who use it — recorders, title companies, attorneys, financial institutions, government agencies, etc. — benefit from it, but especially the citizens.” “WACO Title uses e-recording for all counties where it is available. e-recording saves time and reduces costs,” added Meredith Lafreniere, director of title operations at WACO Title Company. “It allows us to record much quicker than we would be able to if we had to take the original document to the Clerk’s office for recording. This reduces the gap of time between when the customer signs and when the documents


are recorded.” Electronic recording is becoming more common in other contexts, too. Every state except New York has adopted some version of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA), which gives electronic records and signatures the same effect as paper documents and handwritten signatures. UETA also allows states to conduct e-commerce transactions, transfer records electronically, and store government agency records online more efficiently. Furthermore, around half of the states, including Arkansas, have adopted some form of Remote Online Notarization (RON), which allows a person to speak with a notary and execute a document using videoconferencing technology, instead of being physically present with them. Several states approved RON on an emergencybasis during the COVID-19 pandemic and are working toward permanent approval. These statutes enable a considerable amount of innovation in the e-recording space. For example, Cayuga county in New York is using some of its American Rescue Plan Act money to completely digitize all its county records. Trumbull County, Ohio, has a partnership with the State Auditor to route e-recorded documents directly between county offices and the state. Arkansas counties are leading in this innovation, too, with their historic e-recording partnership with the Land Commissioner. Commissioner Tommy Land said, “This partnership will allow land records to be more efficiently managed and accessible for the benefit of all Arkansans. With its perfect blend of secure technology and collaboration, I hope Arkansas’ newest e-recording innovation serves as an example for other states.”

Arkansas Land Commissioner Tommy Land poses with members of the Electronic Recording Commission at the Circuit Clerk’s Meeting in Texarkana. Pictured left to right: Craighead County Circuit Clerk Candace Edwards, Poinsett County Circuit Clerk Misty Russell, Washington County Circuit Clerk Kyle Sylvester, Faulkner County Circuit Clerk Crystal Taylor, Arkansas Land Commissioner Tommy Land, Saline County Circuit Clerk Myka Bono Sample, Benton County Circuit Clerk and Committee Chair Brenda DeShields, Crawford County Circuit Clerk and Vice Chair Sharon Blount-Baker, and Union County Circuit Clerk Cheryl Cochran-Wilson. — Photo by Caitlin Brown COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2022




Redistricting and election reform: Courts rule on recent issues affecting voters


arly 2022 has brought court rulings affecting Ar- the Court stated, “there is a strong kansas elections officials in both state and federal merits case that at least some of the courts. On Feb. 17, 2022, U.S. District Court challenged districts in the Board Plan Judge Lee Rudofsky issued an order in a case filed are unlawful under § 2 of the Voting by the Arkansas State Conference NAACP and the Arkansas Rights Act,” it did not reach the merits Public Policy Panel against the Arkansas Board of Apportion- of the case. Instead, the Court ruled LINDSEY FRENCH General Counsel ment. On the same day, the Arkansas Supreme Court delivered that there is no private right of action an opinion on an appeal filed by Secretary of State John Thur- under which Plaintiffs could bring suit ston and the members of the Arkansas State Board of Election to enforce § 2 of the VRA, and that Commissioners to dismiss a suit against them brought by the the U.S. Attorney General must join the case within five days. League of Women Voters of Arkansas. A lawsuit was also filed The Attorney General did not join the case, and Plaintiffs apagainst the State in late March challenging the U.S. Congressio- pealed the case to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals the nal redistricting, but this article will focus on the first two cases. next day. The federal court’s To provide a very ruling is the more broad overview of complex of the two the Order, the Court he federal court’s ruling is the more complex of the and is also drawing ruled that it lacked national attention. subject-matter juristwo and is also drawing national attention. In the In the suit, Plaindiction in the case, tiffs, Arkansas State suit, Plaintiffs, Arkansas State Conference NAACP and Ar- because § 2 of the Conference NAACP VRA did not grant kansas Public Policy Panel through the American Civil Lib- private citizens the and Arkansas Public Policy Panel through authority to bring erties Union, allege that the 2021 reapportionment plan for the American Civil suit, only the U.S. Liberties Union, alAttorney General, the Arkansas House of Representatives “dilutes Black voting and therefore dislege that the 2021 reapportionment strength in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.” missed the case. The plan for the Arkansas Court framed the isHouse of Represensue as “whether, untatives “dilutes Black der current Supreme voting strength in Court precedent, a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.” This Section court should imply a private right of action to enforce § 2 of prohibits a state from imposing any voting standard “which the Voting Rights Act where Congress has not expressly proresults in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen vided one.” Plaintiffs pointed to previous U.S. Supreme Court of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” The rulings where they implied a private right of action to enforce Complaint states that the reapportionment plan has the result other sections of the VRA, both in 1969 (“Allen”) and in 1996 of diluting Black voting strength in Arkansas by creating 11 (“Morse”). However, the Court cited a string of recent SCOmajority-Black House districts out of 100 total districts, when TUS rulings starting in 2001 that disfavor judicially implied 16 percent of the state’s population is Black, and it is possible private rights of action where Congress did not explicitly creto create 16 geographically compact majority-Black districts. ate such rights. The Court held that Allen and Morse cannot In the original Complaint filed on Dec. 29, 2021, Plaintiffs be stretched to grant a private right to action for § 2 since sought to enjoin the State from implementing the plan for the they only concerned Sections 5 and 10, respectively, and any 2022 election cycle, which Defendants argued would cause discussion of § 2 in those cases is non-binding dicta. confusion and administrative issues. Plaintiffs later amended The Court did acknowledge an Eighth Circuit case in 1989, their request to allow the 2022 elections to take place with Roberts v. Wamser, in which that Court acknowledged a private the current plan, then have the Court order special elections right of action in § 2 of the VRA, but according to Judge Rufor all Arkansas House seats using a new map in 2023. While dofsky, it stopped short of announcing “a sweeping rule that all




AAC voters can enforce § 2 of the Voting Rights Act.” The Court also dismissed Plaintiffs’ contention that it should ignore whether there is a private right of action concern, because the Defendants did not raise that defense. Leaning on a weeks-old Eighth Circuit case that seems to conflict with previous SCOTUS precedent, the Court said that the matter is jurisdictional, and therefore is not waived by Defendants’ failure to raise the issue. The Court acknowledged in its Order that Plaintiffs will likely appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals for clarification at the appellate level, which they did. It is worth noting that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, in a recent concurring opinion wrote that SCOTUS cases have “assumed — without deciding” that the VRA contains an implied cause of action under § 2, and said that “[l]ower courts have treated this issue as an open question.” It will be interesting to see, if appealed to the highest Court, whether Justice Gorsuch and his colleagues have any appetite to tackle that question head on, a process that could stretch out over a year. The Arkansas Supreme Court opinion issued on the same day was less favorable for the State. It ruled on an appeal from Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, who denied the state officials’ motion to dismiss. The League of Women Voters of Arkansas sued Secretary of State John Thurston and the members of the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners to enjoin four Acts of the 93rd General Assembly: Act 736, the “Absentee Application Signature Match Requirement;” Act 973, the “In-Personal Ballot Receipt Deadline;” Act 249, the “Voter ID Affidavit Prohibition;” and Act 728, the “Voter Support Ban” (acts as described by the League in the Complaint). The League argues that the Acts “individually and cumulatively impose an unconstitutional burden on the right to a free and equal election, the right to equal protection of the law, and the right to free speech and assembly enshrined in the Constitution of Arkansas,” and should be found unconstitutional. Below is a short summary of the alleged violations of each Act of 2021: •

Act 736 — Rep. Mark Lowery; requires election officials to match signatures on absentee ballot applications to that on their voter registration applications before issuing an absentee ballot. Plaintiffs point to the “error-prone and arbitrary nature of signature matching” and the lack of training for election officials in hand-writing analysis. Act 973 — Sen. Kim Hammer; restricts the period during which voters may return absentee ballots and sets different deadlines for those returning absentee ballots


in person as opposed to by mail. Act 249 — Rep. Lowery; removes the “loophole” around voter identification requirements that allowed a voter without identification to sign an affidavit verifying their identity and voter registration. Act 728 — Sen. Hammer; prohibits anyone other than voters from being within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place, which the League claims criminalizes providing support to voters waiting in long lines to vote.

State Defendants filed a motion to dismiss in circuit court alleging that Defendants were entitled to sovereign immunity, among other things. The Supreme Court only considered the claim of sovereign immunity since the lower court did not reach the merits of the lawsuit. State Defendants asserted that the League failed to plead sufficient facts to allege the unconstitutionality of the Acts and failed to plead sufficient facts upon which relief could be granted. The League argued that to deny Defendants sovereign immunity, the Court need only determine whether they sufficiently alleged a violation of constitutional rights and sought only equitable relief. In 2018, the Court ruled in Martin v. Haas that because Haas asserted a constitutional rights violation and sought injunctive relief rather than money damages, Martin was not entitled to sovereign immunity as a defense. In this case, the Court said the League also alleges that the four Acts violate multiple provisions of the Arkansas Constitution and seeks injunctive rather than monetary relief. Therefore, the Court ruled that State Defendants were not entitled to sovereign immunity as a defense and upheld the lower court’s denying Defendants’ motion to dismiss. The lower court conducted a four-day bench trial on the merits of the case as a result. Judge Wendell Griffin announced his decision from the bench. He ruled that the Plaintiffs proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the Acts involve the fundamental right to vote and must be reviewed using the strict scrutiny standard. He found that the State’s concerns about election integrity and insecurity were based entirely on conjecture and speculation, rather than proof. As such, Judge Griffin declared each Act unconstitutional and granted a permanent injunction. The State has appealed the decision and asked the Appellate Court to stay the lower court’s ruling to allow election officials to implement the Acts up until (and if ) the lower court’s ruling is upheld. On April 1, the Arkansas Supreme Court granted the State’s motion for an emergency stay of the lower court’s injunction. COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2022




U.S. Steel to locate $3 billion steel mill in Northeast Arkansas The largest economic development project in Arkansas history

Story by George Jared & Roby Brock

Talk Business & Politics Photo courtesy of UNITED STATES STEEL CORP.


hen Big River Steel first started operations near Osceola in Mississippi County in 2014, it was one of the largest industrial projects ever in the state of Arkansas. BRS, now owned by U.S. Steel, is about to get a companion steel mill and it will rival the first plant in terms of money spent and jobs created. U.S. Steel Corp. announced Jan. 11 it would locate a new $3 billion steel factory in Osceola, a move expected to create 900 jobs with an average pay over $100,000 annually. It is the largest capital investment project in Arkansas history. The new optimized steel production facility is expected to feature two electric arc furnaces (EAFs) with 3 million tons per year of advanced steelmaking capability, a state-of-the-art endless casting and rolling line, and advanced finishing capabilities. Upon completion, the project will apply to become LEED certified, the company said. “With this location selected and shovels ready, we are reshaping the future of steelmaking,” said U.S. Steel President and CEO David Burritt. “We had numerous competitive site options, but Osceola offers our customers 24

incomparable advantages.” “Arkansas has created an ideal business environment for the growth of the steel industry in our state,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said. “The investment and high paying jobs that will result from this announcement will make a real difference in the lives of many families in Northeast Arkansas. I am grateful for the support of the legislature which was critical in winning this expansion. Now, U. S. Steel is an important part of our future and we look forward to continued success in the coming years.” Dubbed “Project Blueprint,” the steel mill will begin construction in early 2022. “The state of Arkansas, Mississippi County, the city of Osceola, Entergy, BNSF, and other parties have all worked to make this the clear choice for a path to the future without roadblocks. We’re not going to make our stakeholders wait to see progress. We intend to break ground this quarter and get to work as soon as permits are in hand. With its extraordinarily low-cost structure, energy efficient production equipment, and advanced capabilities, this $3 billion project will yield significant benefits to our customers, stockholders, communities, employees, and contribute to a more sustainable world,” Burritt added. Shares of Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel Corp. (NYSE: X) closed trading on Tuesday at $24.39. The company’s stock COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2022

AAC has traded between a low of $16.13 and a high of $30.57 over the past 52 weeks. “The news this afternoon from U.S. Steel is exciting and is a testament to the workforce and environment we have in Northeast Arkansas to support this incredible growth by our steel industry,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro. “This expansion will create hundreds of direct and indirect jobs for our area, which will have far reaching impacts across the entire region. I am proud to have supported our local leaders, steel company representatives, and the steel industry as a whole while serving in Congress and will continue to advocate for American steel and steelworkers.” Arkansas wasn’t the only state in the running for the mill. Alabama and Mississippi were also in the running for the mill. To land the project, Arkansas lawmakers put together an incentive package during a special session in December. State economic developers convinced the legislature to put up $50 million in Quick Action Closing Fund money for site infrastructure. That money was moved from a reserve account during the special session. Lawmakers also had to adapt recycling tax credits for the steel industry during the session. Those recycling tax credits will cost the state an average of $11 million a year for 14 years and $8.8 million a year if the state buys back the tax credits at a 20% discount. The legislation passed



creates a new project type for steel manufacturers to qualify for an income tax credit for waste reduction, reuse or recycling equipment. There are a number of qualifiers for the tax credits to be utilized. The steel mill project has to be located on the site of or adjacent to an existing qualified manufacturer of steel; have a total investment of at least $2 billion; create 700 new direct positions with an average annual wage of $120,000; and create 200 new independent direct positions with an average annual wage of $60,000, according to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration. Mississippi County, home to Nucor and BRS, has become the largest county in the U.S. for steel production. Billions of dollars of infrastructure investment and thousands of jobs in the region rely on the steel industry. According to U.S. Census data, Mississippi County has seen a population decline every decade since the 1950s. Once home to over 82,000 residents and heavily dependent on an agricultural economy, Mississippi County now has about 40,000 residents. There are more than 20 steel-related businesses in the county employing more than 3,600 workers. That’s about 1 in every 5 jobs in the county. There are low land and utility costs for businesses locating in Mississippi County. Access to the Mississippi River is complemented by interstate and rail access that criss-crosses north and south, east and west.




Respond without creating a new emergency


pecial traffic rules apply to a law enforcement officer in situations when you are operating as an emergency vehicle with lights and sirens engaged and responding to an emergency call. Running hot, or running code, does not mean you can drive without regard to others. It means you are not bound by normal rules of the road, including speed limits, complete stops, etc. (Ark. Code Ann. § 27-51-901). However, you still have a duty to exercise ordinary care, even when responding to an emergency. Ordinary care is defined in City of Little Rock v. Weber, 298 Ark. 382, 767 S.W.2d 529 (Ark. 1989). In this case, Plaintiff Virginia Weber filed suit against the city of Little Rock to recover for damages she sustained when a police patrol car ran a red light and struck her vehicle. The jury found the officer was at fault for the accident, even though he had lights and sirens on. The Court determined that even though officers have special privileges when proceeding with lights and sirens activated, an officer is not relieved from the duty to exercise ordinary care. What ordinary care comes down to is how carefully you are driving and considering others on the road, even when operating with lights and sirens activated. Even when running code, you must still “drive with due regard for the safety of all persons using the highway.” (Ark. Code Ann. § 27-51-901). While it is undisputed that responding to an emergency is critical, equally important is not creating a new emergency on your way. Although emergency vehicles may drive faster than the speed limit, and do not have to fully obey traffic lights and stop signs, you must still drive carefully. Driving 30 miles an hour over the speed limit on a two-lane county road will likely not be seen as an exercise of ordinary care. Thirty miles an hour over a posted speed limit of 40 mph, or even 55 mph, is substantially higher than the speed limit on a road where there are multiple side-roads and blind driveways. It is foreseeable that another car will pull out and you would not have time to stop or avoid collision. I have many cases where witnesses claim that the officer was driving so fast, they were “outrunning their sirens.” You must always keep in mind that factors such as your speed and the type of road you are on (wooded and curvy vs. open and flat) will impact how far in front of you the siren can be heard. Another case I regularly have is one where the emergency vehicle is proceeding through an intersection at a red light. Ark. Code Ann. § 27-49-109 provides that “the driver of any authorized emergency vehicle when responding to an emergency call upon approaching a red or stop signal or any stop sign shall slow down as necessary for safety but may proceed cautiously past the red or stop sign or signal.” In the context of a red light, ordinary care dictates that the officer must ensure that there is no oncoming traffic proceeding through a green light. You cannot assume cross traffic will see or hear you as you go through a red light. How slowly and cautiously 26

you go through a red light depends on the circumstances of each intersection. How many lanes are there? How many cars are present? These factors impact the oncoming traffic’s ability to see you. Do you have a clear view of the cross-traffic lanes? If you can’t see them, they likely can’t see you. Remember, MELISSA DUGGER Risk Management it is the law enforcement officer’s Litigation Counsel duty to ensure that no one is coming when they proceed through a red light, even when lights and sirens are activated. When I am evaluating accident cases involving an officer running code, there are many factors that are considered to determine if they were using ordinary care. For instance, the nature of the call the officer is responding to is always considered. If an officer is responding to a call that is not extremely urgent, there will be less of a need to travel quickly or to proceed through red lights at busy intersections, whereas responding to a call that involves imminent physical injury or danger to a person creates a stronger defense for high speeds and not observing all traffic signals. Other factors to be considered include the existing weather conditions and the time of day. The type of road the officer is traveling on is also a very important factor when considering if an officer is using ordinary care. For instance, a busy road with many cars, pedestrians, businesses, or homes and driveways on it will always require slower driving than an interstate. A road that has many curves and hills will also require slower driving than a completely flat road, due to reduced sight distance for both the law enforcement officer and the other vehicles. If you are involved in an auto accident, it is important to save any video footage from the dash cam of your unit or from your body cam. Civilians often claim injuries days, or sometimes weeks, after the initial accident, even after denying any injury on the scene. In addition, their retelling of events may change as time passes. Video footage can be the difference between resolving the case early on and winding up in court at a jury trial to determine whether you are at fault for the accident. In addition to dash cam and body cam footage, taking photos of the scene is extremely helpful. Even though another officer will likely be working the accident and making a report, consider taking your own photos to provide us. Photos of the location of the vehicles on the roadway, and the surrounding scene can also be the difference between avoiding a lawsuit or not. And remember, although promptly responding to emergency calls is critical to the person or people who need your help, it is equally important to get there without creating a new emergency. COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2022



Litigation Update: Kimbrough and the Amendment 79 freeze


reetings, faithful county officials and friends of county government. Over the past few months, I’ve been working on defense of a new lawsuit about interpretation of Amendment 79 to the Arkansas Constitution and the “freeze” of assessed value of a homestead — and resulting freeze of property tax liability — provided under section 1(d) of Amendment 79 for individuals who are disabled or over age 65. The plaintiffs in the case have named all 75 Arkansas counties, and the County Judges, County Assessors, County Collectors, and County Treasurers of each county, as defendants in the case. If you have any familiarity with this case and the underlying Amendment 79 issue, then you are probably one of AAC’s 300+ clients in Kimbrough v. Grieve, Benton County Circuit Court No. 04CV-21-2250. On Feb. 17, I filed a motion and a comprehensive legal brief arguing that the lawsuit should be dismissed. Those of you who are clients should have received a copy of these filings from me. For those of you (and anyone else) who are curious, but not curious enough to read a 50-page brief, in this article below is the introduction section of the brief, which summarizes what the case is about, and why I’ve argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed at the outset. I have very much enjoyed working on this case on behalf of many of our County Lines readers. Thank you for all that you do. Plaintiffs challenge the constitutionality of Arkansas Act 49 of 2017, contending that the definition of “assessed value” in Act 49 violates Amendment 79 to the Arkansas Constitution, and constitutes an illegal exaction. Plaintiffs do not challenge the lawfulness of their ad valorem property taxes — rather, Plaintiffs assert that an “increased assessed value” and/or “change in the assessed value” has been improperly applied against them, based on Plaintiffs’ interpretation of Amendment 79 as conferring a transferable and potentially perpetual tax benefit. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief on the legal question presented. Plaintiffs also seek past compensatory damages in the form of refunds of excess past property taxes. Plaintiffs seek to certify a statewide class of plaintiffs for this purpose, and Plaintiffs sue all 75 Arkansas counties and elected officials of all 75 counties, in pursuit of the past damages claim. The Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction because Plaintiffs are required to challenge the assessed value of their property through a statutory appeal process, but Plaintiffs failed to exhaust or even pursue their administrative remedy. Even if this was not jurisdictionally required, original jurisdiction over matters related to county taxes lies in county COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2022

court, not circuit court. The Court also lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the claims arising outside Benton County, the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over the (non-Benton) County Colin Jorgensen Defendants and over the PlainRisk Management tiffs with homesteads in other Litigation Counsel counties, and venue is improper as to claims arising outside of Benton County and exclusively involving residents, officials, and property in other counties. None of the parties, subject matter, or claims related to the non-Benton County Defendants have anything to do with Benton County. The Second Amended Complaint against the non-Benton County Defendants should be dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, lack of personal jurisdiction, and improper venue. See Ark. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), (2) & (3). The complaint also fails to satisfy the fact-pleading requirements of Arkansas law as to the non-Benton County Defendants. See Ark. R. Civ. P. 8(a) (1) & 12(b)(6). Beyond threshold jurisdictional and procedural issues, this case presents a question of law on the facts presented by Plaintiffs. While the non-Benton County Defendants don’t concede jurisdiction and don’t waive affirmative defenses, the Court can address the merits of Plaintiffs’ constitutional challenge with no need for evidence, discovery, or a trial in this case. The legal question presented is straightforward: When a homestead is sold by a seller who previously obtained a freeze of the “assessed value” of the homestead (and resulting tax liability) under section 1(d) of Amendment 79, does the seller’s past freeze transfer to a buyer when the buyer is also a qualifying taxpayer under Amendment 79? Or is the property assessed at full value upon sale — 20 percent of market/ appraised value, as in all other sales — with the Amendment 79 qualifying buyer eligible for a freeze of the assessed value moving forward? As explained herein, the correct answer is the latter. Multiple laws adopted by the Arkansas General Assembly in 2001, 2005, and 2017, and faithfully adhered to by Arkansas officials statewide, apply the Amendment 79 “freeze” benefit to qualifying taxpayers in the same way — treating them equally — without reference to whether a seller enjoyed an Amendment 79 benefit in the past or not. Amendment 79 expressly grants the legislature the authority to prescribe the method and means of reassessment, and Amendment 79 contemplates assessment at full value prior See


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Continued From Page 25

and governing statutes allow a qualifying homestead owner (over age 65 or disabled) to freeze the assessed value of a homestead upon purchase — but Amendment 79 and the statutes do not allow a person who turns 65 and qualifies for the Amendment 79 freeze to purchase a home from a person who is 85, then claim the seller’s frozen assessed value and frozen tax liability from 20 years ago. The bonus Amendment 79 freeze benefit that Plaintiffs claim in this case is not required by the plain language of Amendment 79 — in fact, Amendment 79 contemplates full assessment before a freeze, and authorizes the legislature to enact the law(s) challenged in this case. Plaintiffs’ interpretation was foreclosed by a 1955 law providing the same definition of “assessed value” as Act 49 of 2017, and in effect when voters adopted Amendment 79 in 2000. Plaintiffs’ interpretation has been foreclosed by legislation since the Arkansas General Assembly first adopted enabling Amendment 79 legislation in 2001 — as Amendment 79 expressly authorized the legislature to do. Efforts to expand a tax benefit or reduce a taxpayer’s tax liability are disfavored under the law, and strictly construed against the taxpayer. Validly-adopted


laws like Act 49 of 2017 are presumed constitutional — and in this case, Act 49 is constitutional. Plaintiffs’ interpretation of Amendment 79 would mandate disparate treatment of Amendment 79 taxpayers without justification. Plaintiffs’ interpretation of Amendment 79 would upend decades of consistent legislative interpretation in the opposite direction. Plaintiffs’ interpretation offends settled principles of interpretation and doctrines of tax law. And according to Plaintiffs, their interpretation of Amendment 79 also requires the 75 Arkansas assessors to reassess and recalculate tax bills for three years into the past for all Amendment 79 qualifying taxpayers who own homesteads that were previously owned by other Amendment 79 qualifying taxpayers — a tall order that is not warranted even if Plaintiffs’ interpretation of Amendment 79 is correct. The Court should conclude that Act 49 of 2017 is constitutional and dismiss the Complaint because Plaintiffs’ constitutional challenge fails on the merits as a matter of law. Regardless of how the Court rules on the central legal question, the Court should dismiss Plaintiffs’ claim for past refunds because that remedy is unavailable to Plaintiffs even if their interpretation of Amendment 79 is correct.








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New year, new season, time to take care of you

he last couple of years have been crazy. Things in our lives, both personal and professional, have been put on hold, changed, adjusted, and maybe even done away with. Through it all, we must remember to take care of our mental health and to look out for those we love and work with. Since I have written about SWEAP Connections (formerly Southwest EAP) before, you may be familiar with some of the services they offer. Considering all the changes in our world in the last two years SWEAP has adapted some of their services, training packages, and fee structure. As we start a new year and a new season, it is time to look at some of the most requested programs and services SWEAP offers to county government employees and their families. SWEAP Connections serves a wide range of Arkansas organizations as their partner in employee mental health support. The organization works with many cities, counties and essential groups and has reviewed their utilization reports from 2020 to 2021 to report the most requested services, outside of providing counseling. SWEAP’s Director of Organizational Development, Allison Atkinson, LCSW, provided the following overview of their most impactful trainings and the key focus areas of their educational campaigns.

Most Requested Topic for Speaking Engagements and Conferences

Mental Health in the Workplace — This training provides an overview of the current climate and explores the issues that human resources teams encounter regarding the cost and prevalence of mental health in the workplace. It includes discussion on the subtleties of how mental health issues present in a work environment and points out strategies to address these issues preventatively and as they arise.

Most Popular Training Package

SWEAP Supervisor Academy — SWEAP Supervisor Academy is a 3-month program containing live instruction, virtual consultation, and self-paced courses to equal 12+ hours of training and education. It focuses on key concepts to supervising employees, personal and professional development, effective communication strategies, and leadership skills in managing change. This is an add-on to an existing SWEAP partnership, also accessible by Association Members. Cost is $175 per person for the 12+ hours of training.

Most Requested Topics for Supervisors (Remote and Non-Remote)

Supporting Employee During Transition — Many organizations requested training for their managers on how to support employees as they dealt with difficulty and 30

stress during the pandemic. These focused on having compassionate responses to employee issues, recognizing mental health concerns, finding support and resources for employees and modeling healthy work habits and self-care.

Becky Comet AAC Member Benefits Manager

Managing Productivity Issues (Remote and Non-Remote) — As a continuation of the “Supporting Employees” training or a stand-alone topic, many supervisors wanted consultation and training surrounding how to maintain productivity with so many new employee factors in the workplace. Supervisors were struggling to balance the compassionate response with holding employees accountable. These trainings focused on appropriate and early intervention skills to guide employees through challenges. All supervisor trainings talk about skills that leadership can practice, model and teach employees.

Most Requested Topics for Employees

Adjusting Work-Life Balance — Whether employees were adjusting to remote work, virtual schooling, or the pandemic itself, everyone had to make changes to their work and home routines. Organizations requested work-life balance topics as their employees transitioned in and out of large employment changes. Early topics like “Balancing Work and Life While at Home” morphed into “Balancing Your Return to the Office,” and topics like “Adjusting Our Expectations in Today’s World” were ever evolving as adjustments to the workforce continued. All of these trainings encouraged employees to assess how they were managing their stress, energy and time to ensure that rest, selfcare, and support systems were built into their day-to-day lives. Stress Management — As the workforce changed continuously so did everyone’s stress management and self-care plans. So many options and outlets were reduced, removed, or altered, most people are still regrouping and putting their plans back together. When we talk to employees about stress management we are encouraging a flexible framework, with alternatives, that can be adjusted as they go. We encourage them to practice proactive daily habits that support them as stressors arise as well as pick up in the moment skills to manage times of crisis or high stress.

Most Requested Information or Awareness Campaign

In addition to EAP and training services, SWEAP has COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2022

AAC put together a variety of Educational Awareness Campaigns for employers to utilize in their publications. Materials were customized to each organization according to their preferences and needs. Formats included articles, blurbs, TV monitors slides, and educational videos. These materials cover topics like EAP Benefit Education, mental health topics, skill building, and customized topics requested from partner organizations. The most requested topics were: EAP Awareness — Organizations that utilized the EAP Benefit Awareness campaign saw an average 30 percent bump in utilization. These covered the ease of access, confidential nature and explanation of EAP counseling, coaching, legal, and financial resources. Burnout — Employers were certainly interested in burnout prevention and education for employees. The rates of burnout continue to increase across professions, and employees needed information on what burnout looks like and how they can address and prevent issues they are seeing in themselves. Anxiety — This was the largest category of stated reason for seeking EAP by employees over the last two years. Its 2021 prevalence was roughly twice the rate SWEAP saw



in 2019. This is understandable considering the increase in daily concern for health and safety that was universal, but also meant employers wanted their employees to have a good understanding of the function of anxiety in the physical and mental health systems as well as sharable strategies for coping with increased levels of worry and anxiousness. In these times in which we are living, things change so often and so quickly that it seems like the whole world is teetering on the edge. People say and do unimaginable things. The stress and anxiety are unbelievable. Now is the time to seek help and counseling if you have things that you need to deal with in your professional and/or personal life. Along with all the things mentioned above, SWEAP offers individual counseling sessions for county employees and their families. It does not matter what the issue is — alcohol, drugs, divorce, abuse, harassment of any kind. Do not suffer in silence. Do not let it get “swept under the rug.” There is always help available. If you or someone you work with needs support, do not hesitate to contact SWEAP to access your benefit or discuss adding SWEAP to your benefits package. Call SWEAP at (501) 6631797 or 1-800-777-1797; or email Terri Murphree, director of operations, at Tell them what county you are from and what you are looking for. Do it today.




Several counties have participated in the Arkansas Unpaved Roads Program (AURP), which was established to create a better unpaved county road system by reducing erosion and negative environmental impacts on priority water resources in Arkansas. Above left: Pictured is an unpaved road in Calhoun County prior to implementation of the program. Above right: Pictured is the same road in Calhoun County after implementation. Next page, top: Pictured is an unpaved road in Lincoln County prior to implementation. Next page, bottom: Pictured is the same road in Lincoln County after implementation of the AURP.

Explaining the Arkansas Unpaved Roads Program Story and Photos courtesy of Arkansas department of agriculture, Natural resources division


oes your county road system have problem areas that require maintenance after every large rain event? Common road problems such as washouts, flooding from undersized or unfunctional infrastructure, and gulley erosion create headaches for county governments and consume road budgets and staff labor every year. If your county has one of these problem areas, then the Arkansas Unpaved Roads Program (AURP) can help. The purpose of the AURP is to create a better unpaved county road system by reducing erosion and negative environmental impacts on priority water resources in Arkansas. AURP focuses on best management practices (BMPs) that reduce the impact of sediment and road runoff to streams, rivers, and drinking water supplies while reducing long-term unpaved county road maintenance costs. The AURP is designed to fund work on public roads with unpaved road surfaces. Public entities that own and maintain roads in Arkansas that are open to public vehicle travel at least eight consecutive weeks a year are eligible to apply for grants. Counties are the primary applicants for funding, but other unincorporated areas with public, unpaved roads can also apply if they have capacity to 32

implement and manage a grant. Grant applicants can apply for up to $75,000 in state AURP funds. Applicants must provide match in the amount of 1:1. In-kind match can be in the form of equipment usage, labor, material, or services. Projects eligible for funding must focus on both unpaved road improvements and sediment reduction that is negatively impacting, or could negatively impact a named, priority water body. In order of importance, here is a list of water body funding priorities: •

• • • • •

Contains an aquatic species listed as threatened, endangered, or a candidate species by the federal government, or has been determined to be impaired as a result of turbidity or sediment Used as a drinking source for people Used as an interstate waterway Contains a species of greatest conservation need as determined by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Important to agricultural or pastureland use Important to forestry land use.

An Environmentally Sensitive Maintenance (ESM) certified person must oversee the work plan development and project implementation. The University of Arkansas and the Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Division COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2022



offer ESM training as a one-day course that covers the road maintenance practices. Training is made available at no cost to potential grant applicants, including county judges, county roads personnel, and other interested parties. Some examples of ESM practices include broad based dips, French mattress, underdrain, road profile design, stream crossing design, and a host of other BMPs. •••

What past project participants are saying “The process is extremely easy, the program is built on common sense, and both our employees and constituents are happy. Projects have been completed that otherwise would have perpetually sat on the back burner.” — Van Buren County Judge Dale James “In the past, I have applied because it was a win-win for the county road system and environmental mitigation. I believe the biggest benefit to a county is that the program can remove an area of frequent damage from your road system after a flood event while also mitigating an environmental hot spot.” — Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison “It’s a great source of funding to assist counties in solving road problems.” — Calhoun County Judge Floyd Nutt ••• For more information on the Arkansas Unpaved Roads Program, visit or contact Kevin McGaughey of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Division at (501) 682-3908.

75 Counties - One Voice COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2022




— Photo from iStock

American Rescue Plan hits anniversary of passage As counties celebrate the anniversary of the American Rescue Plan, county officials reflect on its transformative effect. Story by CHARLIE BAN NACo County News Digital Editor and Senior Writer


n the year since Congress passed and President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act (APRA), counties have taken a hard look at how its $65.1 billion in direct funding can change their fortunes as they move past the COVID-19 pandemic. From public health investments, wastewater upgrades, job training services, infrastructure improvements, small businesses and nonprofit support, covering revenue losses and more, counties are making detailed plans for the funding, but pulling back and looking at the overall impact of the legislation needs only two words. “Hugely significant,” said Deb Schorr, a Lancaster County, Neb. commissioner. “We received $62 million, and our annual budget is $200 million, so that gives you an idea what this means to us. “For a lot of projects, we had dreams, but the funding just wasn’t there.” 34

Among other needs, Lancaster County has used APRA funding to address a lack of community support for youth in crisis. “Right now, we don’t have a place where kids can go that isn’t inpatient treatment,” Schorr said. “We allocated a very large portion from our human services pot to establish a youth crisis center. Now with this funding available, we’re able to take that step forward to address what we have known was a need.” Just shy of ARPA’s March 11 anniversary, NACo Past President Gary Moore, judge/executive of Boone County, Ky., testified March 1 before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform on the impacts of the American Rescue Plan’s State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund and counties’ commitment to the integrity of that funding. “As the pressing challenges and needs continue to outstrip depleted resources of many counties during this unprecedented national emergency, this law recognizes counties’ vast responsibility to care for our most vulnerable residents, sick, unemployed, elderly and our youth,” Moore said. “Counties are steadfastly committed at the local level to good financial stewardship, investing these recovery funds quickly and effecCOUNTY LINES, WINTER 2022

AAC tively to support the health and safety of our residents and strengthen the economy. I want to add we were also supportive of guardrails for these funds since the enactment our American counties have been working hard to develop recovery fund implementation plans that will spur and equitable economic coverage across our nation.” NACo President Larry Johnson recognized the occasion. “For the past two years, counties have served on the front lines of our nation’s response to the pandemic, and the historic American Rescue Plan recognizes the vast responsibilities county governments fulfill,” he said. “The resources from the American Rescue Plan allow us to invest in struggling small businesses, nonprofits, infrastructure, including broadband, public health and safety, and human services, especially for those suffering from domestic violence, mental illnesses and substance use disorders. “The American Rescue Plan’s direct, flexible aid has been instrumental in our ability to respond to the pandemic, save lives, and strengthen local and national economies. It allows us to continue to support frontline heroes – first responders, medical professionals and others working around the clock to keep our residents safe. As counties enhance our resiliency and prepare for the future, the American Rescue Plan allows us to make transformational investments in our communities. We simply would not be positioned to make these investments without the American Rescue Plan.” In Cherokee County, Ga., APRA has funded $3.2 million for the District Attorney’s Office to hire staff to clear the backlog of cases that grew when the pandemic forced the court system to shut down or limit operations. Additionally, a $1 million allocation to Be Pro Be Proud built a mobile workforce unit to train students and citizens and $2 million in grants and loans supported small businesses. “The American Rescue Plan Act has allowed Cherokee County the opportunity to fund projects and programs that would not have been feasible this quickly,” said Communications Director Erika Neldner. “So far, the county has allocated $11 million to specific projects listed above, as well as a housing needs study, a homeless shelter study, a community center, leased space for additional courts staff, premium pay to Cherokee Fire and Emergency Services squads, probate court premium pay, broadband expansion to the county’s main administration building and payments to unemployment.” In Lancaster County, Neb., the county worked with the city of Lincoln, where 90 percent of county residents live, to combine more than $100 million in APRA funding and have each government focus their efforts on their strengths — the city’s workforce development efforts and the county’s human services department. “We have a wide variety of nonprofits in our community that were struggling,” Schorr said. “They were seeing an inCOUNTY LINES, WINTER 2022


crease in need for services with decreased revenue, their fundraisers were cancelled. We’ve tried to help fund different organizations in the human services field, everything from food insecurity to mental health to domestic violence. We set up an advisory council of people in the community, private foundation leaders, the Chamber of Commerce, the Community Foundation, the United Way. We tried to get a finger on the pulse of what was needed.” The county has also started work on a multicultural center that will play host to several community organizations and provide space and shared professional and financial services that are crucial to their operations but had been out of reach given the fledgling finances of groups of their size. “We know that the pandemic really hit minority populations extremely hard, so this was a way we can take that funding and help boost them up and be prepared for whatever the next challenges are.” Moore told the Oversight Committee that the flexibility allowed by ARPA has been crucial to ensuring an even economic recovery. “It has been wonderful gap funding for those needs in our communities that otherwise would not have been funded,” he said. “In my example, once again getting one gig of speed to every home in [Boone County] would not be happening without these funds — we found during the pandemic that connectivity was so critical. So, I do believe that it is creating jobs. It’s creating economic investment, it’s supplying a need that would not have been addressed without the funds.” Mike Leachman, vice president for state fiscal policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, emphasized the work ARPA allowed in retaining state and local government jobs and compared the nation’s economic outlook after COVID-19 to the Great Recession, when states and localities cut 450,000 jobs, most of which have not returned. “They were effectively still in recession, and that limited the economy’s recovery,” he told the committee. “The bottom line is that unlike after the Great Recession, states, localities, territories and tribal governments are contributing to the recovery instead of constraining it and are well positioned to leave the country more prepared when the next downturn hits. In the future, policymakers should avoid the mistakes of the Great Recession’s fiscal aid response and provide enough aid to enable states and other governments to meet the needs of residents and businesses. “With aid and multiple pandemic bills in 2020 and the American Rescue Plan,” he noted, “it’s also been a huge success, helping to make the recession the shortest on record and creating much less hardship than we otherwise would have seen.” 35



Deanna Sivley


Little River County Clerk

ittle River County Clerk Deanna Sivley is a woman of many colors. Before running for County Clerk, Sivley worked for county government in the Collectors office for five years. A judge and friend encouraged her to take the leap to run, and the rest is history. Serving as the County Clerk for 16 years and having held every position on the County Clerk’s Executive Board, she felt that the AAC Board of Directors was the next big step. The County Clerk’s Executive Board has become a family for her, so joining the AAC Board is just adding to her family. Sivley is most proud of the relationships she has developed throughout her career. “I don’t ask anyone to do anything that I won’t do myself. Whether it’s in my job or my private life,” she said. Sivley was born and raised in Little River County. She was born in Ogden, on one end of the county, and now she lives on the other end of the county. She is married to her husband of 40 years and they have three children and nine grand children, ranging from ages 3 to 18. So she definitely has her hands full with loving on them. When she is not working, which she says is rare, she is spending her free time outdoors. “I’d rather work outdoors any day than mop a floor,” she said. Her hobbies include some painting and wood working. Her main realm of wood working is furniture. She likes to give many of her pieces to the local fundraisers, with her most recent projects going toward the biggest fundraiser in Little River county, the Ashdown Community Foundation. She has been working on this fundraiser for about three

months, so it’s a big deal for Sivley. She also owns her own event venue in Little River County, Dee’s Barn and Venue. Dee’s opened about six years ago. Business was a little slow at first and then COVID-19 hit and just like everything else in the world, events stopped but picked up considerably again in 2021. The venue holds many types of events, from big events like weddings to small celebrations like birthday parties. — Story and photo by Caitlin Brown

Board presents retiring member with Diamond Service Award At its February 2022 meeting, the Assocation of Arkansas Counties’ Board of Directors presented its Diamond Service Award to Terri Harrison for her service to Polk County and the board. Harrison plans to retire from her position as Polk County Clerk at the end of 2022. She has served as Clerk since January 2001 and before that had worked for the previous county clerk since 1994. Pictured here is AAC Board President and Randolph County Circuit Clerk Debbie Wise, Polk County Clerk Terri Harrison, and AAC Executive Director Chris Villines. — Story and photo by Caitlin Brown 36




RECEPTIONIST/LAW CLERK — Amanda Freudensprung Where were you born and raised? Although I graduated high school in Flippin, I was born and raised on Push Mountain in Baxter County near Norfork.

The accomplishments of which I am most proud: Helping raise a beautiful, kind, funny, intelligent, creative child. I also wrote a novel.

Family information: My husband Kelly is the publisher for two newspapers, the Saline Courier and the Malvern Daily Record. I met him while I was working for the Baxter Bulletin in Mountain Home. My daughter, Beth, is a sophomore in high school. We also have a dog, two cats, a mouse, one bunny, and six chickens. Amand a Freud enspru My favorite meal: Irish pub grub ng like shepherd’s pie, bangers & mash, fish & chips. When I’m not working: Working outdoors and taking hikes.

The hardest thing I have ever done is: Being a teacher. I taught high school and middle school English and journalism, and it consumed my entire being. At the top of my bucket list is to: Return to Europe to see Scandinavian countries. You might be surpised to learn that: I play guitar and sing with my family — mostly bluegrass gospel and old mountain music along with some 1970s rock and country tunes.

My pet peeve is: I don’t have many pet peeves. People are people, and they’re all different and sometimes have a rough day.

PARALEGAL — Shantina Osborn Where were you born and raised? I was born in Ohio and raised in Arkansas. Family information: I’m a proud mom of one daughter. My favorite meal: Steak and a loaded baked potato. When I’m not working: In the garden planting something new. The accomplishments of which I am Shantin most proud: Raising my daughter. I a Osbo rn take so much pride in the woman she is, her achievements, and look forward to seeing the

contributions to society she will make. The hardest thing I have ever done is: Driving my daughter across the country for college. At the top of my bucket list is to: Travel Europe. You might be surpised to learn that: I’m a huge Disney fan. I love both Disney World and Disneyland. My pet peeve is: A lack of communication. Motto or favorite quote: Happiness is a state of mind. It’s just according to the way you look at things. — Walt Disney COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2022


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The Arkansas County Treasurers’ Association met Feb. 1618, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Little Rock, Pulaski County.

County Treasurers prepare for the start of the meeting, presentations for which ranged from Ethics & Running for Public Office to “Remarkable Life” by Author and Public Speaker Matt Knight.

Treasurers’ Association President and Craighead County Treasurer Terry McNatt poses for a photo with Association Treasurer and Pike County Treasurer Loletia Rather. Far left: Greene County Treasurer Debbie Cross talks about preparing for an audit. Left: Jill Barham, an attorney with the state Ethics Commission delivers a presentation on Ethics & Running for Public Office.

Above left: Columbia County Treasurer Selena Blair and Sebastian County Treasurer Steve Hotz visit between sessions. Above right: Meeting attendees explore the exhibitor area during a break. COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2022





The Arkansas Association of County Clerks met Feb. 14-16, in Little Rock, Pulaski County.

Above left: Polk County Clerk Terri Harrison and Baxter County Clerk Canda Reese have a discussion during a break in the meeting. Above right: Leslie Bellamy, director of elections with the Secretary of State’s Office, jokes with Saline County Clerk Doug Curtis during her presentation.

Above left: Daniel Shults, director of the State Board of Election Commissioners, speaks to the group. Above, right: ACE Program Coordinator Karan Skarda goes over registration forms with Poinsett County Clerk Teresa Rouse. Right: Hempstead County Clerk Karen Smith speaks with a state election coordinator. Far right: County Clerks visit during a pause in the meeting, which also included a day-long discussion of election system and software.






Judges gathered for their Winter Conference on Jan. 30- Feb. 2, at the DoubleTree Hotel in Little Rock, Pulaski County.

Left: Hot Spring County Judge Dennis Thornton chats with exhibitors. Right: County Judges Association President and Lonoke County Judge Doug Erwin spotlights an exhibitor during the Exhibitor Expo.

Left: Association 1st Vice President and Jackson County Judge Jeff Phillips (middle) makes his way around the exhibit hall. Right: Pictured are Conway County Judge Jimmy Hart, Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison, Lonoke County Judge Doug Erwin, and Greene County Judge Rusty McMillon. Right: Lou McAlister, CEO of Broadband Development Group, discusses the state’s broadband plan. Far Right: AAC Law Clerk Dylan Lofton breaks down the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for those in attendance.





COUNTY CORONERS The Arkansas Coroner’s Association held a one-day training for coroners and deputy coroners on Jan. 28 at the Benton Event Center, Saline County.

The Arkansas Coroners’ Association kicked off the new year with a one-day training in Saline County.

The January meeting focused on Sudden Unexplained Infant Death Investigation (SUIDI) and was presented by the Injury Prevention Center.

Above left: Hot Spring County Deputy Coroner Shannon Cleghorn discusses sleep safety for infants. Above right: Saline County Coroner Kevin Cleghorn (middle) is president of the Arkansas Coroners Association and an AAC Board member.

Above left: Approximately 59 people registered for the training. Above right: Coroners, deputy coroners and others from sheriff’s offices, police departments, the Arkansas State Police, Arkansas Crime Lab, Department of Human Services, Emergency Medical Services, and the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy attended the training. 42




COUNTY SHERIFFS The Arkansas Sheriffs Association Winter conference was held Jan. 22 through Jan 26, at Mariott Hotel in Little Rock, Pulaski County.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge was the keynote speaker during the luncheon on Monday, Jan. 24. Pictured to her right are Arkansas Sheriffs Association Director Scott Bradley; Association Financial Chair and Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley; Association Executive Secretary and Pope County Sheriff Shane Jones; and Association 1st Vice President and Saline County Sheriff Rodney Wright. Far left: Danny Hickman, former Boone County Sheriff and former Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committees Coordinator Danny Hickman speaks with state Rep. Keith Slape, a former Newton County sheriff. Left: The conference featured break out sessions for sheriffs, jail administrators, and sheriff’s office staff.

Above left: State Sen. Missy Irvin was one of many legislators who attended the conference, which included a panel presentation with legislators. Above middle: Faulkner County Sheriff Tim Ryals, who is the legislative chairman for the Association, speaks with state Rep. Johnny Rye. Above right: Arkansas Department of Public Safety Secretary Jami Cook speaks to attendees. COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2022




COUNTY COLLECTORS The County Collectors met Dec.1 through Dec. 3, in Benton, Saline County.

State Land Commissioner Tommy Land speaks to collectors from mineral producing counties.

Izard County Collector Paul Womack, Cleburne County Collector Connie Caldwell, Pike County Deputy Collector Kim Evans, and Van Buren County Collector Laura Shannon prepare for the meeting to begin.

Left: Faulkner County Collector Sherry Koonce leads a breakout on DAV prorations. Above: Pope County Collector Jennifer Haley leads a breakout on minerals.

Above left: Linda Alexander, bankruptcy specialist with the Pulaski County Treasurer’s Office leads a breakout session on bankruptcy.. Above center: Association President and Crittenden County Collector Ellen Foote and White County Collector pause their discussion to pose for a photo. Above right: Lincoln County Collector Melissa McFalls Bumpass and Cleveland County Collector Patti Wilson await the start of the meeting, which included a talk on cybersecurity by representatives from Mainstream Technologies. 44


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Environment and economy go hand in hand, EPA administrator says

By Dakota Hendricks


o foster community growth, economic development and environmental restoration, the Environmental Protection Agency needs partners like county officials to help craft meaningful policy, said EPA Administrator Michael Regan, Feb. 15 in an address to NACo members at the Legislative Conference. “Believe me when I say that I understand that EPA actions can either help or hurt local efforts,” he said, “and it’s critical that we have a shared working relationship. You know your communities better than the federal government ever could and that makes our partnership essential.” The EPA is ramping up brownfield restoration funding and projects with an emphasis on community partnerships, he said, emphasizing that partnerships with community leaders is vital to identifying the most critical infrastructure improvements and restoration opportunities. “Thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure law, we have a once-ina-generation opportunity to turn brownfield sites all across this nation into economic engines,” said Regan. “This is a game changer in terms of our ability to empower local communities, large and small, urban and rural, to address the long standing, environmental, eco-

nomic and health challenges created by brownfields.” The EPA is creating opportunities for counties to invest further in water infrastructure, he said. Acknowledging the struggles of counties on the frontlines of fighting climate change impacts, lead pipes and crumbling infrastructure, Regan said the EPA will release $7.4 billion in 2022 to state revolving funds and for the next five years to come to help fix water infrastructure. Regan heralded Newark, N. J. for their work in partnership with Essex County to remove 100 percent of all known lead pipes, a complicated and expensive undertaking completed in 36 months instead of the original eight-year plan. “We can replicate those efforts in communities all across the country by working together,” Regan said. Regan and his efforts with the EPA focus heavily on the importance of partnership with communities, educating county leadership on opportunities both currently available and upcoming through funding releases and competitive grants, as well as the importance of making long-lasting investments from American Rescue Plan and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funding. “The implementation of the infrastructure law calls for strong partnership,” he said, “and the EPA is not only ready, but we’re excited to work with our local partners to ensure that all communities see the full benefits of this investment.”

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