Winter 2020 County Lines

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County Lines The Official Publication of the Association of Arkansas Counties

Winter 2020



What counties need to know

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In This Issue Winter 2020

Cover Story

AAC RMS COVID-19 Guidelines for Counties...............................24


AAC Board Welcomes Saline County Clerk..................................28 Conway County Judge is Board Secretary/Treasurer.................29 Clark County Clerk Retires..............................................................30 Saline County Courthouse: A Romanesque Revival..................32

Inside Look

AAC Hosts Annual Legislative Reception..................................36 Treasurers Explore Wide Range of Topics.................................38 Circuit Clerks Get Overview of Nuclear Plant...........................39 Elections Focus of County Clerks’ Winter Meeting...................40 Judges Bring Their Winter Meeting to Pulaski County...............41

Cover Notes: Uncharted Territory

Sheriffs Meet in Pulaski County, Present Awards.......................42 More Than 100 Meet for Annual HR Seminar.............................43 Collectors Hold Winter Meeting in Saline County.......................44

Departments From the Director’s Desk...................................................................7 President’s Perspective......................................................................9 From the Governor............................................................................11 AG Opinions.......................................................................................13 Research Corner...............................................................................14 Legal Corner......................................................................................16 Seems to Me..................................................................................... 17 Litigation Lessons.............................................................................22 Wellness & Safety............................................................................23 NACo News Update...........................................................................46


(Cover Photo from iStock)

he AAC team has been working hard to keep county and district officials informed during this uncertain time. We have held multiple conference calls with our county family to share information about employment issues, jail protocol, and more. In this issue of County Lines magazine, AAC Executive Director Chris Villines offers some words of wisdom regarding the pandemic. Turn to page 7. Also, Risk Management Attorneys Brandy McAllister and Camille Neemann have compiled many of their recommendations for what counties should do during this pandemic. Turn to pages 24 and 25 to read what they advise. You may also turn to page 26 for an article from the National Association of Counties on handling the stress of this situation in your county officies. — Photo from iStock

COVID-19 Resources Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Arkansas Department of Health: University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences: Arkansas Children’s Hospital:






AAC Mission Statement

June 3-5 Judges Embassy Suites, Jonesboro

June 17-19 Treasurers DeGray Lodge, Bismarck

June 7-9 Collectors Red Wolf Embassy, Jonesboro

June 23-26 Assessors Ozark Folk Center, Mountain View

June 7-9 Sheriffs Double Tree, Fort Smith June 10-12 Circuit Clerks Red Apple Inn, Heber Springs

Contact AAC

June 24-26 County Clerks Holiday Inn, Texarkana Calendar activities also are posted on our website:


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

Chris Villines, Executive Director

Cindy Posey, Accountant

Karen Bell, Administrative Assistant

Anne Baker, Executive Assistant

Mark Harrell, IT Manager

Ellen Wood, Admin. Asst./Receptionist

Deann Campbell, Receptionist

Risk Management/ Workers’ Compensation

Brandy McAllister, RMS Counsel

Eddie Jones, Consultant

Debbie Norman, Risk Mgmt. & Insurance Director

Mark Whitmore, Chief Legal Counsel

Debbie Lakey, Workers’ Comp Claims Mgr.

Josh Curtis, Governmental Affairs Director

Cathy Perry, Admin. Asst./Claims Analyst

Lindsey Bailey, Legal Counsel

Kim Nash, Workers’ Comp Claims Adjuster

Christy L. Smith, Communications Director

Renee Turner,Workers’ Comp Claims Adjuster

Holland Doran, Communications Coordinator

Riley Groover, Claims Analyst

Karan Skarda, ACE Program Coordinator

Greg Hunt, Claims Analyst


Colin Jorgensen, RMF Litigation Counsel JaNan Thomas, RMF Litigation Counsel Melissa Hollowell, RMF Litigation Counsel Camille Neemann, RMF Litigation Counsel Fonda Fitzgerald, RMF Paralegal Samantha Wren, RMF Paralegal Becky Comet, Member Benefits Manager Ed Piker, Loss Control Consultant



County Lines County Lines [(ISSN 2576-1137 (print) and ISSN 2576-1145 (online)] is the official publication of the Association of Arkansas Counties. 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 Holland Doran

AAC Executive Board: Debbie Wise – President Brandon Ellison – Vice President Jimmy Hart – Secretary-Treasurer Tommy Young Terri Harrison Debra Buckner Sandra Cawyer Kevin Cleghorn Terry McNatt Debbie Cross Brenda DeShields Ellen Foote Doug Curtis Gerone Hobbs Marty Boyd John Montgomery Heather Stevens David Thompson National Association of Counties (NACo) Board Affiliations Debbie Wise: NACo board member. She is the Randolph County Circuit Clerk and president of the AAC Board of Directors. Brandon Ellison: NACo board member. He is the Polk County Judge and vice-president of the AAC Board of Directors. Ted Harden: Finance & Intergovernmental Affairs Steering Committee. He serves on the Jefferson County Quorum Court. David Hudson: Chair of NACo’s Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee. He is the Sebastian County Judge and member of the Rural Action Caucus Steering Committee and the IT Standing Committee. Kevin Smith: IT Standing Committee. He is the Sebastian County Director of Information Technology Services. Barry Hyde: Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee. He is the Pulaski County Judge. Gerone Hobbs: Membership Committee. He is the Pulaski County Coroner. Kade Holliday: Arts and Culture Committee and International Economic Development Task Force. He is the Craighead County Clerk. Paul Ellliot: Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee, vice-chair of law enforcement subcommittee. He serves on 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 Committe. She is the Crittenden County Chief Computer Operator.



Now is time for publicly elected, responsive government to shine


e all never saw this coming. COVID-19 (an acronym for COronaVIrus Disease of 2019) was an obscure virus in Wuhan, Chris Villines AAC China in January that has since wreaked Executive Director havoc with lives and economies across the world. As I proofed the articles for this issue I realized that many were written just a few weeks ago, but still in a world where things were normal. Now we are anything but normal. Social media has gone mad-nuts, television is reporting breaking news every two to three minutes, and our days are filled with watching press conferences from the White House and Arkansas Department of Health. This is unlike any other disaster I’ve seen. I’m sure you would agree. We find ourselves in county government in a very unique situation. We have statutory duties to be responsive to the public — a constituent base that for the most part is home and practicing social distancing. In states that have advanced numbers of cases (and stay in place orders) it has been clear that local government must continue to operate. Should things get much worse in Arkansas we will likely have the same mandate. The stage doesn’t really need to be set on the issue. You all are familiar with how this is playing out, and it will change between when I begin writing this column and when I end. There are two things that stand out right now. First of all, the amazing value, knowledge, talent, energy and creativity of our coronavirus response team here at the AAC. Secondly, many who eschew government are now begging and pleading for government help, at all levels. There is a translation that needs to be made between federal and state laws or rules and the practical impact and recommended guidelines that we need in the trenches. This can sometimes be a difficult process, and the staff here at AAC is working around the clock to get you the most up-to-date pragmatic information on these issues. Locally you have to analyze your offices, evaluate the options and make moves that are balanced with laws, policy, constituent services and federal and state guidelines. Each office is different. Each county is different. Your needs are different from county to county. As I’ve said before … if you know one county, you know one county. We are here to help with the general, but where I think we can do the most good is when you have specific situations that we can help walk you through. No guidance proffered right now can truly take into account the individual circumstances you will find yourselves in. By email you should already know about the makeup of our coronavirus response team, but I want to remind you if you have specific questions email or call myself, Mark Whitmore, Lindsey French, Brandy >>> 7



McAllister, Camille Neemann or JaNan Thomas. We stand ready to help you through what will prove to be complex implementation of guidelines. Our resident new dad, Josh Curtis (congratulations), and Eddie Jones will continue to work with you but are going to send COVID-19 questions to the team of six. I cannot tell you how proud I am of this team. The next thing on my mind is just how quickly public opinion can change. COVID-19 has pivoted many people’s opinion of what government is for. It’s so easy for many to complain about government, and often the disdain is inappropriately aimed at the local level. It is at times like these that a publicly elected and responsive government has tremendous opportunity to shine. We remain largely open. We continue to ensure that public safety and transactions can continue. And we provide answers when other countries’ citizens find their governments distant and ineffective, sometimes even draconian. I hope when we come through this (and we will) that people will remember the value of local government. Wired to help, you all continue to do all you can for your citizens

in the face of fear and unknowing. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all you do. I’d like to close with a little pat on our collective backs for the tremendous vision and work that is paying off in our Justice Bridge system. Since self-quarantines began, many of our circuit courts and sheriffs have been working in concert to have court appearances take place over the Justice Bridge. Little did we know when we began installing the units that someday we would experience this type of social distancing — and how practical a video court system might be. Mark Harrell has been extremely busy responding to new judges and public defenders wanting to utilize the system, and we’ve been sending phones to those users who can tap into counties without having to visit a jail or courtroom. Active in over half of our counties, we have seen incredible results during this pandemic. We will continue to install new systems as the virus subsides. I look forward to the day when I drive down the interstate and no longer see sheriff transport vans crisscrossing the state wasting valuable county resources. Stay safe and healthy friends, we will continue to pray for this disaster to end.

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Leading in tough times

e find ourselves in trying times in the year 2020. COVID-19 seems to have taken over our daily lives. It is on the news constantly. It is on social media. Even if the virus itself is not mentioned directly, the effects of it are apparent everywhere — closed schools and businesses, restaurants changing the way they operate, empty grocery store shelves. Nothing seems normal right now. I remain hopeful we can return to a state of normalcy soon. County officials should choose to lead in these difficult times. We were elected to lead. We have prepared for it over the course of our journey. We fostered relationships when we ran our political campaigns and were elected to office. We then forged good working relationships with the other county officials and employees, as well as our state legislators and federal officials. We daily build relationships with our constituents as we engage with them as they conduct business in our offices and when we work together in community events to make our counties good places to live and work. It is through these relationships that we are able to lead. Even as we are being tested during this pandemic, I find it heartening to hear of the many ways our county and district officials are adjusting and adapting to continue serving the public. Many county offices offer online or telephone services to those who must continue to do their county business. Some county offices are offering curbside services — the constituent calls the county office, the county official comes outside to pick up the payment or document, takes it back to his or her office for processing, and then returns to the constituent with a receipt or the document. As you all make these changes in your operations, I encourage you to rely on the COVID-19 team at the AAC. Chris Villines, Mark Whitmore, Lindsey Bailey, Brandy McAllister,

JaNan Thomas, and Camille Neemann are working around the clock to answer your questions and to provide guidance about the unique situations you might find yourself in. Eddie Jones and Josh Curtis DEBBIE WISE continue to help and refer COAAC Board President; VID-19 questions to the team. I enRandolph County Circuit Clerk courage you to continue seeking and heeding their advice. They will keep us on the proper course, as always. They are our “enablers” to lead and protect our constituents in a proper manner. These are tough times and it should bring out the best attributes of a public servant. Today’s political, economic and pandemic climate calls for leaders who can develop a vision to lead through the troubled times and prepare our counties for the future. Regardless of what you do as a leader you will leave a legacy. And rather than leave a legacy, let’s live a legacy since the real challenge is to lead in a way that positively influences those around us. Public service must be more than doing a job efficiently and honestly. It must be a complete dedication to the people. During my long tenure as an elected official and President of the Association of Arkansas Counties it has been the tough times that have really challenged me and made me focus to find solutions. We will weather this storm. We are all in this together, and we will get through it together.

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

75 Counties - One Voice COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020





Advice for the Census

ensus Day is less than a month away, and I’d like to share some advice from the United States Census Bureau that will ensure we count as many people as possible. Members of the Arkansas Complete Count Committee, which I created last summer, have met regularly, and they are diligently spreading the word that an accurate count of our population is critical. The federal government allocates funding back to the states based upon population. Each person we count will account for about $3,300 every year to the state. An undercount of even 1 percent, or just 30,000 people, could cost Arkansas nearly a billion dollars over the next decade. The census experts have identified several segments of our population who often are undercounted. Children five and younger is one of those categories. The Census Bureau offers several guidelines for counting children: For newborns who are still in the hospital on Census Day, which is April 1, include your baby as an occupant of the home where she or he will live and sleep most of the time. For a child who spends time in more than one home, count him where he spends most of his time. If his time is divided evenly between homes, count him where he is staying on April 1. Count children in the home where they live and sleep most of the time, even if their parents do not live there. If you are caring for the child of a family member or a friend, and the child does not have a permanent place to

live, include the child in your Census report, even if the arrangement is temporary. Researchers have found several situations in which a child could be overlooked. For example, a child may live with a grandparent Hon. ASA at times, and then with a single HuTCHINSON mother and a single father the Governor of Arkansas rest of the time. The grandparents or father mistakenly assume the mother included the child on her census form, and none of them include the child on theirs. The Census Bureau will begin mailing invitations to homes on March 12, 2020. When your invitation to participate arrives, please respond by mail, by telephone, or online. The Census Bureau has offered some tips to avoid schemes by people who want to illegally obtain information from you. The bureau will never ask for your Social Security number, or for your bank account or credit card numbers. The Bureau will never ask for money, fees, or donations.

Asa Hutchinson The Honorable Asa Hutchinson Governor of Arkansas

County Judges’ Association makes donation to 9-year-old’s charity During its Winter 2020 meeting, held Feb. 5-7 at the DoubleTree in Little Rock/Pulaski County, the membership of the County Judges’ Association of Arkansas heard from 9-year-old Amelia Lisowe. Two years ago, Amelia founded the non-profit Lisowe’s Lights after recognizing a need for foster children to have nightlights. The judges’ association voted to make a donation to Amelia’s effort. CJAA President Brandon Ellison, who is Polk County Judge and AAC Board of Directors Vice President, presented a check to Amelia’s mother, Lauren, prior to the beginning of the Feb. 12, 2020, AAC Board meeting.

— Photo by Christy L. Smith COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020


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AG Opinions: fire protection districts, age requirements for JPs, and liens AG OPINION NO. 2019-032 Traditionally, formation of a fire protection district under Ark Code §14-284-203 was accomplished as follows: (1) By the Quorum Court by ordinance enacted after notice and a public hearing; or (2) By the County Court (County Judge sitting as the County Court) pursuant to an election of qualified electors of the proposed fire protection district. Ark Code §14-284-204 prescribed that any ordinance considered by the Quorum Court include publication of notice and a public hearing. The ordinance would be void if a majority of the qualified electors appearing in person at the hearing opposed the formation of the fire protection district. Likewise, petitions submitted by a majority of the qualified electors could oppose and void the formation of the district. Attorney General (AG) Opinion No. 2018-136 requested by the Honorable Daniel Shue, prosecuting attorney of the 12th Judicial District, stated that Act 703 of 2017 retained the provisions of the subsection allowing for the will of the qualified electors. Act 703 of 2017 did not eliminate the requisite public hearing or the capacity of the majority of the qualified electors to void the ordinance. Act 703 of 2017 did retain the capacity of the vote of the majority qualified elections to oppose the formation of the district by signature petitions. The current opinion, AG Opinion No. 2019-032, explains that Act 1077 of 2019 sought to and effectively eliminated the will of the people: the requirement of a public hearing; the ability for the vote of the majority of the qualified electors attending a public hearing to oppose the ordinance; and the ability of the majority of the qualified electors in the district to oppose the ordinance by signature petition. The AG states, “As you can see, subsection (b)(1) no longer states that the fire protection district no longer becomes a fire protection district using the procedures set out in this subchapter.” The petition by the governing body of the fire department to convert a fire protection district must be granted within 60 days. The AG further explained that there can be no delay

of a 60-day period for granting the petition. The language of Act 1077 of 2019 directs if the Quorum Court want any issues or questions to be addressed by the governing board of the fire department, it must do so within 60 days. Lawsuits regarding Act 1077 of 2019 are pending.

Mark Whitmore AAC Chief Counsel

AG OPINION NO. 2019-037 Does a constituent have to be 18 years of age at the date of filing for office for the primary office or at the time that he would be sworn into office to be eligible to serve as Justice of the Peace? A person will only need to be 18 years old and otherwise a qualified elector at the time of taking office. AG OPINION NOS. 2019-015 & 2019-016 These two opinions regard the same questions and subject matter. The AG explained that Ark. Code §26-34101 provides for a lien on all items of assessed and taxable personal property. The lien remains regardless of subsequent transfers in ownership. It has been long-standing law in Arkansas that taxes assessed upon real and personal property shall bind them and be entitled to preference over all judgments, executions, encumbrances, or liens when created. When taxpayers assess their tangible personal property each year, that assessment creates liens encumbering the property for the taxes due. No action is needed to make the county a secured creditor in respect to the property. The lien is paramount and not affected by subsequent change in ownership. Collectors are not required to record tax liens with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). However, recoding the lien with the FAA is necessary to the lien to be valid against an innocent buyer of an aircraft. Congress has established a single national registration and recording system for liens against aircraft.

75 Counties - One Voice COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020




AAC releases guidebook on fire department law


ithout a doubt, one of the most common issues that members of Association of Arkansas Counties’ legal counsel are called upon to address is the topic of fire departments. During any given week, one can expect to field numerous questions related to the organization and operation of such entities. This comes as no surprise given that, according to data from the Arkansas Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Office and the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM), there are approximately 976 fire departments across the state of Arkansas. 1 Compounding the issue is the fact that what are referred to colloquially as “fire departments” may be organized under six distinct areas of the Arkansas Code. Indeed, departments may be incorporated as private nonprofit corporations; fire protection districts; suburban fire improvement districts; county created volunteer or regular fire departments; county created subordinate service districts; or municipal fire departments. More often than not, questions come from our local elected officials, especially the county judges, clerks, and collectors, who are so actively involved in the inception and continued operation of many of our state’s fire departments. The concerns of these officials are wide-ranging — from how to levy and reevaluate fire dues or assessments in a more efficient manner to figuring out how to get them on the tax rolls for collection. May the county constitutionally allocate funds to a nonprofit entity? How might the county handle a fire department that has gone rogue and subsequently fails to respond adequately to calls? The number of possible questions and permutations are quite truly endless. However, having received, researched, and answered many of these and other related questions — at times on multiple occasions over the years — it became apparent that there existed a need for county and fire department officials to have a place to go to locate the black-letter law as it relates to their departments and the provision of fire protection to their constituents, families, neighbors, and friends. Seeking to fill this need, AAC staff undertook the task of compiling the Fire Department Guidebook (accessible at www. The final version of the Guidebook was released and presented to county judges at the County Judges’ Association of Arkansas’ Winter 2020 meeting, held Feb. 5-7, 2020, in Little Rock, where a portion of the discussion centered on familiarizing those in attendance with the scope and contents of the Guidebook. 14

The resource lays out the methods by which a fire department may be established, pertinent sources of funding for those departments, and other aric cruz logistical and operational conAAC Law Clerk cerns, such as department certification and reporting requirements. It is intended to help county and fire officials learn and understand the law surrounding fire protection and prevention services, as well as the procedures by which to implement and sustain them. Within the Guidebook, the reader will find a section dedicated to the following: • Statutory Methods of Establishment, Assessment, and Operation; • Funding Sources and Other Financial Procedures; • Miscellaneous Applicable Statutes; • Appendix (including numerous sample documents) Each section includes topical summaries regarding the applicable chapter or subchapter of Arkansas Code, verbatim excerpts of relevant code, and may also include opinions from the Office of the Attorney General to help provide the reader with an interpretation of the law. The appendix provides numerous sample documents such as petitions, ordinances, and notices to aid in the more nebulous aspects of the administration of fire services. The content of the Guidebook is reflective of the law as it stands through the Arkansas General Assembly’s most recent 2019 Legislative Session and will be updated as necessary over time. Accordingly, the Fire Department Guidebook may be considered a work in progress. While every effort has been made to include the most relevant information, officials and departments with additional information, suggestions, or comments to help improve this guidebook are encouraged to call or email AAC legal staff at 501-372-7550 or

Footnotes 1 A map of these districts is available at



It’s The People’s Transportation System –

On November 3, 2020, The People Get To Decide Arkansas’ roadways are one of the public’s largest and most important investments. As a transportation system stakeholder, we ask that you help ARDOT educate the public about what would happen if “Issue One” passes or fails. Please visit for information and resources.





Lessons learned from COVID-19 and how we can prepare county government for the future


e have been living through uncertain and unprecedented times recently amid the outbreak of COVID-19, widely known as the “coronavirus.” Like the rest of the country and much of the world, county government has not been immune from the impact. As county and district officials scramble to find answers on how to balance the health of employees, county jail inmates, and the public with the need to continue to provide county government services, thinking outside of the box has become a necessary survival skill. When it became obvious that county quorum courts would need to meet and adopt emergency ordinances to handle these unprecedented conditions on behalf of the county as an employer, one such “outside of the box” idea that continuously came up was for the quorum court to meet via conference call, after notifying the press and meeting other FOIA notice requirements. This would allow the quorum court to meet swiftly and safely while heeding the recommendations of safety officials to not hold public meetings of 10 people or more. Unfortunately, current state law does not allow for quorum courts to meet, much less pass an ordinance, without having an in-person meeting of a quorum of the court. In 2020, this seems like a no-brainer. Of course in an officially declared nation or state-wide emergency quorum courts should be able to meet remotely via phone or other electronic means to conduct urgent business. However, current law, drafted long before our recent circumstances were contemplated, does not allow for remote meetings. Ark. Code Ann. §1414-904 sets forth the procedures for how quorum courts are to meet. On the first meeting date in January after the justices are elected, or at another date in January that the county judge sets, the quorum court shall meet and “establish the date, time, and location of the meetings of the quorum court ... Thereafter, the justices shall assemble each calendar month at a regular time and place as established by ordinance…” Additionally, even in cases of special or emergency meetings, notice of the meeting “shall specify the subjects, date, time, and designated location of the special meeting,” with at least 24 hours’ notice provided in the case of an emergency. During the recent state of emergency from the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to address this law has become apparent. Local governments need the flexibility in times of declared emergency to conduct business in the most efficient and safest way possible, specifically by meeting remotely using technological advances available that were unforeseen when the current laws were written. The AAC recognizes a need for revision of the law next year in the general session of the 93rd General 16

Assembly to allow quorum courts to meet remotely by phone conference, or as other common technology would allow, in a way that still meets the notice and access requirements of a public meeting when the Governor LINDSEY BAILEY has declared a state of emergency. General Counsel Another challenge several Arkansas counties faced in recent weeks was conducting elections, specifically primary runoff elections, during the COVID-19 outbreak. Ark. Code Ann. §7-7-203 sets the dates for the “general primary election,” more commonly known to the public as the “primary runoff election.” For presidential election years like this one, election day is set for the Tuesday four weeks after the preferential primary election with early voting being held the week prior. The law currently leaves no room for a postponement of this date during times of emergency, even though the general election is not held until the following November. Other states have provisions in the law to allow for flexibility of runoff election dates during times of emergency. For example, in Louisiana, if the Governor has declared a state of emergency before or during a regularly scheduled or special election, the Secretary of State will then determine if the emergency impairs the state’s ability to hold an election. If so, the Secretary of State then forwards the necessary facts to the Governor and relevant joint legislative committee (like Arkansas’s joint State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee). If the Governor and majority of the committee concur that an emergency election plan is necessary, the Secretary of State develops an emergency plan, to be approved by the legislature (voting by certified mail if not in session), and implements the emergency plan in cooperation with the appropriate local government officials. Local election officials and the public were justifiably uncomfortable about having to hold primary runoff elections during the COVID-19 outbreak, when we were all being told to stay home and practice social distancing to prevent spread of the virus. By Governor’s executive order, polling places were consolidated, and all eligible voters were allowed and encouraged to vote by absentee ballots, but more needs to be done going forward to give the state the ability to postpone elections under these circumstances. In the upcoming 2021 session, the AAC will explore proposing legislation so that in the event See


Page 21





The history and administration of Arkansas property taxes


rthur Godfrey, the American radio and television broadcaster and entertainer, once said something like this, “I’m proud to be paying taxes. The only thing is — I could be just as proud for half the money.” But Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., an early 20th-century Supreme Court jurist, said what most any level-headed person would think and say, “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.”


Surveys find that the “property tax” is the most hated of all taxes. Why is it, detractors say, that you have to keep paying the government on something that you own — forever? Or, in the words of one protester on YouTube, property tax is “oxymoronic, unjust, and un-American!” On that last point, he’s onto something, at least on a literal level: The origins of the property tax aren’t American at all. It, instead, has roots that date back to Europe’s feudal system. First instituted in England by William the Conqueror in 1066, the early tax system worked this way: A king (or conqueror) took over all the land in a given territory. He would then divide it among his lieutenants and supporters, who would pay him (with money or services) in order to keep that land. In return, landholders enjoyed the king’s protection and were able to rent the property out to others who would live and work the land for a fee. The punishment for nonpayment was forfeiture of the land. At the time, this system was called “free and common socage.” The person who held the land was called a socman, his taxes — socage. The arrangement created a way for people to own land while still having to remain loyal to the crown, which also had rights to the land. After expansion across the Atlantic started, King James made sure that this system traveled overseas with the first settlers at Jamestown, so he could partake in the profits of exploration of the new land. The charter of the Virginia Company held that, as in feudal times, the king would protect the lands in Jamestown, and in return, the people living on the land would pay him a share of their profits. When the colonists revolted and property owners no longer had a king to answer to, the new American government had to figure out who actually owned the land. It was decided that the government would step into the role the king once held. The Northwest Ordinance established that the federal government owned all the lands, and the state served as the “donor,” which essentially meant the person who collected the fees from the tenants. After the Northwest Ordinance, when land was sold to an individual, the state had the right to collect payment from that individual COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020

in perpetuity. This was a system very similar to free and common socage called “fee simple.” That basic principle, and terminology, persists today: Anyone buying a house will notice the Eddie A. Jones term “fee simple” in their legal docuCounty Consultant ments stating that they own the land and property, which is still subject to taxes. It’s a peculiar note of history that the founding fathers, who spoke often of abolishing the feudal system, kept this remnant of the Old World. But the rationale is very simple: They needed the money. In fact, the federal government levied a national property tax in 1798, 1814, 1815, 1816, and 1861. These taxes usually outraged residents, who would often revolt, but the system of collecting property tax remained. That’s because property taxes were locally collected and spent, and often paid for things like roads that property owners would be able to see, and that increased the value of their property. Sound familiar? Property taxes in the United States, as we know them, originated during colonial times after the American Revolutionary War. By 1796, state and local governments in 14 of the 15 states taxed land. Delaware did not tax property, but rather the income from it. Arkansas, of course, did not exist as a state yet. During the period from 1796 until the Civil War, a unifying principle developed: “the taxation of all property, movable and immovable, visible and invisible, or real and personal at one uniform rate.” During this period, property taxes came to be assessed based on value. This was introduced as a requirement in many state constitutions such as the Arkansas Constitution of 1874. After the Civil War, intangible property, including corporate stock, took on far greater importance. Taxing jurisdictions found it difficult to find and tax this sort of property. This trend led to the introduction of alternatives to the property tax, such as income and sales taxes, at the state level. Property taxes remained a major source of government revenue below the state level. Various economic factors have led to taxpayer initiatives in various states to limit property tax. In 1978 Proposition 13 amended the California Constitution to limit aggregate property taxes to 1 percent of the “full cash value of property.” It also limited the increase in assessed value of real property to an inflation factor that was limited to 2 percent per year. See

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TAXES Arkansas has some of that type history, too. First, in the late 1960s and into the 1970s when the courts ruled that Arkansas assessors were not assessing property in accordance with constitutional law, counties were ordered to properly, and on a continual basis, assess real and personal property according to its market value. State legislation was enacted to reinforce constitutional law and to establish a uniform assessment procedure for counties to follow. Since property had, for many years, been assessed below value the reappraisal of property was going to increase property taxes in Arkansas immensely in that first statewide, court-ordered reappraisal. That is when Arkansas Constitution, Amendment 59 was passed in the general election of 1980 to repeal in part and add to Arkansas Constitution, Article 16. This amendment provided, among other things, a procedure for the adjustment of taxes after the reappraisal of property that we refer to as a millage adjustment or rollback. This procedure is used for the first year that reappraisal values are applied to the tax books to make sure the newly reassessed property values produce tax revenues no greater than 10 percent above the revenues received during the previous year. The rollback procedure caused major millage reductions after the first court-ordered, state-wide reappraisal. In my home county, the county general millage was rolled back from the maximum 5 mills to 1.6 mills. The county road millage was reduced from the maximum 3 mills to 1 mill. Secondly, Arkansas experienced a man by the name of Oscar Stilley, a former Fort Smith attorney, who repeatedly tried to get an initiative on the ballot that would completely abolish property taxes in Arkansas and make it almost impossible to increase any tax or fee without a vote of the people. It actually made the ballot for the 1998 General Election. It was a scary time for any involved in government operations. But less than a month before the election, when polls showed the proposition headed for passage, the Arkansas Supreme Court struck the proposition from the ballot. The court said its supporters had used improper procedures, including forgery, to gather signatures. Stilley said they would be back for the 2000 election. That’s when all concerned parties — the state, counties, municipalities, school districts and others — got busy. We knew we had to protect the property tax for local government and school operations. The state of Arkansas also realized that without property taxes more state revenues would have to be expended for schools and local governments, which meant increasing state taxes. But even those would have to be approved by the electorate under Stilley’s proposal. The result of our collaboration is Amendment 79, which passed by a 60 percent to 32 percent margin. This amend18

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ment limited the increase in the assessed value of a taxpayer’s real property after a countywide reappraisal and provided a property tax credit on homestead property. The credit is funded with a ½-cent state sales tax. After the passage and implementation of Amendment 79, the past 20 years have been void of any serious attempt to abolish property taxes in Arkansas. Property tax is a crucial source of revenue for local government entities.


The property tax system is administered at the county level. The federal government no longer levies a property tax. Neither does the state of Arkansas. They did in years past, but Amendment 47 was passed in the General Election of 1958 and succinctly says, “No ad-valorem tax shall be levied upon property by the State.” Real and personal property is defined in Title 26 [§ 261-101] as all tangible owned real estate that is fixed and not readily movable. This includes land and all structures and improvements made to that land, such as buildings, homes (including mobile homes) and barns. As with real property, personal property is subject to ownership and is tangible. Previously in Arkansas, we paid personal property taxes on many more personal property items than we do now. Items of household furniture and furnishings, clothing, appliances and other personal property used within a home were exempted from personal property tax by Amendment 71, which was adopted in the 1992 General Election. Examples of taxable personal property today include: (1) vehicles; (2) boats; (3) motorcycles; (4) recreational vehicles; (5) livestock; and (6) farm machinery. Each year, in accordance with § 26-26-1408, every Arkansas taxpayer must report taxable personal property to the county assessor for assessment of ad valorem taxes between Jan. 1 and May 31. While some personal property, such as vehicles, can be tracked because they must be registered, other personal property is difficult to track. The assessor in many cases must depend on the honesty of the taxpayer. That’s right, to some degree, the personal property tax system in Arkansas works on the “honor system”. The assessed value of real property is calculated as 20 percent of the true market value in most cases. The exception is that agricultural land is assessed based on use value rather than market value. Real property in Arkansas goes through regular reappraisal. Each county must reappraise all real property every three or five years, depending on growth between appraisals [Arkansas Code Annotated § 26-26-1902]. County-wide reappraisals of real property will be completed no later than July 1 of the year in which the county-wide reappraisal is COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020

AAC scheduled to be completed. Assessed value of personal property is 20 percent of the usual selling price at the time of the assessment. That is accomplished by assessors using industry tools/publications that track personal property values. Cities, counties and school districts levy taxes on both real and personal property. Property taxes are based on mills. Most millage levies must be approved by voters before taxes can be levied and collected. However, the county quorum court may approve millage levies for county general and road funds up to the maximum allowed without a vote of the people. City governments may approve millage levies for the city general fund up to the maximum allowed without a vote of the people. But the electors of a county have the legal authority to go through the process of seeking a referendum to repeal any tax levy of the county [Arkansas Constitution, Amendment 7 and A.C.A. 14-14-914]. A mill equals one-thousandth of a dollar (.001). So, 10 mills = .01 and a 40-mill tax rate = .04. A 40-mill property tax means you pay $40 for every $1,000 of assessed value. There is a maximum constitutional limit on the number of mills that can be levied by cities and counties. There is no maximum limit on the number of mills that can be levied by school districts. However, school districts must levy a minimum 25-mill tax, known as the Uniform Rate of Tax, on real and personal property in accordance with Amendment 74 [A.C.A. § 26-80-101] — the result of the Lakeview School District No. 52 v. Huckabee court case concerning school funding. All school district millage changes must be approved by voters. • Counties can levy up to 21 mills of property tax. They include: 5 mills — County general government [Arkansas Constitution, Article 16, § 9 and A.C.A. § 26-25-101]. Quorum court can levy without a vote of the electorate. 5 mills — County bonded indebtedness [Arkansas Constitution, Amendment 62]. Requires a vote of the electorate. 5 mills — County library maintenance and operation [Amendment 38 as amended by Amendments 72 & 89]. Requires a vote of the electorate to lower, raise or abolish the millage. 3 mills — County library capital improvements and construction [Amendment 38 as amended by Amendments 72 & 89]. Requires a vote of the electorate to lower, raise, or abolish the millage. 3 mills — County roads [Amendment 61 and A.C.A. § 26-79-101]. Quorum court can levy without a vote of the electorate. Note: Amendment 61 was approved at the COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020


general election of 1982. Prior to the enactment of Amendment 61 the road millage was governed by Amendment 3, which required the road millage to be on the ballot at each general election in each county. If it was defeated, and it sometimes was, the counties defeating the issue did not have a county road tax the following year. An additional note concerning the county road millage in Arkansas is that the municipalities get a portion of the county road tax. In accordance with A.C.A. § 26-79-104 one-half of the road tax collected upon property within the corporate limits of any municipality is apportioned to them for use in making and repairing the streets and bridges in the municipality. A few municipalities receive more than one-half of the county road tax due to other specific legislation. That type of legislation can no longer be enacted by the State Legislature due to the passage of Amendment 14, which prohibits local or special acts. • Cities can levy up to 20 mills of property tax, including: 5 mills — City general government. [City Council] 5 mills — City bonded indebtedness. 5 mills — City library maintenance and operation. 3 mills — City library capital improvements and construction. 1 mill — Police pension. 1 mill — Firemen pension. Note: The City Council may increase or decrease the general millage. All of the other millage rates must be approved by voters.

Tax Process Procedure

The number of mills levied by the city, county and school district will vary from county to county, and even from jurisdiction to jurisdiction within a county. It all depends on the number of mills approved either by voters or, in some cases, approved by the county and municipal governing bodies. Ultimately, the county quorum court levies all of the approved millage rates in a tax levy ordinance enacted in either November or December applicable for the following tax collection year. How does the taxpayer end up with a certain dollar amount on their property tax statement? Here’s a simplified procedure: See

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TAXES • The taxpayer reports personal property between Jan. 1 and May 31 each year and reports real property eligible for the homestead tax credit by Oct. 15 to the county assessor. • The county assessor determines the market value of the property, as required by the Arkansas Constitution, and then multiplies the market value [use value for agricultural, timber and pastureland] by 20 percent to obtain the assessed value of the property. [See Adjustments to Assessed Value for further discussion of assessor duties.] • The taxpayer may challenge their property tax assessment with the equalization board. • The equalization board determines the equitability of assessments, meaning ascertaining that assessments are made using the same standards for everyone in the county. And they hear assessment appeals from taxpayers. Each year the equalization board meets beginning Aug. 1 through Oct. 1. In counties where the assessed value does not reflect true or market value, the board must continue meeting until all assessments are equalized and all requests for adjustment have been considered. However, the board is not to meet later than the third Monday in November [A.C.A. § 26-27-309]. Dates for hearing individual appeal cases are scheduled by the county clerk, or his or her designee, as secretary of the board upon request of a taxpayer/property owner. Requests for appeal must be filed with the secretary of the board by the third Monday in August [A.C.A. §§26-27-307 and 26-27-317]. If the property owner does not agree with the ruling of the equalization board, they may appeal the ruling — first to the County Court, which is the county judge, who has exclusive original jurisdiction in property tax matters [A.C.A. § 14-14-1105(b )(1)]. If the County Court ruling is not satisfactory to the property owner, they can then appeal to the Circuit Court, and then to the Arkansas Supreme Court. • The county clerk or other county official appointed “preparer of the tax books” by the quorum court computes property taxes by multiplying the taxable assessed value by the total millage rate applicable to the taxpayer and provides this information to the county tax collector by Feb. 1 of each year [A.C.A. § 26-28-304]. Although originally the county clerk was the preparer of the tax books in Arkansas, current law authorizes the quorum court to appoint by ordinance either the county clerk, assessor, or county collector as the preparer of the tax books [A.C.A. § 26-28-302]. 20

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• The county tax collector is required to mail tax statements no later than July 1 each year, although most prepare and mail the statements much sooner. Current taxes from the previous year’s assessments are collected by the county collector each year from the first business day in March through Oct. 15 [A.C.A. § 26-35501]. Failure to pay current property taxes in full by Oct. 15 results in a 10 percent penalty, plus costs, and collector’s fees added to the tax bill. Taxpayers have the option of paying current taxes in three installments: (1) First installment of at least 25 percent due the third Monday in April; (2) Second installment of at least 25 percent due the third Monday in July; and (3) The final installment of 50 percent or the balance due Oct. 15. A different installment schedule applies to utilities and carriers. The county collector may authorize taxpayers, except utilities and carriers, the option to pay current real and personal property taxes in installments in any amount between the first business day in March and Oct. 15. The collector is required to turn over property tax collections to the county treasurer at a minimum one time each month. The collection settlement is due on the first of each month or within 10 days thereafter [A.C.A. §§ 21-6-310 and 26-39-201]. The county depository board is authorized to require county officials to settle with the county treasurer more frequently than monthly [A.C.A. § 19-8-106(a)(3)]. • After receiving the tax settlements from the collector, the county treasurer receipts current taxes to the Collector’s Unapportioned Fund; delinquent real taxes to the Delinquent Real Estate Tax Fund; and delinquent personal taxes to the Delinquent Personal Tax Fund. The treasurer also receives delinquent real settlements from the State Land Commissioner for real estate that has been certified to the state of Arkansas for failure to pay taxes within one year following the date the taxes were due. These tax settlements are credited to the State Land Redemption/Sales Fund. The treasurer distributes property tax revenue to school districts and county and city governments based on the assessed value of property and millage rates in each jurisdiction. Only 90 percent of current taxes are distributed monthly with the balance distributed upon order of the county court approving the final settlement. The 10 percent held in the Unapportioned Fund is used to fund the office operations of the assessor and collector and settle up with the various tax entities at the end of the year [A.C.A. § 26-39-201(b)(2)]. Delinquent tax settlements are distributed in full each month. COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020

AAC Adjustments in the Form of Tax Relief

Amendment 79, which I alluded to earlier, provides for property tax relief by limiting the increase in assessed value for tax purposes as a result of county-wide reappraisal and also delivers a homestead tax credit. An increase in the assessed value of a homestead is limited to 5 percent for the year following a reappraisal. If the reappraisal results in an increase of more than 5 percent, assessments in subsequent years will be increased by a maximum 5 percent per year until the initial reappraisal assessment is reached. For real property, other than a homestead, assessment increases are capped at 10 percent per year and implemented in similar fashion. These limitations do not apply to newly discovered real property, new construction or increases resulting from substantial improvements to the property. Starting with the 2019 assessment year collected in 2020, Arkansas taxpayers are eligible for an annual property tax credit up to $375 against the ad valorem property tax on a homestead. The tax credit cannot exceed the total property tax on the homestead, which is the dwelling place used as the property owner’s principal place of residence. Counties give the tax credit to eligible taxpayers and receive reimbursement from the Treasurer of State using the Property Tax Relief Trust Fund [A.C.A. § 26-26-310].


The property tax system in Arkansas is administered by county officials. The Arkansas system is uncommon because property taxes are paid during the year following the year in which taxes are assessed. So, it takes about two years for property to be assessed, equalized, billed and paid. Because of the two-year period required to complete one tax cycle, county officials are continuously processing two different tax years at the same time. If you’re thinking about moving to a state without property taxes, don’t waste your time looking. All 50 states have property taxes. But that’s where the commonality ends. Tax rates can range from very low in one jurisdiction to astronomically

FUTURE of a Gubernatorial-declared state of emergency, state officials would have the authority to postpone certain regularly scheduled or special elections for a limited time or implement other emergency plans as needed for the health and safety of the public as well as election officials. The last few weeks have been daunting, unique, and quite literally unprecedented for almost everyone involved in local and state government. The ability of local elected officials to COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020


high in another. Arkansas is listed in the Top 10 Lowest Property Tax States in every survey I have reviewed. In one of the very latest surveys, the Arkansas property tax rate was ninth lowest. But the median real estate taxes paid was third lowest at $743. Only two states had slightly lower median real estate taxes paid — Alabama and West Virginia. Low tax rates and low home values make Arkansas an affordable state in terms of property taxes. Yet the property tax, even in Arkansas, is the most hated of all taxes. The assessor and collector are on the front lines and the recipient of unpleasant taxpayers on occasion. My advice to county officials has always been to remain professional and treat even “mad folks” with as much courtesy and respect as possible. Know the law and the property tax process so you will be able to completely explain their tax bill. The Arkansas Constitution dictates that assessments be handled equally across the state, meaning that everyone and their property is treated the same. You don’t do one thing for one person and something different for the next person. Most people want you to do the right thing — to abide by the laws you swore to uphold. Many times, a completely truthful explanation does the job. Thomas Jefferson enunciated the basic principle of public service when he said, “When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property.” I don’t know that I would be quite as forthcoming as an incumbent assessor running for re-election in 2006. That assessor said, “Property owners pay more when they elect a good assessor. Asking you to vote for me is like asking a chicken to vote for Colonel Sanders, but somebody has to do it.” It seems nobody likes property taxes, but they’ve been around for centuries, and they’re not going anywhere. We just need a better understanding of them and what they pay for, so we won’t be afraid of them. The cartoon character Maxine is everyone’s favorite cranky old lady. I saw a Hallmark Maxine greeting card recently where Maxine was saying, “I really scared the neighbors this year. I dressed up as property tax.”

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recognize issues, adapt, and react accordingly has been and will continue to be crucial to the uninterrupted operations of county government. The AAC will continue to provide guidance to elected officials to the best of its ability and looks forward to working with county and district elected officials in the coming months to discuss and propose ways to help local governments better operate under unique emergency circumstances in the (hopefully very distant) future. 21




Opioid litigation update

reetings from the trenches of Opioid Justice for a United Arkansas! I last updated you about the united lawsuit filed by Arkansas counties, cities, and the state, against the opioid industry, in the Winter 2019 County Lines. I announced several items of what was then breaking news in the case: 1. Exciting all-day oral arguments in January and March 2019 in Jonesboro; 2. Victory in a battle to secure litigation privileges in this case — giving the government plaintiffs FOIA exemptions for attorney-client communications and attorney work product; 3. Negotiation and entry of a protective order governing production of confidential records and information in the case; and 4. The beginning of the discovery phase of the case. It has been nearly a year since I covered two pages of this dear magazine with details underlying that quick recap. Recent events warrant another update. First, I’m pleased to report that with discovery underway, the legions of lawyers working on this litigation have been very busy with squabbles about depositions and endless conference calls about the response to interrogatory number 65 and the fourth objection to request for production number 37 and so on. This is boring stuff for our readers, so I will say no more aside from this: the grinding work that must be done to get a case like this to trial is well underway. Your lawyers representing the plaintiff governments are preparing for trial. We know that the certainty of a trial date is the best way to secure justice from the drug-company defendants in a case like this. They know it also, which is why their primary strategy is to delay, delay, and delay. Our current goal is to do everything in our power to be ready for trial as soon as possible, seeking a remedy for Arkansas and all of its governments, communities, families, and citizens. We believe more than ever that the case we’ve filed on your behalves is the best case to take to trial that it could possibly be. We unified the governments on the front end, thanks to you. Nobody else did that. We’ve kept the case in state court in Arkansas with an Arkansas judge and the prospect of Arkansas jurors while most cases have been swept into the multidistrict litigation in Ohio. The governments have a claim under the Arkansas Drug Dealer Liability Act, under which the governments contend that the defendants created, fueled, and participated in an illegal drug market. If that 22

claim is successful, the defendants can be made to clean up the illegal drug market, including drugs like heroin, which is part of the same illegal drug market according to the allegations in the complaint. We have the same public nui- Colin Jorgensen sance claim that netted the state Risk Management of Oklahoma hundreds of milLitigation Counsel lions of dollars for the first year of nuisance abatement in Oklahoma, from only a single opioid manufacturer. We recently filed an amended complaint to refine the parties. We now officially have all 75 Arkansas counties named as plaintiffs together in this single case, along with the 16 highest-population cities in Arkansas and the state. And we believe we have correctly named as defendants the opioid manufacturers and distributors who account for the vast majority of the alleged deluge and diversion of opioids into Arkansas over the many years of this epidemic. As part of discovery and trial preparation, we have begun interviewing potential fact witnesses for trial. We have some leads, such as Arkansas Drug Director Kirk Lane and county judges, sheriffs, and first responders with compelling stories to tell about the Arkansas opioid epidemic. We need government officials to explain to a jury the impossible strain on government resources, funding, personnel, jails and prisons, courts, hospitals and treatment facilities, and so on, from the Arkansas opioid epidemic. We need community leaders and citizens to tell the stories of the harm to communities, families, employers, and schools, and the stories of individual lives destroyed by and lost to the Arkansas opioid epidemic. We need willing addicts and their willing families to tell the stories of addiction ranging from pills to heroin, from active addiction, to death by overdose, to recovery. What can you do to help? Thank you for asking! If you or someone you know has a compelling story to tell about the opioid epidemic in Arkansas, and you or that person are comfortable with the possibility of being named as a potential witness in this case, please reach out to AAC Litigation Counsel Colin Jorgensen at cjorgensen@arcounties. org or at (501) 372-7947. I will be honored to receive your call and hear your story. I will be honest with you about the implications of serving as a potential witness, and it will be your decision. As always, thank you for your service and for the opportunity to represent your counties in this unprecedented case. COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020




For the heart’s sake

n February, I had the honor of speaking to the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Luncheon held in Benton/Saline County. In researching and preparing for that speech, I learned some new things and brushed up on some things I already knew about cardiovascular disease (CVD), its causes, and prevention. This information is so important that it needs to be shared. I would be willing to guess that everyone either has a heart issue or knows someone who does. Consequently, we cannot hear this information enough. Writing this article is going to mean that I have to share things about myself that many may not know about me. However, this information is so important to me that I am willing to open up and share some of my story. In 2011, I was an overweight teacher, a mother of four, and a coach’s wife. I was on the go all the time and never took any time to take care of myself. Through a crazy set of circumstances (and by the grace of God) I found myself on the TV show “The Biggest Loser.” Those involved with the show put contestants through a battery of medical testing before they ever begin. I was confronted will a host of possible negative medical scenarios if I did not make some serious changes in my lifestyle. I began the journey at 238 pounds and out of shape. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women, killing one woman about every 80 seconds. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States, killing 347,879 men in 2017 — that’s about 1 in every 4 male deaths. Those statistics are frightening, especially in 2020 when we have more information at our fingertips than we have ever had before. Many of us, including me, know those statistics but choose to take the “I’ll deal with that when I have time” attitude. The time is now. I am going to tell you three things you can do to decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. First, know your family health history. You need to know what you have to work with. My family health history includes heart attack, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, and rheumatic fever. I have learned that just because I have a less than stellar family health history does not mean that I am doomed to follow in the footsteps of my family — and neither are you. Lifestyle can override that predisposition in many cases. According to the American Heart Association, 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented through education, and lifestyle changes such as moving more, eating smart, and managing blood pressure. Let me drive this home just a little more. In my immediate family — mom, dad, brother, and me — I am the only one that has not had a heart attack, stroke, or heart surgery. I am COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020

the only one that does not have diabetes, is not on cholesterol or blood pressure medication, or any other prescription medication for that matter. If I had not taken a leap of faith nine years ago by auditioning for “The Biggest Loser” and beginning this Becky Comet journey to take control of my AAC Member health, I am certain I would not Benefits Manager be able to say any of that. Second, it is so important to feed your body good fuel. Remember, the foods we eat are nothing but fuel for our bodies. You would not put kerosene in your car’s gas tank and expect it to run, would you? Well, the fact of the matter is your body runs better and more efficiently when you feed it well. About 45 percent of U.S. deaths caused by heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes are because of poor dietary habits, such as high sodium intake, high sugary drink consumption, and low intake of fruits and vegetables. Healthy eating is critical to preventing cardiovascular disease. Start today. Eat less sugar and sodium. Eat more fruits and vegetables — fresh is best and frozen is next best. If you have to go with canned, check the sugar and sodium content. Try to eat fewer processed foods. Read labels. If something has more than five ingredients, and the ingredients are those long words that nobody can pronounce, do yourself a favor and put it back on the shelf. Third, it is a proven fact that physical activity is good for the heart because it reduces the risk for heart disease and stroke. The recommended guidelines are 150 minutes a week of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, plus 2 days a week of muscle-strengthening activity. I also know that those guidelines are daunting to many people as they contemplate starting out. For those of you that have seen “The Biggest Loser,” I certainly would not recommend jumping onto a treadmill and turning the speed up to 6 or 7 when you have been relatively sedentary for a long time. But I do recommend that you start where you are. If all you can do is walk to your mailbox right now, then that is where you start. You can gradually increase and build up from whatever your starting point is. When I started this adventure, my self-esteem was not very good. Through the course of my journey on TV and the nine years since, I have learned that I have to love myself enough to get myself up off the couch and get started. C.S Lewis once said, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” 23


COVER STORY COVID-19 and employment issues


Story by Camille Neemann AAC RMS Counsel

s you are all aware, Gov. Asa Hutchinson declared a public-health emergency on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, due to the first presumptive case of COVID-19 or “coronavirus” appearing in Arkansas. Since that time there have been more confirmed reports of the virus in Arkansas, schools have shut down across the state, and talk of preventing further community spread has already begun. This has created the need to develop action plans quickly on how to handle possible exposure and infection in the workplace. The below information should not be used in place of individualized legal advice regarding specific employee issues but should be used to make you aware of different questions that may arise. Because we are in uncharted territory due to the scope of COVID-19, this information should only be considered a guideline and we recommend you continue to call for individual advice as needed. The public health emergency caused by COVID-19 is a rapidly changing situation. New information becomes available, sometimes on a daily, or even hourly basis. Be sure that you are regularly checking the Arkansas Department of Health website, the Centers for Disease Control website, and watching the Governor’s COVID-19 updates as well. One of the most frequently asked questions is what questions you can ask your employees regarding their health related to COVID-19 and when can you send them home. This is addressed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA typically prohibits an employer from making medical inquires, or requiring medical examinations, unless they are job-related and consistent with business necessity. The exception to this is when the employee poses a direct threat to themselves, or others. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), is a U.S. agency that enforces workplace anti-discrimination laws, including the ADA. The EEOC has issued guidance that the COVID-19 pandemic meets the direct threat standard, finding there exists a significant risk of substantial harm when someone with COVID-19, or symptoms of it, is present in the workplace at this time. This means that an employer can send home employees exhibiting COVID-19 related symptoms such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat. There is no legal requirement to pay employees when you send them home sick. Each county will need to consider your leave policies in place, including whether you did or did not pass an emergency ordinance related to paid COVID-19 leave. You will also need to follow the requirements under the new federal sick leave provisions which began on April 1, 2020. If an employee calls in sick you may ask them what their 24

symptoms are to determine if they pose a direct threat as defined by the ADA. You may also take an employee’s temperature when they arrive at work, or during the day. If they have a fever you should send them home until they are at least 24 hours fever free. If an employee receives a diagnosis of COVID-19 or is directed to quarantine by a public health authority or medical provider, you may require a medical release permitting the employee to return to work. As a practical concern, health care professionals are busier than ever with the rapid spread of COVID-19 and may not be able to timely provide such documentation. Employers should consider other forms of certification that an individual does not have the virus, such as forms, fax, or e-mail. Information related to an employee’s fever or other symptoms are subject to the confidentiality requirements under the ADA. This information must be maintained and treated as a confidential medical record. Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) obligations and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act On March 18, 2020, Families First Coronavirus Response Act was passed with an effective date of April 1, 2020. The Act addresses several issues, but this article only highlights a few of the requirements of the provisions under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and impact to current employer obligations of the Family Medical Leave Act with the passage of the Emergency Family Medical Leave Expansion Act. The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act provides that covered employers must provide to all employees, regardless of length of employment, paid sick time to the extent that the employee is unable to work (or telework) due to a need for leave because: (1) the employee is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID–19; (2) the employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID–19; (3) the employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID–19 and seeking a medical diagnosis; (4) the employee is caring for an individual who is subject to an order as described in subparagraph (1) or has been advised as described in paragraph (2); (5) the employee is caring for a son or daughter of such employee if the school or place of care of the son or daughter has been closed, or the child care provider of such son or daughter is unavailable, due to COVID–19 precautions; and (6) the employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor. If an employee has a beforementioned qualifying reason, a full-time employee is entitled to 80 hours of leave time and a part-time employee, with a set schedule, is entitled to the number of hours equal to the number of hours that such an employee works, on average, over a two-week period. Employers are required to post notice of this information to be placed COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020

AAC where notices to employees are customarily kept. The Department of Labor will provide a sample poster within seven days of the enactment of this law. Further, exclusions promulgated by the Secretary of the Department of Labor regarding the ability to exclude certain health care providers and emergency responders from the definition of eligible employee. The Emergency Family Medical Leave Expansion Act applies to government employers and their employees who have been employed (on payroll) for at least 30 days prior to their request to take leave. The new leave category under FMLA is limited to when the employee is unable to work or telework due to the need to care for a son or daughter under 18 years old, if the school or place of care has been closed, or the child care provider of such son or daughter is unavailable, due to a public health emergency. This does not include regularly scheduled closings or breaks unrelated to COVID-19. The law provides up to 12 weeks of leave for all FMLA qualifying reasons, including the expanded provisions. This means if an employee has already used some FMLA leave in the relevant 12-month period, they are only entitled to the remainder of the 12-week period, even under the expanded provision. For example, where an employee has already used two weeks of FMLA this year, they are only eligible for 10 more weeks, including due to a school closing. This is not an additional 12-



week period. The first 10 days of leave under the expanded FMLA are not required to be paid by the employer. The employee may choose to have the first 10 days be unpaid. They may choose to use their regular PTO bank to cover the first 10 days, or the employee may choose to use their new COVID-19 paid leave as provided by federal law. If the employee uses their 80 hours under federal law, it is to be paid at two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay. The employee would be able to use their other leave banks to cover the remaining one-third. County employers may elect to exclude emergency responders from the benefits of the Emergency Family Medical Leave Expansion provision of the Act. The Department of Labor is expected to issue additional guidance regarding this exclusion. Employers should continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation for the state and county for safety and employment issues. Keep in mind, that the boundaries of what you can do legally may not necessarily be what you want to do from a practical standpoint. This article serves as guidance on what you can do but should not be construed as advice on what you should do. We recommend you continue to seek individualized legal advice as specific employment issues arise. If you have a question that was not addressed herein, please feel free to reach out to discuss.

AAC welcomes new RMS litigation counsel

he Association of Arkansas Counties (AAC) recently welcomed Camille Neemann as a new AAC Risk Management Litigation Counsel. Neemann, who has previously worked as an AAC law clerk, joined the staff in February and has brought a wealth of legal knowledge of law to the AAC Risk Management Services program. “I enjoy assisting county government in legal matters and supporting our community,” she said. “My primary focus is employment and HR related matters, including Equal Employment Opportunity Commission responseses. I am also a part of the AAC COVID-19 response team ” Neemann is originally from Chandler, Arizona. She completed a bachelor’s degree in political science and history at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. She moved to Little Rock in 2015 to attend the University of Arkansas Little COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020

Rock William H. Bowen School of Law, from which she graduated in 2018 with a juris doctorate degree. She has served as symposium editor on the Law Review Editorial Board. She currently is a board member on the Young Alumni Board. “I have always enjoyed reading, writing and researching,” she said. “I love being in the legal field because the practice combines the things I enjoy and provides me the opportunity to help others with legal matters.” Outside of work, Neemann volunteers with the Circle of Friends Jefferson County Chapter benefitting Arkansas Children’s Hospital and is a Court Appointed Special Advocate for foster care children in Jefferson and Lincoln counties. County officials may contact Neemann at or call 870372-7550.

Camille Neemann works on employment issues with AAC Risk Management Services. 25


FEATURE Handling stress and anxiety of coronavirus fears in your county

Story by Ron Manderscheid Executive Director, National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors


on’t let fear overtake the facts is the most important thing I can say to you about coronavirus fears As we wake up to an America that is becoming shuttered — schools, churches, theaters, restaurants and businesses all closed or closing for extended periods —our reality has changed dramatically. And even more extreme changes can be anticipated in the coming days. We all have a personal threat of contracting coronavirus and the growing realization that the pandemic is rapidly changing our lives in very extreme ways. These developments can and will lead to feelings of threat and fear, panic in some, and post-traumatic stress disorder in the most dramatic cases. To combat these emotional states in our staff and among the very vulnerable who we serve, several actions will be needed: • Get the facts out, even if they are unpleasant or difficult. It always is better to be informed with the facts than to allow assumptions, innuendo, and rumors to fuel fear. • Have an emergency plan of action and share that plan broadly with staff, clients, and your community. • Maintain ongoing communication with staff and clients, so that an informed point of information is available continuously.

• Hold frequent meetings with staff, even if virtually, so that people can express their concerns, fears and hopes. • Provide strong emotional support where it is needed and be less demanding about routine performance. Everyone is trying to cope in their own way. The international coronavirus crisis continues to grow. As of Sunday, there have been about 110,000 known cases in 79 countries, and nearly 4,000 persons have died. Just released research from Harvard University concludes that the mortality rate is about 15 persons per 1,000 infected, under the assumption that only about half of those infected actually are ever identified as cases. In the U.S., as of Sunday, there have been more than 400 cases in 34 states, and 19 persons have died. Great uncertainty also exists about the future course of the infection in the US, which is leading to disruptions in business, travel and the stock market. More testing kits will become available in the United States this week, which should help to contain and control the disease. However, many more testing kits are needed. Clearly, this period of great uncertainty can lead to fear and, in some cases, panic. For our behavioral health field, these emotional states can have very detrimental consequences. Ron Manderscheid is the executive director of the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors and the National Association for Rural Mental Health and an adjunct professor in the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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



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Doug Curtis AAC board welcomes Saline County Clerk Story and Photos by Holland Doran AAC Communications Coordinator


ot many people jump at the chance to oversee an election in a county with more than 120,000 people. For Saline County Clerk Doug Curtis, it’s a thrill. “They (elections) wear you completely down,” he said. “You start out in an election, you’re all pumped up, full of energy, ready to go. You have to make sure everything is checked, double-checked, tripled-checked; and you have to put out fires.” Running elections is one of the main reasons Curtis decided to run for county clerk, which he’s served as since 2012. “You hear everybody say elections are the cornerstone of our democracy — I truly believe that,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me as a county clerk whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat because we all count to 10 the same way.” Curtis and his wife, Jeannette, of 39 years have lived in Benton their whole lives. They have four children: Josh, John David, Johnica and Joanna, and five grandchildren. Before he was elected county clerk, Curtis served as a Saline County Justice of the Peace from 1990 to 2012. Curtis’ father, Billy Bob Curtis, served as an alderman in the city of Benton for 30 years and had a heart of service for his community. Curtis points to his father as his inspiration to run for office. “I’ve seen my dad answer the telephone and someone would have a problem, and my dad would jump through hoops to help them,” he said. “I’ve always admired that.” Curtis recalls at the age of 10 seeing a plaque with his father’s name on the side of a fire truck at a Benton fire station and thinking, “that’s the neatest thing.” Since that time, Curtis has served in a variety of capacities in Saline County. He serves as Second Vice-President of the Arkansas Association of County Clerks, as Secretary of the Board of Equalization and Intergovernmental Council Board, as a member of the Benton Area Chamber of Commerce, as a member of the Masonic Lodge and as a church deacon. Recently, he was chosen to represent his fellow county 28

clerks on the Association of Arkansas Counties (AAC) Board of Directors. He replaces Clark County Clerk Rhonda Cole, who retired at the end of 2019. Curtis said Cole had asked him if he would be interested in serving on the board. His answer was, “yes.” “I admire Rhonda Cole,” he said. “She made an impression on me. She’s a good one to have make an impression on you.” Curtis is enthusiastic to serve on the board. “I’m looking forward to it, I really am,” he said. “I have a lot to learn on the board. A lot of it I will be familiar with, a lot of it I won’t. I see the direction that the board is going. I like the direction it’s going. I’ve never been to any other association of counties in any other state, but I guarantee you that we’re top-notch.” Curtis’ son, Josh Curtis, serves as Governmental Affairs Director at AAC, which makes him blessed, he said. “Most dads don’t have the opportunity to see what their kid does,” he said. Curtis is passionate about protecting county historical records and has made a lot of progress in his office by setting COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020

AAC a goal to digitize records every year. He hopes to help other counties do the same. “Every county clerk, as far as I’m concerned, needs some kind of fund that can help protect all these old records,” he said. “There are all kinds of counties right now that at any minute they could have a courthouse fire and it would burn up our history… you need a secure place to keep your records.” Curtis is also passionate about pushing new voting equipment for county clerks’ offices. As Second Vice-President of the Arkansas Association of County Clerks, he has taken a “semilead” in lobbying for voting equipment funds from the Arkansas state legislature. It took Curtis seven and half years of requesting funds to get new equipment in Saline County. Though he said working with the legislature is “tiresome,” Curtis enjoys attending legislative meetings and lobbying for funding and other issues affecting county clerks. “That’s one thing that’s hard for county clerks or for any officials in the county — you look at it as wasting your time. In reality, it’s not because they (legislators) see you there. They know you’re representing (county clerks).” Curtis has helped institute a lot of upgrades to his office throughout the years, and the one that he’s most proud of is Saline County’s transition to voting centers. The county previously had six voting sites within a half mile of the office, he said. Those sites were consolidated. “That right there has made it more efficient and cost effective,” he said. “It’s a bigger bang for the taxpayers’ buck.” A few other changes his office has implemented include an automated marriage license registration program, a comprehensive website and additional storage space. COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020


Conway County Judge Jimmy Hart has been named interim AAC Board Secretary/Treasurer Jimmy Hart. He was elected county judge in 1999 and has served on the AAC Board since 2009.

Judge moves to AAC Board Secretary/Treasurer position Story by Holland Doran AAC Communications Coordinator


onway County Judge Jimmy Hart will serve as secretary/ treasurer for the AAC Board of Directors, replacing retired Clark County Clerk Rhonda Cole. AAC Board President Debbie Wise, who is the Randolph County Circuit Clerk, made the appointment at the Board’s February 2020 meeting. Hart was elected Conway County Judge in 1999 and has served on the AAC Board in various capacities since 2009. “I’ve enjoyed serving with great people from various walks of life, and it’s what makes our association a greater associa-

tion,” he said. “I feel very honored to be considered for the position and look forward to serving the AAC Board as best as possible.” As a member of the board, Hart serves as one of the voices of his fellow county judges, pushing for legislation and issues that affect their offices. Hart says he’s most proud of the strides that have been made in securing more funding for county road maintenance and 911 operations. “One voice doesn’t work,” he said. “But everybody together in one voice makes the difference.” Hart and his wife of 41 years, Nancy, have four children and eight grandchildren who call him “Papa Judge.” 29



— Photo by Lindsey Bailey French

— Photo by Holland Doran

Above: Randolph County Circuit Clerk and AAC Board President Debbie Wise and AAC Executive Director Chris Villines recognize the service of retired Clark County Clerk and AAC Board Secretary/Treasurer Rhonda Cole with a Diamond Award. Top right: State Sen. Bruce Maloch, whose District 12 includes part of Clark County, presents Cole with a Capitol Citation. Middle right: Clark County Judge Troy Tucker presents Cole with a plaque recognizing her 29 years of service to the county. Bottom right: Cole speaks to those attending a retirement party in her honor at the Clark County Courthouse.


Rhonda Cole retires, gets Diamond Award

ec. 31, 2019, marked the final day of work for Clark County Clerk Rhonda Cole, who has retired after serving her county for 29 years. Cole began her career in county government March 1, 1990, in the Clark County Clerk’s office. She took office as county clerk in January 1999. Cole held various leadership roles in the Arkansas Association of County Clerks. She served as vice president and legislative chair from 2010 to 2011, and she served as president of the association from 2012 to 2013. During her tenure, Cole served on various statewide boards and committees, including the State Board of Election Commissioners. She represented 30

the interests of county clerks on the AAC Board of Directors for five years. In 2018, she was elected by the Board to serve as secretary/treasurer. At the time of her election to that post, she said, “I am appreciative of the Clark County voters that have allowed me to be their county clerk. I am honored that the Arkansas Association of County Clerks voted for me to represent them on the AAC Board, and I am truly humbled that I am now secretary/treasurer of the AAC Board.” Saline County Clerk Doug Curtis has replaced Cole on the AAC Board, and Conway County Judge Jimmy Hart has been selected to serve as secretary/treasurer of the Board (see pages 28-29).

— Photo by Lindsey Bailey French

— Photo by Lindsey Bailey French




— Courthouse Photo by AAC Staff



Left: AAC staff took photos of the Saline County Courthouse in Benton with a drone. Above: Foliated terra cotta relief panels reading “1902 Saline County Courthouse” were installed above the east and west entries of the Saline County Courthouse.

A Romanesque Revival

Saline County Courthouse is a two-story building with many contrasting features. Story and Photos by Holly Hope Heritage and Tourism

The Saline County Courthouse in Benton was built in 1902 and displays many of the typical features of Romanesque Revival. Two additions to the original building were appended to the south and north in 1939. The southern addition has been removed, and the historic façade on that elevation was exposed, while the northern wing was expanded to the west in 1983. The historic elements of the Saline County Courthouse, designed by Arkansas architect Charles Thompson, are still evident, and the one-story addition utilizes a 20th-century expression of Romanesque Revival in sympathetic materials. Saline County was formed from Pulaski County in 1835, at which time the central city of Benton was chosen as county seat. Benton offered other advantages as a municipal center in that it was located on the Southwest Trail from Little Rock, and it offered population numbers sufficient for a government hub. Prior to 1838 court was held in available space. A school was utilized in 1835, and in 1836 a Baptist church served as a courtroom. In 1838, the first of three courthouses was built on land in Benton donated by Arkansas Gazette editor William Woodruff. The two-story brick building was of inferior construction, so it was demolished in 1856. The second courthouse for Saline County was constructed on the site in that year. After the Civil War, Saline County enjoyed a new era facilitated by railroad construction in the 1870s. In 1900 the St. Louis and Iron Mountain Railroad in Saline County was joined by the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific railroads. The benefits from these developments led to incremental expansion in business and population. Additional positive change in the economic character of the county was ushered in with COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020

the discovery of bauxite in 1887. Together, these advances influenced the need for a larger courthouse by 1902. In that year the Saline County quorum court dedicated $4,000 for construction of a new courthouse. Arkansas architect Charles Thompson designed the Romanesque Revival building, and John Odom was construction overseer. The $31,000 courthouse was erected on the location of the previous courthouse, which was demolished. The Romanesque Revival style in America was influenced by European architectural elements and was made popular by American architect Henry Hobson Richardson in the late 19th century. The style was considered suitable for such public buildings as courthouses because of the use of masonry construction, which could be considered less whimsical and more permanent — characteristics deemed appropriate for a seat of government. Textbook examples of Romanesque Revival include contrasting materials, round or polygonal towers with conical and pyramidal roofs, belt courses, recessed arched entries and windows, and dormers. All of these elements are displayed on the Saline County Courthouse. Romanesque style contrasting on the two-story building is evident in the walls of yellow brick atop a rusticated granite foundation topped by a limestone belt course, which traverses the building. Further use of contrasting materials is seen in foliated terra cotta relief panels reading “1902 Saline County Courthouse” above the east and west entries. A foliated terra cotta medallion reading “1902” is situated at the second story entrance. Extensive use of towers at all corners of the building reads Romanesque, as well. Historically, there were identical entrances on the four elevations of the building, so there was not a single, main entry. See


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Continued From Page 35


Left: Staircases of dark wooden turned spindle balusters, turned drops and square sectioned newel posts are situated to the east and west of the lobby. Right: The courtroom has been modernized, but the design of the original judge’s bench has been maintained. Today, an addition blocks the original north elevation, and the east and south entries are inaccessible, funneling public admission through the west facade. All remaining historic entrances exhibit deeply recessed arched openings embellished with brick and limestone decorative details. Windows on the courthouse are a variety of shapes and sizes, which heightens the visual interest. A square four-story clock tower at the southeast corner is the defining feature of the courthouse. Dramatic form is provided by a mixture of arched and square windows delineated by terra cotta egg and dart details at the first and fourth floors. Four round clock faces displaying Roman numerals are situated on each elevation. The clocks of the southeast tower were powered by electricity in the 1940s and are driven by the original 1902 movement provided by the E. Howard Company of Boston, Massachusetts. A shaft in the clock tower, which extended to the firstfloor office of the county judge contained chains to manually operate the bell. The chains have been removed, and the shaft in the judge’s office has been boxed in, but it is still visible in the tower. School groups have been allowed to view the historic apparatus, and the students have left multiple signatures on the brick walls to commemorate their visit. Renovations to the courthouse took place in 1939. The county allocated $24,000 for two, one-story wings to the north and south of the building for jail space, offices, and storage vaults. These were sizable additions, which ob34

scured the original arched entries; however, care was taken to utilize matching yellow brick and limestone belt courses, as well as an arched entrance on the south wing. In 1983, the jail in the north wing was expanded, but by 2007 a new jail had been constructed elsewhere, so the space was converted to county services. Again, sympathetic materials were used and architectural resources that mimic the form of the original building were incorporated. Rusticated grey stone forms the foundation, fenestrated gabled elements at the roofline provide light, and two towers with hexagonal roofs are capped with finials similar to those on the original building. The scale and execution of the 20th-century wing is altogether appropriate, and embraces the character of the historic building. The interior of the courthouse is simple and ties in the use of the arched forms of the exterior. Staircases of dark wooden turned spindle balusters, turned drops and square sectioned newel posts are situated to the east and west of the first-floor lobby. Original doors have been replaced, but the current paneled and glazed forms with coved surrounds and transoms are historically correct. The first floor of the lobby exhibits original, individually laid octagonal tiles. In 2014, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program (AHPP) provided the county with a $25,269 County Courthouse Restoration grant to replicate the original tile design on the second floor. A wooden telephone booth, fully equipped with original phone and bench, was relocated from the entry hallway to the western COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020



Left: A New Deal-era mural entitled “Bauxite Mining” is displayed on the first floor. The mural depicting bauxite miners was created in 1941 by artist Julius Woeltz under the U.S. Treasury Departments’ Section of Fine Arts public art program. Originally installed in the Benton post office, it was restored and moved to the courthouse in 1998. stairwell. A New Deal-era mural entitled “Bauxite Mining” is displayed on the first floor. The mural depicting bauxite miners was created in 1941 by artist Julius Woeltz under the U.S. Treasury Departments’ Section of Fine Arts public art program. Originally installed in the Benton post office, it was restored and moved to the courthouse in 1998. Four fireplaces in varying designs are located within offices of the courthouse. Rather than wood burning forms, Sanborn fire insurance maps suggest they had gas inserts. Two of the fireplaces are of identical design consisting of shallow brick fireboxes surrounded by a wooden mantel and overmantel with beveled mirror insert. Carved Ionic columns support the mantels and overmantels and they are further embellished with a foliated swag. A second form is similar, featuring Ionic columns and swag, but the overmantel was excluded. The fourth is a minimal Craftsman form with brick surround and simple wooden mantel supported by thick wooden brackets. The second-floor courtroom has been modernized, but the design of the original judge’s bench has been maintained. The coffered hardwood bench is flanked by low paneled desks functioning as the witness bench and seating for the court reporter. The backdrop, which once provided space to store the judicial robes, features slender Ionic columns and projecting molding. All of these details that make the Saline County Courthouse the centerpiece of downtown Benton have been consciously retained. Saline County Judge Jeff Arey said that despite any COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020

circumstance, Saline County will keep up the courthouse because they are committed to its preservation. To this end, since 2002, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program has provided the county $103,377 for masonry repairs, a new roof, fascia and foundation repairs, water mitigation, and restoration of the tile floor. In 2019, the county applied for a $33,000 grant from the AHPP to compile a preservation plan in order to ensure that the historic character of the Saline County Courthouse is a continued objective. This is a likely circumstance as the attitude of Judge Arey is that the courthouse is an iconic building for the county, and that “as good as it gets, is as good as we are.” Sources: Arey, Jeff. Saline County Judge, Benton, AR. Interview with author 1/07/2020. Craig, Jared. ‘Saline County.” The Encylopedia of Arkansas. Found at Accessed 01/14/2020. Gill, John and Marjem. “On the Courthouse Square in Arkansas.” (Place of publication no identified). 1980. Goodspeed Firm. “The Goodspeed Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Central Arkansas.” Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1889. Laster, Patricia Paulus. “Benton (Saline County).” The Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Found at https://encyclopediaofarkansas. net/entries/benton-979/. Accessed 01/09/2020. 35



AAC hosts annual legislative reception


he AAC hosted its annual Legislative Reception on Dec. 19, 2019. The event was well attended by members of the state Legislature, as well as county and district officials. The reception gives AAC policy staff and county and district officials the opportunity to get to know legislators better, to thank them for their work during the previous session, and to discuss issues that may need to be considered in future sessions.

Top: AAC Executive Director Chris Villines welcomes all in attendance. Above: AAC RMF Counsel Colin Jorgensen and Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison, who also serves as AAC Board vice president and County Judges Association of Arkansas (CJAA) president, pause their conversation to take a photo. Left: Kim Bradley, executive administrative assistant for the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association; Scott Bradley, executive director of the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association; Sterling Penix, Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committees Coordinator; and state Rep. Keith Slape, a former sheriff, gather during the reception for a photo.



Top left: Clark County Judge Troy Tucker speaks with Sevier County Judge and CJAA Secretary/Treasurer Greg Ray. Top middle: Cleburne County Assessor Judy Land and her husband Commissioner of State Lands Tommy Land visit with JR Hankins, chief of staff to Secretary Jami Cook of the Arkansas Department of Public Safety. Top right: Boone County Justice of the Peace David Thompson, who is an AAC Board member and president of the Association of Arkansas Quorum Courts, chats with Craighead County Treasurer Terry McNatt, who is an AAC Board member and president of the Arkansas County Treasurers’ Association. Middle left: Crawford County District Judge Chuck Baker; Crawford County Sheriff Ron Brown, president of the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association; and Sebastian County Justice of the Peace Danny Aldridge visit. Middle: Greene County Judge Rusty McMillon visits with state Rep. Andrew Collins. Middle right: State Rep. Rick Beck, whose District 65 encompasses Conway County chats with Conway County Judge and AAC Board Member Jimmy Hart.


Left top: Crawford County Circuit Clerk Sharon Blount-Baker and Monroe County Circuit Clerk Alice Smith speak as Monroe County Clerk Tina Wofford looks on. Left bottom: State Sen. Mark Johnson and state Rep. Mary Bentley, both of whose districts include a part of Perry County chat. Johnson’s wife, Catherine, accompanied him to the reception.



PHOTO RECAP Treasurers explore wide range of topics

Pulaski County Treasuer/Collector Debra Buckner, Columbia County Treasurer Selena Blair and Benton County Treasuer Deanna Ratcliffe share how they use technology to strengthen security, streamline systems, identify fraud, and create a more enjoyable experience for the public.

The Arkansas County Treasurers’ Association held its winter conference Feb. 19-21, 2020, in Little Rock/Pulaski County. Treasurers heard presentations on topics such as property taxes, bonds, investments, mutual funds, organization and designation of district courts, employee retirement, office security, technology and more.

Far left: Arkansas County Treasurers’ Association President and Craighead County Treasurer speaks with Grant County Treasurer Tim Stuckey. Left: AAC Consultant Eddie Jones delivers a presentation on the history of Arkansas property taxes.

Above, left: Polk County Treasurer Tanya Fretz and Yell County Treasurer Debra Craig smile for a photo. Above, center: Faulkner County Treasurer Scott Sanson speaks during a panel discussion on technology. Above, right: Independence County Treasurer Bob Treadway and White County Chief Deputy Treasurer Jennifer Slane pause during their discussion to take a photo. 38




Circuit clerks get overview of nuclear plant

Miller County Deputy Circuit Clerk Katie Vickers, Pulaski County Deputy Circuit Clerk Cherie Abston and Washington County Circuit Clerk Kyle Sylvester talk during a conference break.

The Arkansas Circuit Clerks’ Association held its winter conference Feb. 1114, 2020, in Russellville/Pope County. Conference attendees heard presentations on justice in civil cases, court security grants, electronic appeals, unclaimed property, employee retirement, employee issues, and more. Arkansas Nuclear One Site Vice President John Dinelli also gave circuit clerks an overview of Arkansas Nuclear One. Hot Spring County Chief Deputy Circuit Clerk Melissa Ramsey talks with Union County Circuit Clerk Cheryl Wilson during a communication team-building exercise.

Circuit Clerks’ Association President and Monroe County Circuit Clerk Alice Smith welcomes meeting attendees.

Left: Sebastian County Circuit Clerk Denora Coomer and Cross County Circuit Clerk Rhonda Sullivan show off the classic duo they were assigned during a communications team-building game. Above, left: Arkansas Auditor of State’s Office Compliance Director Josh Wood talks about unclaimed property. Above, right: Arkansas Supreme Court Police Chief and Administrative Office of the Courts Director of Security Pete Hollingsworth speaks on court security grants. COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020



PHOTO RECAP Elections focus of county clerks’ winter meeting

Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners Educational Services Manager Jon Davidson, Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office Election Coordinators Joshua Bridges and Shantell Hayes-McGraw, Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners Director Daniel Shults, and Legal Counsel Chris Madison answer questions regarding elections.

The Arkansas County Clerks Association held its winter conference Feb. 5-7,2020, in Little Rock/Pulaski County. Election security and logistics were the center of discussion at the meeting. Staff from the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office, Arkansas State Board of Election Coordinators and Arkansas Geographic Information Systems fielded questions on election logistics. The agenda also included a presentation on family and medical leave by AAC Legal Counsel Brandy McAllister. Boone County Election Coordinator Beckie Benton, Pope County Clerk Pam Ennis and Pope County Chief Deputy Clerk Karri Warren talk during a meeting break.

Arkansas County Clerks Association President and Little River County Clerk Deanna Sivley welcomes clerks to the meeting.

Above, left: Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston drops by the county clerks meeting. Above, center: State Geographic Information Officer of Arkansas Shelby Johnson covers mapping and redistricting in relation to the 2020 census. Above, right: Cleveland County Clerk and Circuit Clerk Jimmy Cummings and Baxter County Clerk and Circuit Clerk Canda Reese talk during a meeting break. 40




Judges bring their winter meeting to Pulaski County More than 60 members of the County Judges Association of Arkansas gathered for their winter meeting Feb. 5-7, 2020, in Little Rock/Pulaski County. Their extensive agenda included presentations on cell towers, levees, 911, the 2020 census, intergovernmental council/board and commission duties, fire departments and more.

CJAA Immediate Past President and Madison County Judge Frank Weaver and CJAA President nad Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison pose for a photo before the opening general session. Ashley County Judge Jim Hudson and Lincoln County Judge Buddy Earnest visit with an exhibitor.

Walt Coleman, a longtime football official who served as an NFL referee, was the motivational speaker during the Feb. 6 luncheon. After he finished speaking, the CJAA presented Coleman with a donation to his favorite charity, Joseph Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp.

Baxter County Judge Mickey Pendergrass, whom Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed to the state’s Complete County Committee, discusses the importance of an accurate census count. COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020

Above left: Pike County Judge Dewight Mack and Jackson County Judge and CJAA 2nd Vice President Jeff Phillips pose for a photo. Above: Yell County Judge Mark Thone speaks about levees. Left: Miller County Judge Cathy Hardin Harrison stops in the exhibit hall to chat with a new exhibitor. 41


PHOTO RECAP Sheriffs meet in Pulaski County, present awards

Arkansas Sheriffs Association President and Crawford County Sheriff Ron Brown (center) welcomes conference attendees to the event in Little Rock/ Pulaski County.

The Arkansas Sheriffs Association (ASA) held its winter conference Feb. 2-5, 2020, in Little Rock/Pulaski County. Sheriffs, jail administrators and employees, and chaplains gathered to receive updates and training on subjects affecting their offices. Topics included jail standards, use of force issues, legislative issues, inmate intake, data collection, upcoming training opportunities, and more. The ASA also recognized retired law enforcement for their service with Lifetime Awards.

Professor, author and inspirational speaker Damon West was the guest speaker during the conference prayer breakfast. West shared how a life sentence in prison changed his life.

Arkansas State Rep. Carol Dalby was a guest speaker during the ASA conference luncheon on Feb. 4. Far left: Arkansas State Rep. Dan Sullivan (left) chats with Cleburne County Sheriff Chris Brown during lunch. Left: Arkansas Jail Administrators Association President Richard Mitcham (right) addresses a room of jail administrators and employees.





More than 100 meet for annual HR seminar

AAC Risk Management Fund Legal Counsel Brandy McAllister (left) talks with seminar attendees.

More than 100 county officials and employees gathered at AAC Dec. 13, 2019, to hear from a host of legal professionals on human resources topics. Speakers covered topics such as fringe benefits, tax exempt government entities, personnel policy, overtime and minimum wage litigation, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Americans with Disabilites Act, accountable travel plans, the Family and Medical Leave Act, workers compensation and more.

Attorney Jason Owens speaks on overtime and minimum wage litigation. Above, left: Ruby Allen, assistant to Arkanas County Judge Eddie Best, asks a question about one of the topics being discussed. Above, right: Director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Little Rock Area Bill Cash gives an overview of EEOC.

Attorney Kaylen Lewis answers questions on family and medical leave.

Left: Attorney Jason Ryburn answers questions on workers compensation issues. Above: Internal Revenue Service Agent Deishun Robinson speaks to a large group of county officials and employees on fringe benefits and tax exempt government entitites. COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020



PHOTO RECAP Collectors hold winter meeting in Saline County

Arkansas County Collectors’ Association Vice-President and Saline County Collector Joy Ballard welcomes collectors. At the head table with Ballard are association 2nd Vice-President and Pulaski County Collector/Treasurer Debra Buckner, association Secretary/Treasurer and Garland County Collector Rebecca Talbert, association President and Crittenden County Collector Ellen Foote, executive board member and Baxter County Collector Teresa Smith and executive board member and Boone County Collector Amy Jenkins.

Arkansas County Collectors Association President and Crittenden County Collector Ellen Foote welcomes meeting attendees.

AAC Chief Legal Counsel Mark Whitmore speaks on Arkansas levee districts reporting. 44

County collectors gathered in Benton/Saline County, Dec. 4-6, 2019, for their annual winter meeting. The group covered a variety of timely topics including updates on the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System (APERS), unclaimed property reporting, and levee districts reporting. Collectors also received a visit from Arkansas Commissioner of State Lands Tommy Land.

APERS Retirement Section Manager Jacobia Twiggs speaks on retirement benefits. Arkansas Commissioner of State Lands Tommy Land (left) chats with collectors during a meeting break.

Above: AAC Law Clerk Arik Cruz speaks on the logistics of levee districts reporting. Left: Pope County Collector Jennifer Haley and Deputy Collectors Stacy Pack and Darci LaRue, show off their matching shirts. COUNTY LINES, WINTER 2020

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Supreme Court allows ‘public charge’ rule to proceed By Rachel Merker and Eryn Hurley The U.S. Supreme Court’s Jan. 27, 2020, order, allowing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to begin enforcing the agency’s “public charge” rule, may increase the use of county-provided social services and impose new administrative demands on counties. The court lifted a nationwide injunction on the rule as litigation continues, allowing its enforcement starting Feb. 24, 2020, delayed a few months from its October 2019 implementation date after federal judges in multiple states blocked it. The rule widens the scope of programs and factors that federal immigration authorities may consider when determining whether an individual seeking permanent legal residency or a visa extension is likely to become a public charge — that is, primarily dependent on the federal government for subsistence. An individual is considered a public charge if they access government benefits that provide cash assistance or receive government-funded long-term institutional health care. The new rule would expand that, defining public charge as someone who relies on cash and non-cash benefits such as housing or food assistance for more than 12 months in a three-year period. When the proposal was announced in September 2018, NACo expressed concerns, that if implemented, the proposal would result in fewer individuals accessing federal benefits, thereby increasing usage of and demand for local services. Additionally, the change could also impose new administrative

demands on counties already facing strict budget constraints. NACo also released an analysis of the rule that outlines key modifications to the “public charge” definition and how the rule may impact counties. Under the proposed definition, DHS cites that nearly 400,000 immigrants per year already in the United States would be subject to the new requirements and regulations. The proposal also reduces the dollar amount an individual may receive in public assistance before they are deemed a “public charge.” An individual who accepts the equivalent of at least 15 percent of federal poverty guidelines (equivalent to roughly $1,800 a year, or $150 a month) would be deemed a “public charge.” The new rule would include a variety of additional programs that would classify a person as a public charge: individuals above the age of 21 using Medicaid, low-income subsidy and housing assistance, including public housing, Section 8 housing vouchers or rental assistance and food stamps. The rule would apply to any individual seeking to come to the United States through various visas, with limited exceptions for certain immigrant populations, such as refugees. The proposal would also impact individuals already in the country who are seeking to become permanent legal residents or to extend their stay in the country by renewing their immigration status. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, lower courts are expected to hear lawsuits on the public charge rules in the coming months. Once those lawsuits are settled, it is possible the Supreme Court will review the public charge issue again.

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