Fall 2023 County Lines

Page 1

County Lines The Official Publication of the Association of Arkansas Counties

Fall 2023

OPERATION GREEN LIGHT Counties honor veterans Page 5

Funding the Justice System Page 14

Saline County JP Retires Page 36





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In This Issue FALL 2023



Retired Saline County JP Reflects on 26 Years........................36 Ghostly Encounters.......................................................................40 Lithium Extraction........................................................................43 AAC Photo Recap: Supervisor Bootcamp....................................44 AAC Photo Recap: Crisis Communications..................................45 AAC Photo Recap: Assessors......................................................46 AAC Photo Recap: Coroners........................................................47 AAC Photo Recap: Guardian Users................................................48 AAC Photo Recap: Circuit Clerks....................................................49

From the Director’s Desk...................................................................7

AAC Photo Recap: County Clerks...................................................50 AAC Photo Recap: Treasurers.........................................................51 AAC Photo Recap: Judges...............................................................52

News from NACo...............................................................................54

Cover Notes: Operation Green Light for Veterans

President’s Perspective.....................................................................9 AG Opinions........................................................................................12 AAC Research Corner.......................................................................14 Seems to Me.....................................................................................20 Legal Corner.......................................................................................24 Governmental Affairs.......................................................................26 AAC Risk Management Services...................................................28 ARORP Update..................................................................................29

Cover Courthouse Photo by: Hannah Morton, Ashley County Judges’ Office

During Veterans Day week in November, the National Association of Counties (NACo) and the National Association of County Veterans Service Officers (NACVSO) invited the nation’s 3,069 counties, parishes, and boroughs to join Operation Green Light and show support for veterans by lighting their buildings green. By shining a green light, county governments and residents let veterans know they are seen, appreciated and supported. This year, Ashley County (Front Cover), Benton County (Above Left), Bradley County (Above Right) and Johnson County (Not Pictured) participated. — Photos courtesy of each county COUNTY LINES, FALL 2023


2023-2024 Jan. 28-31 Sheriffs Marriott, Little Rock

March 26-28 Circuit Clerks Fairfield Inn & Suites, Benton

Feb. 14-16 County Clerks Holiday Inn Convention Center, Texarkana

March 27-29 Judges Hot Springs Convention Center, Hot Springs

March 5-7 Treasurers DeGray Lake Resort, Bismarck

April 9-11 Collectors Mt. Magazine Lodge, Mt. Magazine

March 5-8 Assessors Basin Park Hotel, Eureka Springs

May 6-8 County Clerks Graduate Hotel, Fayetteville

Calendar activities also are posted on our website:


Contact AAC

AAC Mission Statement


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 www.arcounties.org

Chris Villines, Executive Director cvillines@arcounties.org

Cindy Posey, Accountant Karen Bell, Program Assistant kbell@aacrms.com cposey@arcounties.org

Anne Baker, Executive Assistant abaker@arcounties.org

Jenny Evans, Accounting & Program Assistant Ellen Wood, Admin. Asst./Receptionist ewood@aacrms.com jevans@arcounties.org

Loretta Green, Receptionist lgreen@arcounties.org Eddie A. Jones, Consultant e.jonesconsulting@gmail.com Mark Whitmore, Chief Legal Counsel mwhitmore@arcounties.org Colin Jorgensen, AAC Litigation Counsel cjorgensen@arcounties.org Josh Curtis, Governmental Affairs Director jcurtis@arcounties.org Lindsey French, Legal Counsel lfrench@arcounties.org Christy L. Smith, Communications Director csmith@arcounties.org

Brandy McAllister, RMS Counsel Mark Harrell, IT Manager bmcallister@arcounties.org mharrell@arcounties.org

Risk Management/ Workers’ Compensation

JaNan Thomas, RMS Litigation Counsel jthomas@arcounties.org

Debbie Norman, Risk Mgmt. & Insurance Director dnorman@aacrms.com Melissa Dugger, RMS Litigation Counsel mdugger@arcounties.org

Misty Petrus, Workers’ Comp Claims Mgr. Aaron Newell, RMS Litigation Counsel mpetrus@arcounties.org anewell@arcounties.org Cathy Perry, Program Analyst Mallory Floyd, RMS Employment Counsel cperry@aacrms.com mfloyd@arcounties.org Kim Nash, Workers’ Comp Claims Adjuster Fonda Fitzgerald, RMS Paralegal knash@aacrms.com ffitzgerald@arcounties.org Renee Turner,Workers’ Comp Claims Adjuster Shantina Osborn, RMS Paralegal rturner@aacrms.com sosborn@arcounties.org Jacob Trumble, Claims Analyst Samantha Wren, RMS Legal Assistant jtrumble@arcounties.org swren@arcounties.org

Sarah Perry, Communications Coordinator sperry@arcounties.org

Greg Hunt, Claims Analyst Erica Archer, RMS Legal Assistant earcher@arcounties.org ghunt@aacrms.com

Michael Roys, ACE Program Coordinator mroys@arcounties.org

James Mirus, Member Services Manager Kim Mitchell, Premium Analyst jmirus@arcounties.org kmitchell@aacrms.com




County Lines County Lines [(ISSN 2576-1137 (print) and ISSN 2576-1145 (online)] is the official publication of the AAC. It is published quarterly. For advertising inquiries, subscriptions or other information, please contact Christy L. Smith at 501.372.7550.

Executive Director/Publisher Chris Villines Communications Director/ Managing Editor Christy L. Smith Communications Coordinator/Editor Sarah Perry AAC Executive Board: Debbie Wise – President Brandon Ellison – Vice President Jimmy Hart – Secretary-Treasurer Tommy Young Deanna Sivley Debra Buckner Dana Baker Kevin Cleghorn Terry McNatt Rebecca Talbert Doug Curtis Gerone Hobbs Marty Boyd John Montgomery Heather Stevens Brenda DeShields Selena Blair Bobby Burns 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 is a member of the Jefferson County Quorum Court. Barry Hyde: Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee.Vice Chair of Transportation Steering Committee. He is the Pulaski County Judge. Rusty McMillon: Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee. He is the Greene County Judge Kevin Smith: IT Standing Committee. He is the Sebastian County Director of Information Technology Services. Gerone Hobbs: Membership Committee. He is the Pulaski County Coroner. Paul Elliott:Vice Chair of Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee, vice chair of law enforcement subcommittee. He is a member of the Pulaski County Quorum Court. Ellen Foote: Community, Economic & Workforce Development Steering Committee. She is the Crittenden County Tax Collector. Tawanna Brown:Telecommunications & Technology Steering Committee. She is the Chief Computer Operator for Crittenden County.



Lanes and legacies


have always aspired to be a decent bowler, but when I wake up from that dream, I remember that it’s a win if I can keep the bowling ball in my lane and not somebody else’s. Same is true for skee-ball, where it’s not uncommon for Dave and Busters to position a bouncer by me to get me out quickly in the event I injure an adjacent patron. I hate to admit this, but I really like these newer bowling Chris Villines AAC lanes that can provide you with the pop-up gutter guards. Executive Director The confidence of a higher bowling score is not shaken by this underlying deception. Believe it or not, I intend to tie this into county government — all levels of government, in fact. A few years ago, Westside Junior High School in Benton taught a robust year of Civics, and I learned a little about government, but at an age so disconnected from adult realities much was forgotten in the fog of teenagery. Our excellent teacher, Karl Barnes, had a hard time getting classes of 8th graders to focus on the difference between governments, agencies, and courts we considered irrelevant to our career paths. The requirements of K-12 civic education are still similar to those of my youth — a limited number of classes before the age you realize their importance. I am fortunate that my continued education and subsequent county government experiences have deeply rooted my knowledge of government. And I have learned that our great country has an equally great government, made slightly imperfect through human infestation. As we break down different areas and types of government, we find that many people are lingering in a sophomoric understanding of the interactions between legislative, judicial, and executive branches and the compounding variances when considering federal, state, and local levels. This complexity is something we in government have a duty to explain clearly and honestly with our fellow citizens. Unfortunately, we face an uphill battle in fulfilling this obligation. Civil discourse was a mainstay in our country for many years, and it has evaporated into defensive, often accusatory polarization in discussion. I’ve noticed a lot of federal versus state finger wagging over responsibilities, and additional legislative verses judicial branch accusations flying. Some of the blame of responsibility would be laughable were it not being taken seriously, and soundbites rule public conversations. The public is confused. Rightly so. Lines of responsibility are clear in the law but obfuscated by a handful of politicians sacrificing their responsibilities at the altar of favorability ratings. Feds placing the blame on the state, the state pointing the fingers back upstream (or downstream to locals), and the breakdown of good government ensues. I write what follows often but let me repeat: I love local government — you don’t have the luxury of confusing the public. You must answer accurately and with immediacy. A recent example of this obfuscation is crypto mining in Arkansas. A recently passed state law gave cities and counties a short window of time to pass local noise ordinances limiting development that would be too loud. Prior to that law there was no deadline to act. Some in the state said this law empowered cities and counties when in reality it diminished their powers. And citizens, drawn to the action that local governments have taken, see no such action at a state or federal level. There is real public fear of Chinese owned crypto-mining operations infiltrating our networks with the ability to hack U.S. infrastructure. I’m >>> 7



not smart enough to understand block-chain technology nor can I assess the danger to our system, but this seems to be a national defense issue, something way above the paygrade of city and county authority, possibly above state authority as well. Without guidance nationally, fingers naturally point to the only group that has done anything about the issue: city and county governments. Think about this for a moment. By limiting the authority of local governments to pass noise restrictions, our counties hurriedly put into place the only thing we could use to regulate cryptomining operations while the federal and state government forwarded no regulations. As a result, some citizens misplaced their anger at the one group that had acted using all the power available to them — the cities and counties. You can’t make this stuff up. If the anger is about homeland security, national defense, utility overload, or foreign ownership the last level of government that can help you is the first to be questioned — because they acted within all their authority as limited by state statute. This is just one example of the confusion surrounding lanes of government. It takes our collective eyes away from what we need to be doing — good governance for those we work for. Being honest about what we can and cannot do is not a game, it is the responsibility we take on as public servants. Powers of government in this country were wisely dispensed by our forefathers. The checks and balances are not drawn to establish blame, but responsibility. If as much time was spent accepting this responsibility on our national newscasts as is devoted to blaming others — well, we’d be doing alright. My pastor on Sunday always leaves me with a couple of action items before we can go eat. So, I’ll follow his lead. Remember that people are confused. They slept through the same civics classes you and I had years ago — and didn’t really have the opportunity to learn more like we have. Make sure you help them understand lanes of government. Take the time. Enjoy the opportunity you have to educate people about how government works without devolving into the trappings of a specific arguable issue.

••• Talking about agreeable public servants is a remarkable segue into the life of recently passed former Pulaski County Judge Floyd G. “Buddy” Villines. I always enjoyed Buddy’s company and his broad well-read knowledge. No matter the subject, Buddy was an expert and inquisitive learner at the same time. He came by the name “Buddy” honestly — nicknamed by his mother years ago because of his friendly proclivities. I have been asked countless times my kinship with Buddy, with many funny assumptions. Some even thinking I was him. Alas, Buddy and I both hail from northern Arkansas (Newton and Boone counties), where the Villines name is common. Buddy was a distant cousin, both of us descended from Abraham Villines many years ago. Abraham migrated through Tennessee if memory serves me correctly and he eventually settled in a cave in Carroll County. If lore is accurate his sons became rather well to do and lived in these newfangled creations called houses to which they would invite ole Abraham in from the rain. He politely declined (explains a little of oaur Villines stubbornness I suppose). At Buddy’s memorial his life was compared to a bridge — a proper metaphor. The Broadway Bridge, the Rock Island Bridge, the Big Dam Bridge, and others are testimonies to his vision of a united community that spanned the Arkansas River. He united governments to build the ALLTEL (now Simmons) Arena and a biking/trail system on par with the best in the country. I remember well talking with Buddy about Portland, Oregon, at a NACo conference and how he brought home the trail idea from the wonderful system they had in place there. I think Buddy would want me to mention that attending NACo and other national conferences can indeed give you great ideas to bring home. On a smaller scale, even our instate association meetings provide great concepts. Buddy’s legacy lives on in many wonderful things in central Arkansas, and though not closely related I’m proud to share a last name with him.

Follow us on Facebook @75ARcounties for all the latest county news. 8





Learning to lead well

hope you all are enjoying the cooler fall weather. This is a time for reflection and gratitude. And one thing I’m grateful for is all the opportunities I have had to develop my skills so I can be a better public servant. I don’t believe we should ever stop learning. So, I would like to speak to you about the National Association of Counties’ High Performance Leadership Academy (HPLA). Almost 70 of Arkansas’ county elected officials and their staff have completed this unique 12-week web-based program. Tens of thousands of county officials from across the country have completed the program. I was among three Arkansans to enroll in the April 2020 cohort, and I still rely on the lessons I learned to guide me in my efforts to be a better manager and leader. I’ll be honest, I was very reluctant at first. I felt I simply didn’t have the time. I was already so busy in my office. I also was a bit intimidated by the professional level of the speakers, such as Gen. Colin Powell and Fortune 1000 executives. I finally came around and took advantage of the opportunity, and I am so glad I did. I loved participating in the program, and I learned that I knew more than I was giving myself credit for. HPLA was created to make existing and emerging managers smarter, more effective, and better leaders. In a nutshell, it teaches you to manage well. The course explores four categories — Leadership Mindset and Positive Engagement, Leading Effective Change, Communication and Collaboration, and Leading High Performance teams. The curriculum was developed by the Professional Development Academy in conjunction with business executives, public sector leaders, world-renowned academics, and thought leaders. It was designed specifically to address the unique challenges and opportunities of serving in county government. When you enroll in the program, you are assigned to a cohort. A cohort is composed of participants from across the country. This offers an excellent opportunity to network, bounce ideas off one another, learn about the challenges other counties face, and work together to come up with solu-

tions. It’s much like our continuing education meetings, where participants come from across the state to learn from each other. Cohorts are divided into breakout groups of 10 to 12 people DEBBIE WISE who meet virtually and discuss the AAC Board President; topics at hand. Then the breakout Randolph County Circuit Clerk groups come back together to share their thoughts and perspectives to the cohort without ever leaving the county. As for the time commitment, I found I could fully engage with the content in about four hours per week. And it truly is all online. The speakers were a wealth of information. The same leadership skills and networking techniques that apply in multimillion-dollar companies also apply in county government. Anyone in county government can participate, from established leaders looking to further their leadership skills to future leaders looking for confidence and to lead well. HPLA manages four cohorts a year — January, April, August, and September. The cost to the county starts at $1,995 per person, but discounts are available. I found the program to be worth every penny. You may find more information at https://www.naco.org/page/high-performance-leadership-academy. I greatly encourage everyone to take advantage of this resource. You won’t be disappointed — and neither will your employees and constituents.

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

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From leasing property to a roundup of opinions about what is a ‘civil office’ AG OPINION NO. 2023-036

The AG determined that the county judge has the general authority to lease real property owned by the county for extended periods of time. The specific question was whether the law on selling county property, Ark Code §14-16-105, limits the authority to lease county property. The AG noted that Ark Code §14-16-105 explicitly excludes leases. The AG noted that the expressed public policy of the state of Arkansas is to provide the state, cities, and counties authority to lease public lands for public purposes for periods as long as 99 years. See: Ark Code § § 14-269-103(b)(3) and 22-4-501(b)(3).

AG OPINION NO. 2023-017

The AG explained the broad authority the Commission on Law Enforcement and Training (CLEST) has on decertification of officers and establishing minimum standards. The AG found that the director may request a decertification hearing of an officer. The authority in the director to request a decertification hearing may present itself where the employing agency has direct knowledge of conduct that rose to the level of a normal hearing request for a decertification hearing, but the employing agency has refused to request a hearing.

AG OPINION NO. 2023-033

The AG issued another opinion on the interpretation of Amendment 95 of the Arkansas Constitution — Article 7, §53, which prohibits county officials and justices of the peace from “being appointed or elected to any ‘civil office’ in this state during the term for which the official has been elected.” This provision is like the longtime provisions of the Arkansas Constitution under Article 5, §10. The AG explained the first step to determine the application of the constitutional proscription is to determine whether a particular position qualifies as a civil office. Civil offices have a grant and power of the sovereign. Civil officers are subject to taking an oath, receiving a commission; and their tenure, compensation and duties are generally fixed by law. They are not hired by contract but are elected or appointed. Ark Code § 14-15-115 sets forth certain positions the General Assembly has identified as civil offices and positions identified as not being civil offices, such as advisory positions or task force positions. A county official or justice of the peace may continue to hold a civil office they held before appointment or election to 12

becoming a county official or justice of the peace. The AG made clear that city council, Mark Whitmore alderman, and town council are civil offices. Chief Legal Counsel Since the adoption of Amendment 95 and effective date of Jan. 1, 2017, the AG’s office has issued a litany of opinions on interpreting Amendment 95 of the Arkansas Constitution. A summary of several of those opinions include:

AG OPINION NO. 2017-112

The AG issued an opinion that the County Election commissioners; members of State Board of Pardons and Paroles; members of the Board of Trustees of Southern Arkansas University; members of local school board; and members of the State Board of Career Education, as well as sheriff’s deputy, city police officers, and members of the Saline County Parks and Recreation Commission all likely hold civil offices for the purposes of Article 7, § 53.

AG OPINION NO. 2023-005

For the second time, the AG furnished an opinion stating that a seat on a local school board is one of many positions that is considered a civil office as defined by statute in Ark. Code § 14-15-115.

AG OPINION NO. 2017-116

Another opinion states members of rural, regional and water use boards; members of waterworks and public sewers facilities boards; members of airport commissions; and the members of Arkansas Fire Protection Service Board all hold civil offices. The AG came to this conclusion on the basis that the Code establishes the powers and duties of each position, sets out their compensation or lack thereof, establishes the terms of office, as well as an oath of office requirement necessary to serve. The opinion further explained that members of county hospital boards; members of county or district boards of health; and members of a levee board or levee improvement district board also are likely considered civil offices. Additionally, each position exercises some level of sovereign power, namely the power of eminent domain, along with specific statutory powers about managing and lending money and issuing bonds.

AG OPINION NO. 2017-115

The Arkansas Supreme Court determined that teachers; superintendents of small school districts; the auditor COUNTY LINES, FALL 2023

AAC of the Arkansas Burial Association Board; and a delegate of the constitutional convention are not considered civil offices. Although the court has not decided whether a member of a county regional medical center’s political advisory board is considered a civil office, the AG opined that membership likely does not constitute a civil office. The opinion states that a regional medical center is a nonprofit corporation instead of a governmental entity, meaning membership can’t be seen as exercising the sovereign power of the state.

AG OPINION NO. 2017-028

Lastly, the AG believed a county clerk serving as the secretary of the county’s equalization board would not be an appointment to a civil office. Instead, it would only impose additional duties on the already elected official.

AG OPINION NO. 2017-114

The AG determined that members of a local Farm Bureau


Board — an independent, voluntary organization — would not be considered a civil office. Service in other private, nonprofit organizations like the Arkansas Cattlemen’s Foundation Board and local chambers of commerce also are not considered civil offices. On the other hand, boards and commissions developed by a statutory scheme such as the County Soil Conservation Board, County Library Board, Rural Development Authority, as well as boards created by county ordinance such as a County Fair Board or a local museum board would likely be considered civil offices.

AG OPINION NO. 2017-104

The AG stated that a court would likely decide the County Intergovernmental Cooperation Councils and the Electronic Recording Commission are not considered civil offices. These two boards, unlike the statutorily created Arkansas Workforce Development Board, simply impose additional duties on county elected officials instead of creating separate civil offices.


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RESEARCH CORNER How to best provide and fund the justice system in Arkansas


hroughout the United States various states and local governments face difficult and similar challenges and policy decisions concerning the manner to best provide a system of justice for its citizens. Similar hurdles are present nationwide. How to provide adequate funding? How to assure adequate services are provided throughout the state? What are the proper revenues to fund the courts? Can courts genuinely be funded from court costs? What are the proper uses for court cost revenues? A review of the funding of the courts in other states reflects that the most common problem is inadequate funding because of the unsustainable reliance on local government funding. Other states have attempted to tackle this problem through the creation of consistent funding sources for courts that relieve the courts from trying to raise enough money for their own operation. This is usually done by establishing uniform fees and centralizing the court system. Specifically, this means local governments need the state to take over certain costs the courts themselves are currently paying. In Minnesota, the state transitioned to a centralized system by moving several expenses to the responsibility of the state rather than local governments. As a result, the state now pays for the salaries of its direct employees that work in the local courts, which frees up a significant amount of money for other court purposes. The state also now pays for local trial court information expenses, jury costs, and other operational costs in Minnesota. Michigan has implemented similar protocols, as Michigan’s Legislature created the Trial Court Funding Commission to review the state’s trial court funding system and give recommendations on how to fix it.

Legislative Audit Study

Because Arkansas faces problems with the funding of its circuit court system, a study from Legislative Audit was requested by a legislative committee in 2015. (You may view the report at this link: https://www.arcounties.org/site/assets/files/3859/ courtcosts.pdf). The study was duly reported on Dec. 3, 2015. The study had several important findings regarding court funding in the state of Arkansas. The local government numbers from the study come from calendar year 2014. This study reports that county court revenues in 2014 totaled $18.4 million. The $18.4 million includes $13.7 million in circuit court fines, fees, and costs retained by the counties, $1.8 million in prosecuting attorney-related fees and costs, and $1.5 million in fees and costs related to public defenders. The study also reports 14

that county staff expenditures totaled $64.1 million for the same period. The $64.1 million includes $48.1 million in county DREW GAZAWAY resources for circuit courts, Law Clerk $12.6 million for prosecutors, and $3.2 million for public defender-related costs. The study concluded that counties were subsidizing the state court system by about $46 million in 2014 for staff expenditures. There is no doubt that that number has significantly increased by several million dollars nearly a decade later. The Arkansas state Administration of Justice Fund (AOJ) was created for counties by Act 1256 of 1995. The fund was created because at the time, the “judicial system [had] created inequity in the level of judicial services available to the state.” In addition, “the current method of financing the state judicial system [had] become so complex as to make the administration of the system impossible.” At the time, there was no information on exactly how much the state’s judicial system cost. As a result, it was the “intent of [Act 1256] to eliminate the current system of collecting and assessing a large number of individual court costs and filing fees, and to replace it with a uniform cost and fee to be applied statewide …” In addition, Act 1256 mandated that “[f ]rom the Fund, the county shall continue to finance the following county agencies and programs which are currently funded … by (uniform) filing fees and/or (uniform) court costs…” The fund is administered by the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA). When funds are remitted to the AOJ Fund, counties are allowed to keep a designated amount, certified by DFA, of the uniform filing fee and court costs to fund their county level AOJ programs. Amounts collected in excess of what DFA allows, as well as fees assessed by circuit courts during domestic violence proceedings and court record sealings, are remitted to DFA by the circuit courts and are put into the AOJ Fund. As required by Ark. Code Ann. §16-10-310, monthly distributions are made from the AOJ Fund to various state and non-state entities. The amounts retained by the counties for the county level AOJ programs are not adequate to sufficiently support court operations. This is especially true for the budget of the prosecutor and for public defense. Most, if not all, counties must supplement these budgets with general funds. Overall, the current system of funding the local level court operations is unstainable. Funding for the operation of the Arkansas courts system COUNTY LINES, FALL 2023



comes from many different sources. Under Ark. Code Ann. §§21-6-402 and 16-10-305, uniform filing fees and court costs are collected by the city, county, district courts, and circuit courts in Arkansas. Every city or county that collects these court costs or fees must remit them to the state AOJ Fund. The uniform filing fees and court costs in circuit court are $165. The collection amount for uniform filing fees is $150 for each filing. When the $150 is broken down, $40 is sent to the Arkansas State Treasurer and distributed as follows: $15 is split between the state’s two law schools and $25 is sent to the State Crime Laboratory; the remaining $110 is reported every month to DFA and is mostly deposited into the AOJ Fund. Other county level funding toward the operation of Arkansas courts exists from several different sources. For example, under Ark. Code Ann. Section 17-19-301, counties assess a bail bond fee of $20, which is remitted to the Public Defender Commission. Per each $20 fee, $3 is used by the county to help pay for the operation of the public defender’s office. Ark. Code Ann. Section 16-10-307, which established the county AOJ Fund, provides some funding for several programs set out in Ark. Code Ann. Section 16-10305. These agencies and programs include: the Prosecuting Attorney Fund, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Victim-Witness Program Fund, the Public Defender/Indigent Defense Fund and Public Defender Investigator Fund, and the County Law Library Fund. This level of funding is not adequate. Most if not all counties must appropriate general revenues to fund the justice system. This results in a $46 million dollar shortfall outpacing revenues referenced by Legislative Audit in their 2015 study. We will examine the areas of the shortfall below. An examination of these areas shows a need to adequately fund our justice system. There are several fundamental needs. One is for the state of Arkansas to fund state district judges’ salaries, rather than to continue obtaining funding for those salaries from city and county local revenues, a sum currently more than $4 million dollars annually. Another need is to use court costs to fund the operations of the courts. Several of the uses of court costs are worthy of reconsideration and more appropriate to fund from state general revenues. Act 1256, which created the county AOJ Fund, required the state of Arkansas to fund deputy prosecuting attorney salaries and refrain from mandating a net reduction of the gross county general turnback in the sum of $5.4 million dollars annually.

ment 80 district courts became part of a state judicial system rather than local courts of cities and counties. Under the express and unambiguous provisions of Amendment 80, district judges are state judges under the superintending control of the state supreme court. Because all district and circuit courts became state courts under Amendment 80, the state should pay the salaries of the state judges who occupy those courts. However, despite the express language of Amendment 80, the state continues to require local governments to pay a portion of the salaries of the state district court judges. This is in addition to the counties and cities paying for the operation of the district courts. The process called “court unification” is the process that aims to simplify court structure by centralizing management, rulemaking, budgeting, and funding. Amendment 80 has moved Arkansas toward unification. There are currently 66 state district court judges and 10 local district courts until an election in 2024. Those courts will transition to state district courts on Jan. 1, 2025. This will complete the transition and there will be 70 state district court judge positions. Counties and cities currently pay the aggregate sum of nearly $4 million dollars to the state for state district court judges. Counties alone pay $1,526,704, while cities pay $2,226,896.

Amendment 80

Ark. Code Ann. § 16-17-1106

Amendment 80 to the Arkansas Constitution governs the judicial branch of Arkansas state government and, when it was passed, abandoned the system of having separate courts for law and equity. Circuit courts became the general jurisdiction trial courts for the state of Arkansas. Under AmendCOUNTY LINES, FALL 2023

Amendment 94

Amendment 94, adopted by vote of the people in 2014, “created an independent citizens commission for the purpose of setting salaries of elected constitutional officers of the executive department, members of the General Assembly, justices, judges, and prosecuting attorneys[.]” Ark. Constitution Article 19, § 31(b). “The independent citizens commission shall have the duty to review and adjust as it deems necessary the salaries for” 15 enumerated state positions, including “[d] istrict court judge.” Id., §31(d)(14). Amendment 94 explicitly provides that “the salaries of the positions under … this section: (A) shall not be subject to appropriation by the General Assembly; and (B) shall be paid from the Constitutional Officers Fund…” Id., § 31(e)(1). The Constitutional Officers Fund is a state fund. Under Amendment 94, all members of the general assembly, elected constitutional officers of the executive department, justices, and judges — including state district judges — are subject to the independent citizens commission and must have their salaries paid by the state of Arkansas. Ark. Code Ann. §16-17-1106, adopted by the General Assembly in 2007, directs that state district court judges’ salaries should be paid from local county and city general See “JUSTICE” on Page 16 > > >




JUSTICE funds. Specifically, Section 16-17-1106(b)(1)(A) requires counties and cities to pay half the base salaries of district judges in Arkansas, and counties and cities do so as directed — despite the apparent conflict between the statute and the pronouncements in Amendments 80 and 94. Amendment 94 to the state’s Constitution mandates that this is a responsibility of the state of Arkansas, not of cities or counties. Furthermore, the voters of Amendment 80 and 94 would be under the belief those amendments established a full-time state judiciary independent, distinctly different from part-time locally funded judges.

Miscellaneous Programs

Hopefully, the study under Act 38 of 2023 will review the funding issues with the miscellaneous programs under the AOJ Fund. Act 796 of 2023 reflects the total appropriation for AOJ miscellaneous programs. Initially, there were 15 programs or agencies funded through the state AOJ Fund when it was established by Act 1256 of 1995. Act 1341 of 1997 slightly edited Act 1256 of 1995, adding two more programs. The act now enumerates 24 matters in Ark. Code Ann. § 16-10-310 that are funded by the city and county local funds, court costs and fees that are sent to the AOJ Fund. One item of note is the Judicial Retirement Fund, which is allotted $902,000. This means that, to the extent funded, court costs and court assessed fees are contributing to the retirements of judges. In essence, the state obtains part of the retirement for state judges from the collection of court costs and court assessed fees by counties, cities, and the courts. It is important to note that the AOJ Fund also pays $2.6 million dollars to the University of Arkansas, as well as $1.3 million to the Department of Transportation. Is this the proper use of court costs and court assessed fees? Given that our courts are underfunded, should these objectives be funded from state general revenues rather than from court costs and court assessed fees? Finally, it should be noted that Arkansas State Police Retirement is given funds from the AOJ Fund while the Arkansas State Police itself gets $400K. This is especially concerning because Arkansas State Police employees write tickets while the court costs are indirectly used to bolster their retirement and funding in general. County and city court costs should not be responsible for paying for things not related to the court system.

Constitutional Argument

The legal argument in favor of the state of Arkansas paying district court judges’ salaries involves interpreting the Arkan16

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sas Constitution. In doing so, courts are required to ascertain the plain meaning of the words that are used. See Brewer v. Fergus, 348 Ark. 577, 583, 79 S.W.3d 831, 834 (2002). This makes sure courts effectuate the intent of the people while also accomplishing the language’s purpose. The language of Amendment 94 is unambiguous, and the intent and purpose are likewise clear — the salaries of state judges, including district judges, are set by the independent commission established by Amendment 94, and those salaries must be paid by the state. To the extent that Ark. Code Ann. § 16-17-1106 requires counties and cities to pay a portion of those salaries, the statute conflicts with Amendment 94. The law makes clear that constitutional provisions, which include amendments, are controlling over any statute the legislature may pass. See Gravett v. Villines, 314 Ark. 320, 326, 862 S.W.2d 260, 263 (1993). Because laws are presumed constitutional, if there is a way to construe a statute to comport with the Arkansas Constitution, a court must adopt that construction to avoid a conflict, in which the constitutional provision would win. See Ford v. Keith, 338 Ark. 487, 494, 996 S.W.2d 20, 25 (1999); Jones v. State, 333 Ark. 208, 211, 969 S.W.2d 618, 620 (1998); and ACW, Inc. v. Weiss, 329 Ark. 302, 310, 947 S.W.2d 770, 774 (1997). Here, it is not possible to construe Ark. Code Ann. § 16-17-1106 in a way that does not conflict with Amendment 94’s clear language. Therefore, a court would likely rule it unconstitutional to require counties and cities to pay a portion of district judges’ salaries.

Policy Reasons

There are several policy reasons for creating an independent and unified judiciary, including paying the judges’ salaries from state general revenues rather than from court costs or revenues from local jurisdictions. One of the primary reasons is the disparities in local funding from county to county. See James D. Gingerich, Out of the Morass: The Move to State Funding of the Arkansas Court System, 17 U. Ark. Little Rock L. Rev. 249 (1995). “[J]udges in relatively wealthy counties express their concern that their financial support will diminish with state assumption of funding, while those in poorer counties that receive little support believe they have much to gain.” Id. In other words, there is a “huge variation in the quality of court services provided, based upon where one lives within the state.” Id. at 250. But in a unified court system where each court is a state court, each court should provide the same services for counties or very similar funding. See “JUSTICE” on Page 18 > > >






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Other problems include issues inherent with court costs. An example can be seen in Act 796 of 2023, which shows the total appropriation of funds for the AOJ miscellaneous programs. The Act enumerates 24 matters in Ark. Code Ann. § 16-10-310 that are funded by court costs and court assessed fees that are sent by counties, cities, and the courts to the AOJ Fund. The General Assembly needs to review the programs and decide which programs, if any, need to be eliminated, as well as which programs should be funded by state general revenues instead of uncertain court costs collections. Judges have expressed concerns about the fact that “the court must become a collection agency” and the ethical dilemma that comes along with that. See 17 U. Ark. Little Rock L. Rev. 249 (1995).

attorneys’ salaries. The state has continued to withhold this one-twelfth of 80 percent from the county’s general turnback. Because deputy prosecuting attorneys are established state employees, the state should be responsible for paying their salaries. Twenty-four years have passed, and counties seek to complete the transition of responsibility to the state of Arkansas to pay the state deputy prosecutors from the state general fund.

Public Defenders

Public defenders became state employees on Jan. 1,1998, pursuant to Act 1341 of 1997. Act 1341 sets out the transfer of funding of the state trial court system from county government to state government. In this transfer, counties were to give the state 85 percent of their revenue dedicated solely to public defenders, done through the AOJ Fund. Ark. Code Prosecuting Attorneys Ann. § 16-87-302 Deputy prosplainly states that ecuting attorneys the state, through became state emthe Arkansas Public ployees by Act 1044 Defender Comof 1999, which t has been over a quarter of a century since [Act 1341 of mission, is responbecame effective sible for paying the Jan. 1, 2000. Act 1997] was passed and county governments are spending salaries of public 1044 directs that defenders, their in every monthly more on public defenders now than they were then. support staff, and distribution of genother costs. Howeral revenues to the ever, in 1998, there counties, the state shall retain “onewere still 15 public twelfth of 80 percent” of the amount that was appropriated defenders being paid from the counties. by the counties for salaries and more. The state of Arkansas It has been over a quarter of a century since the act was does add substantial state funds for these purposes. From the passed and county governments are spending more on public start, in 2000 the state was paying 20 percent of the base year defenders now than they were then. Though the counties were as well as initial increased funding. This is in addition to all told in 2001 that they would no longer have to pay for public growth that has occurred within the past 24 years. However, defenders, counties are still paying for public defenders that the act required counties to pay for any other line item apshould be paid by the state. This is because the state does not propriations in the 1999 budget except for deputy prosecutfund an adequate number of public defender positions. The ing attorneys’ salaries and benefits. According to Ark. Code county is burdened by the responsibility of paying operational Ann. § 16-21-156(1), counties have responsibility for paying costs of public defenders, including facilities and supplies. The these operational costs for elected prosecuting attorneys and state, not the county, should do as the law directs, and pay for deputy prosecuting attorneys. the salaries of deputy public defenders and their support staff. The 28 prosecuting attorneys in the state of Arkansas are responsible for managing and supervising 245 deputy prosAct 38 of 2023 ecuting attorneys. However, every year from 2000 to date, House Bill 1245 of 2023 sponsored by Rep. Carol Dalby for almost a quarter of a century, counties have continued and Sen. Gary Stubblefield, Act 38 of 2023, requires a legislato incur a deduction of over $5.4 million dollars from the county general turnback. At the time, this legislation was part tive study of the financial matters related to the court system. The language of Act 38 states that the General Assembly found of the transition to the state paying for deputy prosecuting




AAC that, when Amendment 80 was passed, the judicial power was “clearly vested in the judicial department of state government.” The General Assembly also found that there was ambiguity regarding the funding and revenue sharing of the court system. Act 38 states that a study of statutory funding in the court system is necessary to understand whether “the financial benefits provided to municipalities, counties, and the state are equal to the amount of funding provided by these entities.” In its findings, the General Assembly found that “substantial amounts of money are assessed on defendants by the court system in the form of court costs, fees, and fines…” The legislature also found that “the defendant paying the court costs, fees, and fines assessed by the court system is often unable to do so in light of the substantial increase of those court costs, fees and fines over the past decade…” The language of the act goes on to describe how the court costs, fees, and fines that are assessed by the court system have “little or nothing to do with the operations of an individual court or the court system in its entirety…” Overall, the “purpose of the study … is to study financial matters related to the court system and to consider related legislation that may be necessary to remedy any issues identified during the course of the study.”


Specifically, Act 38 will study: “(A) All funding sources for the court system; (B) The collection and distributions systems of the court system; (C) All other financial matters related to the court system; and (D) Legislation that may be necessary to address any issues identified in the course of the study….” The study proposed by Act 38 is set to occur between 2023 and 2024.


As shown by the evidence cited above, Arkansas local governments cannot continue to fund the entire local court systems alone. There must be several policy decisions made concerning the best manner with which to provide justice for Arkansans. A particularly important decision includes the transfer between the state and local governments of responsibility regarding state employee salaries, which would enable the counties to use the money they generate to pay for costs and other expenditures it is responsible for, rather than paying for salaries that the state is responsible for. Changes such as this one could enable local governments to assure that adequate services are provided throughout the state, as the state and the courts would be able to use revenues to serve their proper function. Overall, a review of the funding of the courts in Arkansas has shown that changes must be made.


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Is it a crime for a county official to overspend their budget appropriation?


s it a crime for a county official to overspend their budget appropriation? That question begs another question — How is it possible for an official to overspend his/her appropriation under a system that is geared to ‘checks and balances’? Yes, a county official is responsible for staying within his or her budget — the appropriation provided by the quorum court. A budget is like a map — it may not be the most exciting thing, but it’ll get you where you need to go. There is also a responsibility to live within the cash available at any given time. A budget is based on projected revenues expected to come in over a 12-month period. The budget is not based on cash in the bank on the first day of the budget year. Many county officials are diligent about remaining in compliance with the constraints of the appropriated funds for their office operations. Other county officials are not so diligent. They spend money like water; spend like there’s no tomorrow; spend like a billionaire on steam — pick one. So much for the responsibility you were entrusted with by the electorate. Hopefully they will take note of your administrative ability, or the lack thereof. At the most basic level, a budget is a way to keep track of the money you are getting and the money you are spending. A county budget is a plan for both spending and raising funds for the county operation. There are two sides to a budget: the source of funds (income/revenue) and the uses of funds (spending or outlays). Budgets are real and should be realistic. The only thing worse than sticking to a budget is not having one at all. Jacob Lew, a former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, said about the Federal budget, “The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations.” The county budget should be the same — not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of priorities as established by the quorum court. Yes, they get to set the priorities as the legislative body of county government. Some years you may like it — other times — maybe not. But it’s your job as an elected official to work within the financial perimeters set by the court. The quorum court is given this authority by the Arkansas constitution [Amendment 55, § 4] and statutory law to “adopt ordinances necessary for the government of the county,” including the adoption of a county budget through an appropriation ordinance as prescribed in Title 14, Chapter 14, Subchapter 9 of Arkansas Code Annotated. County quorum courts should be in tune with the county’s 20

needs, and then be thoughtful and professional in allocating precious financial resources in the form of appropriations so that Eddie A. Jones the fiscal affairs of the county are County Consultant conducted on a sound financial basis in accordance with Arkansas Constitution, Article 12, § 4. To do otherwise puts a county official in the position of possibly being deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction, shall be fined in any sum not less than $500 nor more than $10,000, and shall be removed from office. Everett Dirksen, Senate Minority Leader in the 1960s, is noted as saying, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.” Take off a few zeros and the same is true for Arkansas county government. The quorum court must also properly establish county spending priorities as set forth in Ark. Code Ann. § 14-14802. Each county official and department head must then be diligent in how they spend the appropriated funds for their office to get the best bang for the buck and serve their constituency to the best of their ability under the constraints of the budget given them — the legal limit of their spending. Budgeting has only one rule: Don’t go over budget. Does the quorum court have the authority to tell a county official how and for what to use their appropriation? The simple answer is “no,” although it’s a little more complicated than that. While the quorum court should always be concerned with ensuring fiscal responsibility — there is the “separation of powers doctrine” that comes into play. County government, like the state, is comprised of separate branches to provide a system of checks and balances. Under the classic division of powers, the legislature (quorum court) makes the laws and appropriates public revenues, the executive branch (county officials) administers the laws and expends the appropriations, and the judiciary interprets the laws. No one questions the power of the Quorum Court, the legislative branch of county government, to appropriate county funds. However, it does not follow that a legislative body retains the right to administer a previously approved appropriation. The Arkansas Supreme Court recognized this principle of separation of powers in the case of Chaffin v. Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (1988). The Arkansas Attorney General has issued several opinions over the years addressing this issue. The opinions cite case law and the separation of powers doctrine. To summarize the conclusion of these opinions, the quorum court may not COUNTY LINES, FALL 2023

AAC attach conditions to an appropriation that purport to reserve to the quorum court powers of close supervision that are executive in character. The quorum court cannot do indirectly through means of line item appropriations and conditions what it is impermissible for it to do directly. Line item appropriations become constitutionally impermissible when the authority of the executive branch is infringed by legislative control over expenditures. In other words, a county official does not have to come before the quorum court for approval before purchasing equipment or anything else if there is a validly adopted existing appropriation by the quorum court for the expenditure and there is a sufficient cash balance in the fund from which the expenditure is to be made. Neither can an appropriation ordinance get into the specifics of requiring that an official buy a specific brand or do business with a specific vendor. Remember, the appropriation (a dollar amount authorized for spending) is made by the legislative branch — the quorum court; and the spending of the appropriation is administered by the executive branch — the county officials. Most counties have a section in their budget ordinance addressing non-restricted expenditure categories, which is recommended by the Arkansas Legislative Audit in the County Financial Management System manual. This provides for adequate flexibility that promotes sound management practices and procedures in the execution of the adopted budget. If a budget is adopted using language that line item expenditures cannot exceed the respective line item appropriation, then the process of approving claims against the county can be delayed. That’s why the “non-restricted expenditure” section is a recommended inclusion in the county budget ordinance. This allows for line item appropriations to show a deficit as long as there is a sufficient appropriation in the major category from which that line item expense is being made. County budgets are divided into several major categories, i.e. (1) Personal Services; (2) Supplies; (3) Other Services and Charges; (4) Capital Outlay; and (5) Debt Service. The “non-restricted expenditure” section in the budget ordinance is recommended to be used, except for the Personal Services section where expenditures cannot exceed the dollar amounts, number of employees, and salary or wage rates specified in the annual budget. A few counties enact their budget ordinance with stricter adherence to line-item appropriations and/or approval by the quorum court before any transfers can be made between line items or between budget categories. Either way is proper and constitutional. It is simply a matter of how much latitude a county quorum court wants to provide. An AG opinion released in 2002 did not view this type of restriction as an encroachment on the executive branch, “rather by requiring its approval of the transfers of monies, the Quorum Court has simply ensured that it retains its appropriation authority.” COUNTY LINES, FALL 2023


Case law has rendered that an official must live within their appropriation. In a 1988 case, Venhaus v. Adams, the Supreme Court ruled that “an agency of county government which performs a function imposed by law must live within its appropriation unless that appropriation is unreasonable.” So, there is an onus on the quorum court to be reasonable in making appropriations for the various offices and departments of county government. However, appropriations made by the quorum court are presumed to be reasonable and the burden rests on the office or entity filing the claim more than an appropriation to prove unreasonableness. That was the ruling of the Arkansas Supreme Court in another case — Union County v. Union County Election Commission. The penchant to overspend should be stopped on the front end. No doubt, we all understand that the quorum court is the authority when it comes to appropriating county funds. Ark. Code Ann. § 14-14-801(b)(2) lists one of the court’s responsibilities is to “appropriate public funds for the expenses of the county in a manner prescribed by ordinance.” As it relates to the annual budget, Ark. Code Ann. § 14-14-904(b) (1)(A)(ii) requires, “Before the end of each fiscal year, the quorum court shall make appropriations for the expenses of county government for the following year.” At the point of appropriation, it then becomes the duty of the executive branch to administer the expense side of the budget. The county judge, under the authority of Amendment 55 and Ark. Code Ann. § 14-14-1101(a)(2) must authorize and approve disbursement of appropriated county funds. More specifically, Ark. Code Ann. § 14-14-1102(b) (2)(B) provides the process required of the county judge for approving county claims: • (B) Before approving any voucher for the payment of county funds, the county judge, or his designated representative, shall determine that: • (i) There is a sufficient appropriation available for the purpose and there is a sufficient unencumbered balance of funds on hand (cash) in the appropriate county fund to pay therefore; • (ii) The expenditure is in compliance with the purposes for which the funds are appropriated; • (iii) All state purchasing laws and other state laws or ordinances of the quorum court are complied with in the expenditure of the moneys; • (iv) The goods or services for which expenditure is to be made have been rendered and the payment thereof has been incurred in a lawful manner and is owed by the county… See “BUDGET” on Page 22 > > >





(C)(i) No money shall be paid out of the treasury until it shall have been appropriated by law and then only in accordance with the appropriation.

The county judge can stop overspending by following this section of law. Frankly, the judge and every other county official are bound by oath to uphold and abide by the law. If a claim by chance gets approved where the cash is not available in the fund on which the claim has been approved the treasurer has a duty to refuse to issue payment. Ark. Code Ann. § 14-15-805 says that the treasurer shall refuse payment of any check that would cause a deficit balance in a special revenue fund or cause a deficit balance of the general fund in aggregate. What happens if a county official overspends his or her appropriation and the county receives goods and/or services as a result of the over expenditure? Does the county have a cause of action against the official to recover all or part of the over expenditure? That’s a good question that is not specifically addressed in law. The resolution of the issue would involve an analysis of all the facts. Different facts can lead to different outcomes. However, all county officials must realize the importance of a budget and the restraints that must be exercised to remain within the budget provided. There are a number of laws that deal with misconduct with respect to an official’s budget, such as: • •

Ark. Code Ann. § 14-22-103 declares it a misdemeanor, subject to a fine and removal from office, for any county official to violate the procedures for purchasing; Ark. Code Ann. § 14-23-202 declares it a misdemeanor, subject to removal from office, for any county official to violate the rules with respect to the handling of claims presented to the county; Ark. Code Ann. § 14-23-106(b) clearly declares it a misdemeanor, subject to a fine and removal from office, for a county court, a county judge or a county clerk to willfully violate or neglect to perform his or her duties concerning the handling of claims against the county and specifically forbids paying any claimant more than he is due; Ark. Code Ann. § 14-14-1202(d)(3) declares it a misdemeanor, subject to a fine and removal from office,

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for any county official to violate the ethical rules of conduct; and It is conceivable that a county official’s intentioned misappropriation of county funds might constitute embezzlement, which constitutes a variety of theft subject to felony prosecution pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. §§ 5-36-102 and 103.

Misconduct with respect to an official’s budget could very well amount to nonfeasance or malfeasance in office. The failure to perform the duties of one’s office, which include the administration of a budget, could amount to nonfeasance, if based purely upon negligence; or to malfeasance, if the failure is based upon some intentional motivation. Of course, removal from office is under the jurisdiction of the circuit court in accordance with Arkansas Constitution, Article 7, § 27. Under the classic division of powers, the legislative branch makes the laws and appropriates public funds, and the executive branch administers the laws and expends the appropriations. But it is the job of the quorum court to be the watchdog of public funds. The quorum court has the authority and duty to appropriate county funds, and the statutory authority to “adopt, amend, or repeal an appropriation ordinance” [Ark. Code Ann. § 14-14-907(b)]. Remember the Old Testament story of Job? Job said, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” Arkansas law is written in such a manner that the quorum court has that same power. They can give and they can take away. Sometimes it is necessary either because of a shortfall in revenues or because a county official does not control their spending. A county official only has the legal authority to spend the amount appropriated by the court for his or her operation — no more. The quorum court has a responsibility to make a reasonable appropriation, and then the county official has the responsibility to stay within that appropriation — so ruled the courts. Budgeting can be boring and constraining, but being a broke county is even worse. It’s called a budget so that you don’t budge from it. Dave Ramsey, America’s trusted voice on money, said, “A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.” The county budget is not a “toy” it is a “tool” and should be used as such. No county official wants to hear “the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off due to budget cuts.”




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Government social media pages: They can’t say that! Or can they?


was fortunate to recently have the opportunity to sit in on a training session by Mark Weaver, nationally renowned attorney and communications expert. Part of his presentation focused on government social media pages and certain challenges they present balancing government interest and the public’s First Amendment rights to free speech. It made me realize the significant changes that have taken place in this area of law over the last couple of decades and to also anticipate further changes to come amid pending cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. As Mr. Weaver pointed out, two of the most commonly perceived exceptions to free speech are “hate speech” and “fighting words.” It is a long-held belief based in old case law that these two categories are not protected speech. Therefore, a government social media page should be able to remove, hide, or block them as speech that is not protected by the First Amendment. However, this is not necessarily the case any longer as a result of the chipping away of these exceptions by the U.S. Supreme Court over the years to the point of virtual extinction. If your government social media pages have public comments turned on, what comments you can remove, hide, block, or otherwise regulate are very narrow. Most of what an average citizen would consider hate speech is protected and may not be discriminated against. In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Snyder v. Phelps that the Westboro Baptist Church’s picket signs depicting highly inflammatory and derogatory language at a private funeral of a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq were protected public speech. Speech is held to the standard of “public speech” it can “be fairly considered as relating to any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community” or a “subject of general interest and of value and concern to the public.” The church’s public speech on public property was found to be protected under the First Amendment. Needless to say, based on this definition, virtually all activity on a government’s social media page is going to be defined as “public speech.” Public speech, according to the court, “occupies the ‘highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values’ and is entitled to special protection.” The Court concluded by stating that “this Nation has chosen to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that public debate is not stifled...” There are some narrow exceptions to hate speech that could be unprotected, such as incitement. In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brandenburg v. Ohio that speech that is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action” is not protected. 24

This is a very narrow exception, and mere advocacy for violence or illegal activity does not rise to level of unprotected speech. The speech has to go further to LINDSEY FRENCH be unprotected — it has to be General Counsel intended to and likely to cause imminent unlawful action. Very few comments or activity on a government social media page would meet this standard of unprotected speech. For example: “Our Sheriff is the worst. Someone should burn his house down,” would be protected and could not be removed, because it is not likely to cause imminent unlawful action. However, “Our Sheriff is the worst. I am going to burn his down tonight at 10 p.m., and I am recruiting others who have been wronged by the Sheriff to join me there in helping me burn his house down at 123 County Road,” would likely meet the standard of unprotected speech with the intent to incite violence. Another exception to protected hate speech are “true threats.” In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that true threats are “those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.” This is to protect individuals from not only actual violence, but the fear of violence. The Court said that true threats are when “a speaker directs a threat to a person or group of persons with the intent of placing the victim in fear of bodily harm or death.” As an example, “The County Judge won’t fix my road. Someone should run him over with his own road grader,” would be protected speech as it is not a true threat. However, “The County Judge won’t fix my road. I’m going to drive my truck into his bedroom while he’s asleep tonight,” is a true threat of violence intended to evoke fear of violence in the subject. It would likely not be protected. Additionally, the “fighting words” exception has grown increasingly limited. This unprotected speech requires faceto-face speech that is intended to and would likely cause an imminent violent reaction from its target. Virtually no mere words on a social media page could meet the standard of unprotected “fighting words,” except maybe if the speaker and the target are in a close physical proximity at the time of the social media speech. Another category of unprotected speech is defamation. Words must meet very specific criteria to be actual defamation against a public figure. A body of federal case law defines COUNTY LINES, FALL 2023

AAC defamation against a public official as speech that: 1) is a false statement purported to be a fact; 2) is disseminated to a third person; 3) the speaker knew or should have known was false; and 4) damages or causes harm to the reputation of the public official or government. Statements of opinion can never be defamatory. Likewise, statements made against a public official that are false, but the speaker only negligently made are not defamation. The speaker has to have actual knowledge the statements of fact are false or be reckless in their assertion of false facts. Finally, the government must be able to show actual damage or harm to its reputation as a result. This is another narrow area of unprotected speech, and very few social media comments typically rise to the level of defamation. Another commonly misconstrued area of speech that I will cover is obscenity. Many average citizens and elected officials think that if something is very offensive to the sensibilities of a majority, or even a minority, of the people who will see it, then it can be deleted, hidden, or the speaker blocked. This is absolutely not true. “Obscenity” is not merely words that make you blush or depictions of situations that are not appropriate to be seen by children or our grandmas. Social media pages do not get to regulate content that is not rated PG. “Obscenity” must, the Court has ruled, 1) appeal to the prurient interest (an inordinate interest in sex) of the average person; 2) depict or describe sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; and 3) lack any objective literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. What is important to remember about obscenity is this —


you will not have to remember it because the social media platform will do it for you — if it meets the definition of true “obscenity,” which is likely a far different standard than your personal idea of what is obscene. Finally, you can hide, delete or block speech on your government social media page that is illegal. Actual scams, links to illegal activity, etc. can be removed on a content-neutral basis. This speech is not protected by the First Amendment. This analysis applies to actual government (or elected official) social media pages. Currently before the U.S. Supreme Court are two cases that will determine whether elected officials can violate the First Amendment by restricting speech on their personal social media pages. In O-Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier, the Court will review a 9th Circuit U.S. Appellate Court decision that two school board members violated the first Amendment when they blocked people from their personal social media pages but used those personal pages to highlight their government work and shared government-related matters with the public. In Lindke v. Freed, the Court will review a decision of the 6th Circuit that a city manager did not violate the First Amendment when he blocked a person from his personal Facebook page who left critical comments on the page. The 6th Circuit ruled that it was not a violation because the operation of his personal Facebook page did not fall within his duties as city manager. These two cases will have meaningful and lasting impacts on how elected officials should maintain their personal social media pages, in addition to government pages.

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Motions under Robert’s Rules of Order


enry Martyn Robert was an engineering officer in the U.S. Army. One day, quite unexpectedly, he was asked to preside over a meeting, and he realized he did not know how. He tried to run the meeting anyway and suffered great embarrassment. As a result of this experience, he decided he would learn all he could about parliamentary procedure so he would never be in that situation again. What he found as he studied the subject and traveled around the country was chaos. Everywhere he went, he found people with differing ideas of how meetings should be conducted, based largely on what they had become accustomed to. In an attempt to establish one standard procedure and make order out of the procedural nightmare, Robert wrote the first edition of his rules in February 1876. The most current edition was published in 2020 and represents the 12th edition. Under Ark. Code Ann. § 14-14-904, justices of the peace shall at the first regular quorum court meeting establish the time and place for regular meetings and adopt rules and procedures. The quorum court can make its own rules and procedures, follow Robert’s Rules of Order, or have a combination of both. The county judge presides over the quorum court without a vote. JP’s chair committee meetings and may vote. The presiding officer’s goal should be to provide the opportunity for the body to be successful. The chair is responsible for making sure the meeting is conducted smoothly and fairly. Most meetings are non-controversial, and you do not have to follow every little rule, such as recognizing who has the floor or getting off topic. Sometimes there is friendly discussion between the members. However, when there is a controversial issue before the body, following the rules provides a better opportunity for the decorum of the body to remain appropriate. During heated debates, the chair must enforce the rules of the body consistently. Here are a few tips for meetings that may get off track or have the potential for emotions to be elevated. Have an agenda and stick to it. Just like addressing motions in the proper order, you must follow the agenda. If you are on agenda item A, stick to that specific ordinance or resolution. It is the chair’s responsibility to keep the discussion or debate on topic and pertinent to that issue. Do not allow members of the body to debate each other. Only one member has the floor at a time. Comments by members must be directed to the chair not to other members. This keeps the debate from becoming too personal. During public comment time have the speaker introduce himself or herself and who he or she represents before recognizing them. If they came to speak about a hot topic, stating their name may calm their emotions and provide better decorum. Public comment time is not question and answer time. This time is to allow the public to speak before the 26

final action of an ordinance or resolution. See below a sample of what should be included on your meeting agenda. •

• • • • • •

Call the meeting to order — the presiding Josh Curtis officer or chair brings Governmental Affairs Director the body to order. Ceremonies — Pledge of Allegiance and prayer. Reports — These could be from committees, elected officials or other entities that the assembly would like to hear from. Old business — This could be ordinances that have been read before and need additional readings. New business — This includes any new ordinances or resolutions that need to be addressed. Announcements — These could be public announcements about community functions or what’s going on in the county. Adjourn — The meeting ends.

How do you make a motion? Generally speaking, you seek recognition by the chair, and the chair grants you the floor to state the motion. Normally a motion needs to receive a second, then the body can discuss the motion, which most of the time focuses on an ordinance or resolution. After the discussion the chair calls for a vote. That seems simple. However, there are many motions that can be made during this process.

Privileged Motions

Privileged motions take precedence over all other motions because of the importance or urgency of the matter. They are not debatable and are considered the most powerful motions in parliamentary procedures. These motions include adjourn, recess, and fix the time for recess or adjournment. They are not debatable and take a majority vote of the body to pass.

Subsidiary Motions

Subsidiary motions deal directly with the main motion prior to voting and rank higher than a main motion. These motions are commonly referred to as substitute motions. The motion to postpone temporarily, which is also called a motion to table, suspends consideration of the main motion and any pending subsidiary motions to allow other business to be considered. A motion to vote immediately is normally phrased, “I make a motion to call for the question.” The vote threshold is higher at two-thirds because it ends the debate. If passed the body COUNTY LINES, FALL 2023

AAC would immediately vote on the previous motion. A motion to limit debate also requires a two-thirds vote to pass. This motion can put a specific time to end debate or specify the amount of time each side has for the discussion. Motion to postpone is an action to delay the consideration of the main motion and any pending subsidiary motions. The motion to refer to a committee is simply sending an item to a committee for its review. A motion to amend is made to change or amend the main motion. You can also use this motion to amend any other amendable motions. The motion to postpone indefinitely ends consideration of the main motion for the balance of that session, without a direct vote on the main motion.

Main Motion

The main motion is a motion that brings business before the body. This is typically the only motion used during a quorum court meeting, other than the motion to adjourn. If a member of the body says, “Mr. Chair, I make a motion to approve ordinance A,” this is a main motion. Privileged or subsidiary motions do take precedent over the main motion. For example, after a main motion is made, there can be other motions such as a motion to amend. The motion to amend must be addressed before going back to the main motion.

Incidental Motions

Incidental motions are motions that relate to the main motion or other parliamentary motions. A motion to appeal is a parliamentary procedure challenging the ruling of the chair. Say the chair did not recognize the proper member to have the



floor. After discussion, the chair would state, “Those in favor of sustaining the decision of the chair say aye.” The nays are voting against the chair and technically for the motion. The nays must have a majority of votes for the motion to pass. A tie vote would sustain the ruling of the chair. Another parliamentary procedure — a point of order motion — occurs when someone draws attention to a rule violation. Perhaps members are not directing their comments through the chair or a motion is out of order. This doesn’t require a vote, just a ruling by the chair. A member can make a motion for a parliamentary inquiry. A member may have a question through the chair to the parliamentarian about a rule or procedure. This also can be called a point of clarification. Another incidental motion is when a member would like to withdraw his or her previous motion. This doesn’t require a vote, and the previous motion is withdrawn. One of my favorite motions is the motion to suspend the rules. This requires a two-thirds vote and is used when things are added to the agenda late or things, normally non-controversial, need to be adopted in a timely fashion. I tell all newly elected officials to learn and be familiar with the rules and procedures. Judges and JP’s should know the rules of the quorum court. If you are a member of an association, get to know your rules. All officials should know the basic motions of Robert’s Rules of Order. You never know when you are going to be like Henry Robert and spontaneously be called to chair a meeting. Below is a guide to motions under Robert’s Rules of Order.



RISK MANAGEMENT SERVICES Prisoner litigation in Arkansas


ecause of consistently increasing prisoner-filed lawsuits, Congress passed the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) in 1995. After passage of the PLRA, inmate lawsuits did decrease substantially. However, those filings have started to creep back up and have consistently risen over the last few years. According to the data, prisoner civil rights cases are the vast majority of the cases handled in U.S. District Courts. In 2021, a total of 24,372 prisoner civil rights cases were filed in the Federal District Courts in this country. Of the cases that terminated in the same year (28,982 cases), nearly 80 percent of those cases ended with a pretrial decision for the Defendants. Only 6.4 percent of the cases settled, and only 0.5 percent went to trial. At trial, Plaintiffs were somewhat more successful, as they prevailed in 12 percent of the cases that were tried. Unfortunately, Arkansas has ranked No. 1 in the highest number of filings per 1,000 people incarcerated since 2012. In 2019, with an incarcerated population calculated at 28,047 (this includes state and county facilities), there were 991 prisoner civil rights cases filed. So, for every 1,000 people incarcerated in Arkansas in 2019, there were 35.5 cases filed. Also part of the PLRA, the terms of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) were amended to mandate exhaustion of available administrative remedies before an inmate files suit. Section 1997e(a) provides: “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” Exhaustion under the PLRA is mandatory. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007). The PLRA’s exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong. See Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). The PLRA does not, however, prescribe the manner in which exhaustion occurs. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. at 218. It merely requires compliance with the incarcerating entity’s grievance procedures to properly exhaust. See Id. Thus, the question as to whether an inmate has properly exhausted administrative remedies depends on the grievance policy of the particular detention center where the alleged events occurred. Id. This gives deference to the policies and procedures of the detention facility. Id. Increasingly, we are seeing federal judges in Arkansas fully apply the terms of the PLRA earlier in litigation. For many years, an inmate’s failure to use the grievance process was simply one among several defenses presented in pretrial motions (most commonly Motions for Summary Judgment). Therefore, it had virtually no effect on shortening the process 28

or limiting expense or interruptions presented by inmate cases. More recently, many federal judges have begun using a process where they stay discovery in a case and set an early deadline by which the defense must file a Motion for Summary Judgment on the issue of ExhausJaNan Thomas tion of Remedies. This allows us to RMS Litigation utilize this defense at the earliest Counsel possible time in the litigation — resulting in significant savings of time and money in a number of cases. Importantly, the viability of the defense depends completely on your grievance procedure. If you do not have a strong, well documented process in your detention facility, you are waiving this defense. The following are several things you can do to make sure that the grievance procedure works for you: 1. Create a system that works in your facility. If the burden is too great on the staff, the procedure will suffer and ultimately, could create liability. 2. Publish the procedure in the detainee handbook or by posting it in a space where inmates can be put on notice. 3. Identify grievance requirements that inmates must meet. For example, require that a grievance be filed in writing, within 10 days (or less), and that the grievance identify all persons who the inmate alleges violated his/ her civil rights, all persons who witnessed it, and all damages/injuries suffered by the inmate. 4. Do not consider grievances on medical treatment or decisions, disciplinary issues or appeals, or matters outside the jail. Identify these as “non-grievable” matters. 5. Do not consider grievances that are untimely or insufficient under your stated requirements. Document this clearly in response to the grievance. For example, “This grievance is filed outside the time provided in the grievance procedure.” 6. Have a mandatory appeal process that sets similar requirements. Do not consider untimely appeals. 7. Have a proven method of tracking grievances. Avoid using paper forms, if at all possible, because of the difficulty in tracking them and getting good information on a hand-written form. If you would like for us to review your grievance procedures, please reach out to us. In addition, we have provided a model policy for grievance procedures that you can consider and incorporate in your facility. COUNTY LINES, FALL 2023



The Amicus Brief ARORP partners filed with the U.S. Supreme Court points out the many accomplishments ARORP has made in its first year. For instance, ARORP has funded 358 new recovery beds for Arkansans with opioid use disorder at facilities in 10 Arkansas counties. One of those facilities is the American Indian Center of Arkansas (AICI). Staff from the AICA are pictured above with ARORP Director Kirk Lane (back center) and ARORP Deputy Director Tenesha Barnes (front center).

Opioid recovery partners file brief with Supreme Court supporting Purdue bankruptcy plan


Story by Colin Jorgensen & Photos by Joy Spence AAC Litigation Counsel, Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership

n 2018, all 75 Arkansas counties united along with the state and many Arkansas cities in litigation against Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers, distributors, and retailers, in response to the opioid crisis. Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy protection in September 2019, which creates an automatic stay of all litigation against Purdue. While the Arkansas governments continued with their litigation against the other defendants, all 75 Arkansas counties lodged claims as creditors in the Purdue bankruptcy case, in the Southern District of New York. In 2021, the Purdue bankruptcy court approved a detailed bankruptcy plan including a reorganization of Purdue as a publicly owned company, with future profits directed to government creditors to abate the opioid epidemic, and a contribution of over $5 billion by individual members of the Sackler family, who owned and controlled Purdue for deCOUNTY LINES, FALL 2023

cades. In exchange for their contribution of over $5 billion, the members of the Sackler family receive civil immunity from litigation about their personal liability for the opioid crisis. Without the Sackler family contribution, the Purdue bankruptcy would generate modest payments to American governments from Purdue’s current assets, but the Sackler family contribution increases those payments multifold so that Arkansas would receive over $50 million from the bankruptcy plan instead of less than $10 million. State and local governments nationwide, including the united Arkansas governments, overwhelmingly support the Purdue bankruptcy plan, including the financial contribution from the Sackler family. The bankruptcy plan was appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which approved the plan. See “BRIEF” on Page 30 > > >





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The U.S. Trustee then petitioned for certiorari at the U.S. Supreme Court, which was granted. The Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case on Dec. 4, 2023. In this edition of County Lines, immediately below, we publish the argument section of the amicus brief filed at the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 23, 2023, in Harrington, et al v. Pur-

due Pharma et al, Case No. 23-124. We have removed the 53 footnote citations from the original brief for this publication. The amicus brief was filed on behalf of the Association of Arkansas Counties, the Arkansas Municipal League, and the Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership, in support of the Purdue bankruptcy plan.

Amicus Brief of the Association of Arkansas Counties, Arkansas Municipal League, and Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership Interests of the Amici Curiae Amicus curiae the Association of Arkansas Counties (AAC) exists “to aid in the improvement of county government in the State of Arkansas” and “is recognized as the official agency of the counties of this state to receive funds and use them for making a continuing study of ways and means to improve county government in Arkansas.” Amicus curiae the Arkansas Municipal League (AML) is the official representative of Arkansas cities and towns before the state and federal governments. AML provides a clearinghouse for information and answers for cities and towns and offers a forum for discussion and sharing of mutual concerns among cities and towns. Amicus curiae the Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership (ARORP) is a partnership of the AAC and AML, on behalf of all Arkansas counties and cities and towns, formed to administer an abatement program in response to the Arkansas opioid crisis. ARORP is charged with the distribution of abatement funding from opioid settlements and bankruptcies in counties and cities across Arkansas. ARORP has a strong interest in this case and the Chapter 11 reorganization plan issued below (the Plan), because all 75 Arkansas counties and most Arkansas cities and towns are creditors in this bankruptcy proceeding, and ARORP will distribute funds received from the Plan in the manner envisioned by the Plan.

Summary of Argument For years, Arkansas counties and cities have maintained a strong partnership in response to the opioid crisis. First, Arkansas counties and cities united in litigation filed in Arkansas state court against opioid manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. More recently, the counties and cities have created, constituted, and launched ARORP to distribute the counties and cities’ opioid abatement funds from opioid settlements and bankruptcies. Arkansas counties and cities have consistently and persistently focused their considerable effort on their singular goal of abating the opioid crisis among Arkansas communities, families, and citizens with opioid use disorder. ARORP was ready to get to work when funds began arriving from certain settlements in 2022, and in less than a year since its launch, the partnership has invested in scores of evidence-based abatement projects around the state. Through the work of the partnership, Arkansans are seeing lives saved and restored. But Arkansas remains in the savage grip of the opioid crisis, and much work remains to be done to abate the crisis. Largely due to the limited quantity of abatement funding made available to date, ARORP has been forced to deny most abatement funding requests. The communities, families, and people of Arkansas desperately need substantial investment in residential and outpatient treatment, naloxone and medication-assisted treatment, recovery housing, peers, diversion and prevention programs and personnel, neonatal care and treatment for neonatal abstinence syndrome, recovery services, treatment for incarcerated persons, evidence-based data collection and research, and other programs and strategies to abate the opioid crisis in Arkansas. ARORP agrees that “justice is about more than money”— but this is a bankruptcy case, and the resource made available through the Plan and the Sackler Family contribution is money. ARORP knows how to invest money to abate the opioid crisis and save lives in Arkansas. The dire needs in Arkansas cover the entire 30




continuum of care for Arkansans with opioid use disorder, and the vast array of local services impacted by the opioid crisis. ARORP can confidently predict that the funding provided through the Plan will save and restore scores, and potentially hundreds, of lives in Arkansas. That sort of justice for Arkansans is the very mission of ARORP. Amici pray that the Court affirms the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and approves the Plan with the utmost alacrity.

Argument I. Before Purdue filed for bankruptcy protection, and consistent with the bankruptcy Plan later developed below, the governments of Arkansas sought to abate the opioid crisis in their communities. From the inception of their litigation against Purdue and others in early 2018, the governments of Arkansas rallied behind a singular mission: to abate the opioid crisis plaguing communities, families, and Arkansans suffering from opioid use disorder. In the Prayer for Relief in their original complaint, the Arkansas governments prayed for “[p]rospective damages so that the State, Counties, and Cities can comprehensively intervene in the Arkansas Opioid Epidemic” in a bevy of specific ways designed to: (a) prevent opioid use, injury, and death; (b) treat and prevent opioid misuse and addiction; (c) reduce the supply of opioids, and (d) reduce crime and involuntary commitments associated with opioid misuse and addiction. The governments of Arkansas never wavered from their focus on prospective abatement of the opioid crisis at the local level. The Arkansas governments united in their litigation against Purdue and other opioid manufacturers, distributors, and retailers — and litigated intensely for years before an Arkansas state court. The case went to the Arkansas Supreme Court and back — twice — but did not go to trial before most defendants filed for bankruptcy protection or agreed to national settlements. Purdue filed its notice of bankruptcy in the Arkansas case in September 2019 — over four years ago. The Arkansas governments’ Prayer for Relief expressly and implicitly acknowledges that the opioid crisis is a local problem that urgently demands local solutions. There is now widespread agreement about the local nature of the opioid crisis, and the necessity that abatement solutions be deployed at the local level. The Prayer for Relief is entirely consistent with the subsequently developed core strategies and approved uses authorized under the Plan in this case — which likewise recognize the fact that abatement of the national opioid crisis must occur at the state and local level. The abatement visions of the Arkansas governments and the Plan both seek substantial investment in naloxone, residential and outpatient opioid abuse treatment, medication-assisted treatment, diversion and prevention training and education, law enforcement and first responder training and personnel, and treatment for incarcerated people. The core strategies and approved uses in the Plan are far more detailed than the Prayer for Relief — they are a blueprint for state and local governments and officials to abate the opioid crisis in communities across the country. The state and local governments that are charged with abating the opioid crisis in their communities overwhelmingly support the bankruptcy Plan. State and local governments seek the same goal as the Plan: abatement of the opioid crisis. The federal government, on the other hand, has little role in the abatement strategy detailed in the Plan. The U.S. Trustee should not be permitted to effectively veto the Plan and override the overwhelming support of thousands of state and local governments that will implement the Plan.

II. Recognizing the severe need in their communities, the local governments of Arkansas formed a partnership to abate the opioid crisis — ARORP. In the summer of 2021, in anticipation of abatement funds from opioid settlements and bankruptcies, the Arkansas governments executed the Arkansas Opioids Memorandum of Understanding (Arkansas MOU), which encourages the Arkansas governments to pursue abatement funding through settlements and bankruptcies, provides for an equal split of opioid settlement and bankruptcy funds among the state (1/3), counties (1/3), and cities (1/3) of Arkansas, and commits all Arkansas governments to use settlement and bankruptcy funds for approved purposes to abate the opioid crisis in Arkansas. As with the Prayer for Relief, the “approved See “BRIEF” on Page 32 > > >





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purposes” in the Arkansas MOU are entirely consistent with the core strategies and approved uses authorized by the Plan in this case. In October 2021, the consortium of Arkansas counties and cities offered testimony before the bankruptcy court below, via affidavit and live testimony of counsel, in support of the Plan. Counsel explained the severity of the opioid crisis in Arkansas. Arkansas has had the second highest opioid prescription rate in the country across multiple years. Opioids are the top-selling class of prescription drug in Arkansas and more than twice as prevalent as the next highest-selling prescription drug class. Arkansas overdose deaths ballooned 262 percent from 2000 to 2016, and overdose deaths in Arkansas have continued to increase in recent years — despite being significantly underreported. In Arkansas, the burden of responding to the opioid crisis falls disproportionately on local governments, and the impact is felt most intensely and severely at the local level. Four-fifths of Arkansas law enforcement agencies and officers are local, the 911 system is operated by a network of county and city officials, EMS services are provided by local governments, and fire departments are local organizations — when an Arkansan calls 911, every responder, from dispatch to law enforcement to EMS and fire departments, is typically a person employed by and acting on behalf of a local government. Additional local officials are often involved after first responders, from local medical facilities such as county health departments and crisis stabilization units, to county jails — which frequently house Arkansans with opioid use disorder who cycle through the criminal justice system repeatedly. Arkansas county jails have seen an increase in population that is largely attributable to the opioid crisis, yet county jails in Arkansas lack the resources to provide detainees suffering from opioid addiction with the type of long-term treatment necessary to curb their addiction. Arkansas has also seen an increase in juvenile delinquencies, dependent-neglected juveniles, families in need of services, and involuntary commitments — all connected to the opioid crisis. Unfortunately, in Arkansas, “counties are unable to dedicate funds to robust abatement programs that could, over the long-term, reduce the strain caused by opioids” — and “[w]ithout adequate funding for abatement, the opioid crisis will continue to plague Arkansas counties and their residents for many years to come.” Counsel’s affidavit concluded: “Arkansas counties and cities need funding as soon as possible to implement programs and strategies to abate the Arkansas opioid epidemic. A delay in the abatement funding provided under the Plan will simply perpetuate the status quo with continuing strain on Arkansas’s local governments and their residents — translating into more overdoses and more lives lost. The sooner more abatement funding can be harnessed to help local governments, the more rapidly local governments can deploy interventions and treatments that will save lives, restore families and communities, and create a post-opioid future in Arkansas. With so much at stake, delay comes at too high a cost.” Today, Arkansas remains awash in opioids, opioid overdoses, and the many established harms of the opioid crisis. Data continues to confirm the breadth and depth of the Arkansas opioid crisis, and the dire need for abatement. While overdose deaths increased nationwide in 2020, Arkansas is one of only 10 states where overdose deaths increased by more than 40 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. Overdose deaths in Arkansas increased significantly again in 2021, from 547 to 618 deaths — which is over 20 deaths per 100,000 Arkansans, a new record high overdose rate for Arkansas. Arkansas is currently home to a rising incidence of newborns experiencing withdrawal syndrome due to opioid use and misuse during pregnancy, significant strain on local first responders as they encounter increasingly complex problems associated with synthetic opioids, and an overburdened child welfare system as more children enter foster care due to parental addiction and overdose deaths. The tide has not turned on the established harms of the opioid crisis in Arkansas, and new harms continue to rise to the surface. In 2022, the counties and cities of Arkansas continued preparations to abate the opioid crisis by creating a Qualified Settlement Fund (Arkansas QSF), supervised by an Arkansas court, to receive and manage settlement and bankruptcy funds directed to abatement efforts in Arkansas counties and cities. The counties and cities executed distribution agreements, which are exhibits to the Arkansas MOU. The distribution agreements create ARORP, the program for disbursing settlement funds to abate the opioid crisis across the local communities of Arkansas in a manner consistent with approved purposes in the Arkansas MOU, settlement 32




Above Left: ARORP Deputy Director Tenesha Barnes and ARORP Director Kirk Lane present a check for more than $9,000 to Perfectly Loved, Inc., a transitional living facility for women that requested to become a Naloxone Hero. Above Right: ARORP, the state, and law enforcement staged a Fall 2023 Take Back rally point at McCain Mall in North Little Rock on Oct. 28 to accept unwanted, unused, or expired prescription drugs so they could be disposed of properly. Statewide, 11.8 tons of prescription drugs were collected. agreements, and court orders, including the Plan below.

III. ARORP has demonstrated that with substantial abatement funding, we can save and restore lives, and abate the opioid crisis. ARORP officially launched on November 4, 2022, with the first meeting of the ARORP advisory board. Since then, ARORP has dedicated itself to the goals set forth in the counties’ and cities’ Prayer for Relief against Purdue and other defendants, the Arkansas Opioids MOU, and the core strategies and approved uses authorized under the Plan in this case. The first project approved by ARORP in November 2022 is the ARORP Naloxone Community Hero program, under which approved “Naloxone Heroes” provide naloxone training and distribute naloxone in Arkansas communities to persons at risk of overdose and their families and friends who wish to carry naloxone. ARORP initially funded a $500,000 purchase of naloxone for the program, then funded a second $500,000 purchase of naloxone, and ARORP recently purchased $675,000 more naloxone for distribution to Arkansas law enforcement agencies. To date, ARORP has funded 41 Naloxone Community Heroes in 37 Arkansas counties, and ARORP has distributed naloxone to 236 Arkansas law enforcement agencies. In total, ARORP has purchased 36,052 naloxone kits and distributed 33,468 naloxone kits throughout Arkansas — over 66,000 individual dosage units of naloxone in the hands of Arkansans who need access to the life-saving opioid antagonist, in a state with a population of roughly three million people. ARORP is facilitating the counties and cities’ achievement of section (a) of their Prayer for Relief, which is also a core strategy of the Plan. ARORP has approved a handful of other statewide projects. ARORP recognized the statewide need for resources and support for family members of Arkansans who have overdosed, both for grief and prevention, because family members of people who overdose are at high risk of developing substance use disorders themselves. ARORP has provided funding to the Hope Movement Coalition, which assigns a case manager to each overdose family to assess the critical needs of each family member, assigns a peer parent or peer sibling to provide emotional and grief support, provides real-time access to additional peer supports, maintains a website with resources for healing after loss, and assists families with obtaining insurance and funding to address mental and physical health needs arising from grief, PTSD, and substance abuse. This is the first and only resource available in Arkansas with a core mission of supporting the hundreds of families who lose loved ones to opioid overdose every year in Arkansas. In less than a year, an extraordinary community has come together to support Arkansas families who endure the unimaginable pain of losing a loved one to overdose. See “BRIEF” on Page 34 > > >





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ARORP also now funds the Arkansas prescription drug take-back program. The Arkansas take-back program is hugely successful — despite being the least-populated state in its four-state DEA region (Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi), Arkansas accounts for 66 percent of the total weight of prescription drugs collected in the region, and Arkansas averages more participating law enforcement agencies than the other three states combined. In 2023, with funding and leadership from ARORP in partnership with the DEA, Arkansas collected over 26,000 pounds of prescription drugs for safe disposal. ARORP is collaborating with stakeholders and developing additional projects for statewide prevention in the future — including a project to target the Arkansas counties with the highest opioid prescription rates with efforts designed to reduce those prescribing rates. Although it has declined in recent years, according to the latest data published by the CDC, Arkansas still has the second highest opioid dispensing rate in the country at 75.8 opioid prescriptions per 100 Arkansans. And Arkansas still has several high-population counties with rates over 100 prescriptions per 100 Arkansans. ARORP plans to do something about this. ARORP has solicited applications from community coalitions throughout the state, through ARORP’s partnership with the Community-Based Advocacy-Focused Data-Driven Coalition-Building Association (CADCA) and the Coalition Partnership Empowerment (COPE) program. ARORP has provided funding to 13 community coalitions covering 15 Arkansas counties, to empower and train the coalitions and equip them to apply for federal funding as Drug-Free Communities. The 13 coalitions have each agreed to mentor a future coalition as ARORP seeks to have a community coalition in each of the 75 Arkansas counties — but ARORP-funded coalitions cover only 20 percent of Arkansas counties so far. ARORP has invested substantially in overdose response teams (ORTs), which have a specific funding application available on ARORP’s website. An ORT is an overdose crime scene team consisting of a criminal investigator and a peer recovery specialist. The investigator works at the scene to investigate the supplier for potential prosecution, while the peer recovery specialist provides counseling and information for the overdose victim and others, with follow-up and tracking of these individuals to promote treatment and recovery. The peer also provides connections to care including grief counseling for families, and education about substance abuse in the community and schools. ARORP has funded seven ORTs with jurisdictions covering 23 Arkansas counties. ARORP’s goal is to have an ORT serving each of the 75 Arkansas counties. ARORP has made progress, but ARORP’s work has only just begun — with a long way to go — but 65 Arkansas counties have received no funding for recovery housing. ARORP has funded recovery community organizations/centers in three Arkansas counties — but 72 counties have no recovery community organization or center funded by ARORP. ARORP has funded residential treatment services in three Arkansas counties — but 72 counties have no residential treatment services funded by ARORP. Of necessity, ARORP has been very selective to maximize and stretch its limited abatement funds. Residential treatment, recovery housing, and recovery infrastructure are expensive investments — ARORP has only just begun to transform the treatment and recovery landscape in Arkansas. ARORP has achieved everything described above and more in less than a year, using less than $20 million in abatement funding from settlement and bankruptcy payments received by Arkansas counties and cities to date. ARORP is proud of the abatement projects and programs that have been created and funded so far, and the tremendous progress already underway. ARORP is working with urgency to aid the communities, families, and people of Arkansas who continue to be ravaged by the opioid crisis. But with each celebratory moment, each hurdle overcome, each life saved and each life restored, ARORP is saddened by the reality that comprehensive abatement of the Arkansas opioid crisis is necessarily limited by the abatement dollars available to ARORP from opioid settlements and bankruptcies.

IV. The Plan should be affirmed because the Plan will save and restore lives and abate the opioid crisis across America. While ARORP has made considerable investments, ARORP has denied over $85 million in proposed funding for abatement projects in Arkansas — ARORP has denied more than four times the amount of 34




abatement funding that ARORP has approved since ARORP launched less than one year ago. With each project denial, ARORP specifies the reasons for the denial — some applications fail to meet requirements such as evidence-based effectiveness and sustainability. But at bottom, the reason for the collective denial of such a staggering amount of requested funding is the limited funding available to ARORP. The most glaring funding limitation is the sad truth that despite the efforts of the Arkansas governments and state and local governments nationwide, not a single dollar has been contributed to abating the Arkansas opioid crisis from Purdue, the Sackler Family, or the bankruptcy Plan. ARORP’s investments to date, while promising, are insufficient to abate the opioid crisis in Arkansas. ARORP has been unable to dedicate funds in several areas of critical need for Arkansas communities, families, and opioid-addicted citizens. No ARORP funds have been invested to increase access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) in Arkansas, nor to provide MAT education and training to healthcare providers and officials. No ARORP funds have been invested to provide evidence-based treatment and recovery services specifically to pregnant and postpartum women, nor to expand treatment for neonatal abstinence syndrome among newborns in Arkansas. ARORP has invested only a tiny fraction of what is needed in treatment services for the broader population and the incarcerated population in Arkansas, in comprehensive wrap-around services for individuals in recovery, and in prevention and education. While ARORP is doing its best with the hand it has been dealt thus far, ARORP is far from achieving the comprehensive abatement goal that undergirds the core strategies and approved uses authorized by the Plan in this case. The Sackler Family contribution of $5.5 to $6 billion to the Plan will provide roughly $50 million to Arkansas, for abatement of the Arkansas opioid crisis. ARORP has performed admirably with less than half that much funding, but the bulk of abatement work lies ahead, and the critical significance of these funds for Arkansas communities and families, and Arkansans with opioid use disorder, cannot be understated. The overwhelming support of this Plan by state and local governments nationwide indicates the collective belief of American governments that the Plan is better for the governments and their citizens than the alternative of pursing civil claims against the Sackler Family in courts. Local officials in Arkansas and nationwide are on the frontlines — unlike the U.S. Trustee — and they understand what is at stake with this Plan. They understand that if the Sackler Family funds are lost, then lives will be lost — including lives that could have been saved and restored. The U.S. Trustee and the faction of bankruptcy professors and organizations who support the U.S. Trustee’s position have little to say about the undisputed reality that lives are at stake with the Court’s decision in this case. State and local leaders across America are ready to abate the harms of the opioid crisis, working together, and using Sackler Family money. ARORP has demonstrated that state and local government coalitions can marshal swift and effective distribution of abatement funds to comprehensively intervene in the opioid crisis. This is what the Arkansas governments have sought for years — because their citizens desperately need help. If ARORP can do what it has already done with less than $20 million, imagine what can be done with $50 million. Imagine what can be done across America with over $5 billion. The U.S. Trustee’s assertion that “plan proponents” have not “presented a compelling need” for the Plan, is exactly incorrect. The compelling need is undeniable in Arkansas, and throughout the country. The compelling need is why governments have invested years of effort and preparation in furtherance of their mission to abate the opioid crisis in their communities. The need is not just compelling — it is a matter of life and death for many families and citizens of Arkansas, and America. The Plan should be affirmed because the Plan will save and restore lives, and the Plan will abate the opioid crisis.

Conclusion This Court should affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and affirm the bankruptcy Plan with the utmost alacrity, so that communities, families, and people across America can recover from the opioid crisis. COUNTY LINES, FALL 2023




J.R. Walters, who retired as a Saline County justice of the peace in October, is known for his impeccable meeting attendance record and the number of marriages he has performed. Those who have served alongside him said nothing but good things about his work ethic and kindness.

Retired Saline County JP reflects on 26 years of experience


Story & Photos by SARAH PERRY AAC Communications Coordinator

n his 26 years as a justice of the peace in Saline County, J.R. Walters has seen lots of changes and growth, but through it all, he has had one focus: represent the people who elected him. Walters was born in Houston, Mississippi, and moved to Arkansas in 1952 to work for Western Electric. After more than 30 years, Walters retired and moved to 3 1/2 acres of land in Saline County. Honestly, Walters is not very good at being retired. For a time, he owned a welding company, J.R.’s Welding, and then operated a lawn care business for 10 years. In 1991, at the suggestion of his neighbor who was a JP 36

at the time, he attended his first Saline County Quorum Court meeting. While his neighbor only stayed on the court for one year, Walters’ experience with the court would continue. He said he found the discussion during the meetings to be interesting. In 1992, he ran for the office as a Democrat and lost by 81 votes. He ran again in 1994 as an Independent and won by 81 votes. “I don’t know if those 81 changed their minds,” he said with a laugh. He served until 2008 when he was defeated, but the following election, he ran again and served until his retirement in October. Walters never missed a single meeting during his time in office even after having surgeries and other health issues. COUNTY LINES, FALL 2023



Above Left: During a retirement celebration, Sen. Kim Hammer presents J.R. Walters with a Senate citation commending his work on the Saline County Quorum Court. “I have no doubt your leadership has made a lasting positive impact on the citizens of Saline County,” Hammer said. Above Right: J.R. Walters poses for a picture with other JPs and county officials he has worked with during his time on the quroum court. “If I tell you that if you’ll elect me, I represent you, but if I’m sitting at home, I’m not really representing you,” he said. He once had cataract surgery in the morning and his wife brought him to a meeting that night. He has also attended a meeting after having thyroid surgery. When his grandson was a child, the family was planning a trip to Disney World. He had them move the vacation by a week, so he would not miss a quorum court meeting. Along with his perfect attendance record, Walters is also known for the number of marriages he has officiated: more than 3,550. While many of the marriages were performed in the gazebo on the lawn of the Saline County Courthouse, Walters said he has also participated in some unique weddings, including one on a houseboat floating on the Ouachita River, two in the Bauxite Cemetery, and one with a horse serving as best man. When asked what he gets out of performing so many marriages, Walters said it is a great opportunity to meet people. Linda Montalvo, who worked in the Saline County Clerk’s Office for 32 years, said employees would always reach out to Walters when a couple would come into the office to purchase a marriage license. “We knew he was going to do a good ceremony, and he COUNTY LINES, FALL 2023

was going to treat those people fairly too,” Montalvo said. Montalvo had nothing but kind things to say about Walters. “You couldn’t find a better man. He is always kind and caring … He took care of us,” Montalvo said. “He was a joy to work with … I can’t say enough good things about J.R.” Former Saline County Judge and current state Rep. Lanny Fite also shared similar sentiments saying Walters was extremely well liked by county employees, and he always knew their names. Along with how he treated county employees, Fite also appreciated how Walters served on the court. “He was the most prepared JP that I have ever seen,” Fite said, adding that when Walters came to meetings, he always knew pros and cons for every ordinance. “J.R was always working on a plan to make the county better. He was always working on your side. Not against you.” Walters was never scared to speak his mind and would let others know if he disagreed with something. During Walters’ tenure, one huge improvement for Saline County has been the county’s financial situation. When he first joined the court, he was surprised to learn the county was struggling financially. See “RETIREMENT” on Page 38 > > >





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Above Left: Saline County Prosecuting Attorney Chris Walton, right, speaks with J.R. Walters during a reception to celebrate Walters’ retirement. Above Right: J.R. Walters and his wife, Helen, visit with Saline County Sheriff Rodney Wright. “You don’t think the government’s going to run out of money,” he said. Fite explained that at the beginning of his tenure as judge, the county’s road department had substantial debts and general revenue was barely sufficient. Early on, county offices would share employees based on each department’s busiest times of year. There was also a meeting held each week with the county clerk, county judge and treasurer. They would look through a shoebox filled with bills to determine which ones were the most urgent and what they could pay. The growth the county has and is experiencing helped to correct the financial issues, Fite said. Walters was instrumental in several projects needed because of that growth, including a renovation of the courthouse; the purchase of various county buildings; a sales tax that gave the county the ability to purchase land and build the Saline County Career Technical Campus; consolidation of 911 operations across the county; and a solar array. “Just about everything around here, that we have now, has been built since I’ve been here,” Walters said. While he has been involved in lots of meaningful projects, he said the biggest one for him was the construction of the Saline County Detention Center. Previously, the jail had been in the basement of the courthouse. Because of overcrowding, every morning a circuit judge would look through the jail roster to figure out who could be released on bail to make room for someone else who would be arrested that day, Walters said. 38

The jail expansion project was a success thanks in large part to Walters, Fite added. At the time, the county was under a court order for being out of compliance. The county had tried to have two elections for a temporary sales tax to fund the project but had not had any success. During the two elections, the quorum court was split on various issues such as where to build the jail, how big it should be, how to finance it and if the building should also house the Saline County Sheriff’s Office. Walters gave Fite the idea of having a meeting so the JPs could debate about all the elements of the project before going to the voters for a third time. “We brought everybody together with that (meeting),” Fite said. The tax was passed in the third election. One of Walters’ favorite aspects of his role as JP was getting to know his constituents and helping them. He told of residents calling about a bus stop or a pothole on their road. “He was a fair man in his treating of people in his community. It didn’t matter how they voted, against him or for him, if they had an issue, J.R. was trying to help them,” Fite said. At the age of 89, Walters has decided it is time to try retirement once again. He and his wife, Helen, who have two children and one grandson, have decided to downsize. Looking ahead, Walters said he doesn’t have any specific plans for his retirement. He has been told there is always an open seat for him to attend quorum court meetings, and he may take up the offer. COUNTY LINES, FALL 2023

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GHOSTLY ENCOUNTERS Some county officials believe their counties’ courthouses are haunted, while others are not convinced. For many current and former Desha County officials, the proof is in the broken clock.

Despite efforts to repair the clock on the Desha County Courthouse, it still does not keep time properly. Legend has it that a man named Willard cursed the clock.


ocal legend around Arkansas City in Desha County is that a ghost named Willard has been haunting the courthouse, especially the clock atop the tower for more than a century. According to legend, sometime between 1899 and 1903, a man lost money gambling at a hotel along the river. Upset, the man set fire to the hotel, burning it down along with other buildings. After being convicted and ordered to be hanged, the man pleaded his innocence. Before his death, he said he would curse the clock on the courthouse that was under construction at the time. According to the National Historic Register, the courthouse was built at a cost of $23,369.44 using 40 freight-car loads of bricks. The four-story clock tower extends above the rest of the two-and-a-half story building. In 1975, Historian Dianna Kirk wrote, “The Desha County Courthouse has long been a source of pride to the residents of the county. Though Desha County was one of the first parts of Arkansas to be settled, almost all of the early structures have fallen victim to the numerous floods which have plagued the county. As one of the most architecturally significant structures in Desha County, the courthouse is also an important historic landmark in the Arkansas City area.” In 1993, when former Desha County Judge Mark McElroy, who now serves as a state representative, began his 20-year tenure as county judge, he decided he was going to get the clock repaired. He told of times when the clock would jump ahead an hour or ring in the middle of the night until he came to turn it off. “We had restored it (the Desha County Courthouse) several years ago. Spent $1.3 million on it, and we wanted it (the clock) to work properly,” he said. McElroy enlisted the help of an expert from Florida who guaranteed he could repair the clock. The expert came to Desha County to work on the clock and even took it back to Florida to overhaul it. “After about 15 trips back and forth, he finally decided that it was haunted. He said he couldn’t do anything with it,” McElroy said. “I climbed up that tower so many times. I just gave up on it and so did the guy with the guarantee.” With the clock deemed unfixable, McElroy decided to lean into the spooky stories. “I turned it into a positive,” he said, adding that he started giving ghost tours. Various groups and even birthday partygoers visited the haunted courthouse. “Nobody ever stayed the night,” he joked while telling the story of a group of teachers who visited. He told the group that once they were done, they should lock up and return the keys to him. They got so spooked when they heard a sound that they didn’t lock the door or return the keys, he said. Current County Judge Richard Tindall said, in a recent COUNTY LINES, FALL 2023



interview, the clock still does not work. He explained that the clock has four sides and at the time of the interview, only two sides had the correct time. While Tindall said he does not offer ghost tours, several people have asked him to see the courtroom where Willard’s trial took place. Tindall, who referred to the ghost as “the gentleman who lives upstairs,” usually explains to visitors the differences between what the courtroom looked like then versus now. Having lived in Desha County since he was 12 years old, Tindall had heard the legend for years, but never believed any of it. Now that he has worked in the courthouse for five years and had his own experiences: “I sort of wonder,” Tindall said with a laugh. Working alone in the courthouse early in the morning or late at night, Tindall has heard weird things. “I’ve had to get up to go check what is going on and never would find anything,” he said. He is not the only one who has had this type of experience. Both Tindall and McElroy said they have heard stories from other county employees about seeing people who are not there or hearing things and then finding nothing. In 2009, Spirit Seekers Paranormal Investigation Research and Intervention Team traveled from Oklahoma to the Desha County Courthouse in hope of encountering Willard. In the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s published account of the visit, co-founder of Spirit Seekers Alan Lowe said, “We’ve heard some mumbling and footsteps and we saw some orbs on the video, although most of the orbs (balls of light) are nothing … I’d say there’s something paranormal going on in the courthouse and the church, but it’s not really grabbing you in the face.” Desha County is not the only county that has been visited by groups searching for paranormal activity. Carla Jenkins, who has worked for the Miller County Judges’ Office for almost 30 years, said several years ago county officials were approached by an Arkansas-based group wanting to visit the Miller County Courthouse. While Jenkins does not remember the specifics of the group’s visit, she does remember they were excited and collected lots of information especially around the former jail. Jenkins said the jail was once housed in the fourth and fifth floors of the courthouse. The fourth floor is now used for storage and the fifth floor has been left abandoned. Jenkins has not experienced any paranormal activity but said she has heard stories from other county employees about hearing children playing while at the courthouse outside of business hours. Carol Walters, a deputy clerk in the Faulkner County Clerk’s Office, has worked in the courthouse for 25 years. See “COURTHOUSES” on Page 42






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The Desha County Courthouse is not the only county courthouse that is supposedly haunted. Employees in the Miller County Courthouse have reported hearing children playing; some in the Faulkner County Courthouse have reported walking through cold spots; and some who worked in the old Hempstead County Courthouse (pictured above) have heard the elevators going up and down, as well as other noises. Prior to working in the county clerk’s office, she worked for Circuit Judge David Reynolds on the third floor, and her desk was located near an elevator. “The elevator would come up. It would open up, hold for a few minutes, you would feel a cold breeze and then it would just shut,” Walters said. Both Reynolds and his clerk, Ginger Hall, told Walters that they have been walking through the courthouse and walked through super cold spots. Through their conversations, Walters learned about Marvin Leonard Williams who died in 1960 at the Faulkner County Jail, which was once located at the courthouse. It was originally reported that Williams, a 20-year-old black paratrooper, died after falling on steps at the courthouse. Evidence, including a witness’ testimony and autopsy results, later surfaced that has called into question the cause of Williams’ death. Twenty-five years after his death, the two former Conway police officers who arrested Williams were charged in connection with his death but were acquitted. 42

Williams’ brother recently published a book called “Markham Street: The Haunting Truth Behind the Murder of My Brother, Marvin Leonard Williams” about his family experience. County officials in Hempstead County said the former county courthouse is haunted. County Treasurer Judy Flowers, who has served in this role since 2011, told of one situation when she, along with other county officials, were at the courthouse late working on the county’s budget. Even though they were the only ones in the building, they heard the elevator ding and go up and down several times. “Typically, when I heard that it was time for me to go,” Flowers said. “I tried not to work up there at night because of that very reason. It would kind of give you the creeps.” Deputy Treasurer Amber Mackey and her husband Eric also heard the elevators move when they were at the courthouse after hours decorating. Others have claimed to hear inmates banging their cups in the former jail area on the top floor, Flowers said. COUNTY LINES, FALL 2023



Energy companies set to explore south Arkansas counties for lithium


Story by Sarah Perry AAC Communications Coordinator

he energy industry is nothing new to the residents of south Arkansas. Oil and gas have been produced there for decades, but now the area will be home to a new type of energy production. According to a report published by the Arkansas Geological Commission in 1950, the first commercial production of oil and gas from the Smackover Formation was in 1936 in Ouachita County. Along with drilling for oil and gas from this formation, companies have also been extracting brine for decades. New production is underway to extract lithium from the brine within the Smackover Formation, which is considered one of the most prolific lithium resources of its type in North America. The demand for lithium is huge and expanding as it is used in numerous items, including electric cars, cell phone batteries, small electronics, and energy storage systems. “Afterall, whether it’s lithium or oil or natural gas, it all translates to energy security, new jobs and new businesses for Arkansas,” Gov. Sarah Sanders said during a recent press conference in which she announced that Exxon Mobil is starting to drill for lithium in Columbia County, near Magnolia. Exxon Mobil is only the latest company to announces its plans to start drilling in the area. According to the Magnolia Reporter, Tetra Technologies, Standard Lithium, Lanxess, Koch, Albemarle Corporation and Daytona Lithium have all expressed interest in the area. Thanks to the infrastructure already in place, Standard Lithium started a pilot project in 2020 in south Arkansas to determine the potential for a modern lithium brine processing operation. In September, the Canada-based company announced it had purchased 118 acres of timberland in Lafayette County for its planned $1.3 billion lithium extraction and refinement plant. This facility is in addition to a $365-million plant expected to be constructed in Union County. Lafayette County Judge Valarie Clark said she is excited and grateful for this opportunity for the residents of her county. “It’s such a great opportunity for the people. This is going to help them with job opportunities,” she said. Clark said she has been told by Standard Lithium officials that they plan for construction to begin in the next 15 to 18 months, and they expect 300 construction workers will be working on the site. After the facility is complete, they hope COUNTY LINES, FALL 2023

to employee about 100 people. Clark said she also has been working with the Arkansas Development Commission to find ways to prepare and has been in talks with her local legislators about housing developments. She has also been coordinating with officials at the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope to provide the training needed for these new jobs. “That’s what’s most meaningful to me because this will be good for the people of my county,” she said. During a November 14 press conference, Patrick Howarth, global business manager for Exxon Mobil, said the company will start drilling in November and are targeting lithium production by 2027. According to the Wall Street Journal, Exxon Mobil is planning to build one of the world’s largest lithium processing facilities not far from Columbia County. “Today, the world needs urgently more lithium. It is a critical raw material in the battery manufacturing supply chain,” Howarth said. “Exxon Mobil is aiming to be a leading supplier of lithium by 2030, and we’re making a significant investment in drilling in southwest Arkansas.” Howarth explained that his company will be using a modern manufacturing process that is far less intrusive and has a lower environmental impact while still offering a “substantial economic benefit” to south Arkansas. “Arkansas is establishing itself as an early leader in this new type of lithium development,” Howarth said. Exxon Mobil officials explained in a press release that conventional oil and gas drilling methods will be used to access lithium-rich saltwater from reservoirs about 10,000 feet underground. “Direct lithium extraction” technology will then be used to separate lithium from the saltwater and converted onsite to battery-grade material. The remaining saltwater will be reinjected into the underground reservoirs. “I’m not being dramatic when I say that this has the potential to transform our state,” Sanders said. “Once they and others are in full operation some estimate that the Natural State could produce 15 percent of the world’s finished lithium supply.” Columbia County Judge Doug Fields called the Exxon Mobil project a “pick me up” for the county where he was born and raised. He also said the county is working with Exxon to get roads to the wells prepared. 43



SUPERVISOR BOOTCAMP Hundreds of county officials and supervisors attended two Supervisor Bootcamps hosted by AAC.

Above Left: Calhoun County Sheriff Vernon Morris looks at a handout during a Supervisor Bootcamp session. Above Right: AAC Executive Director Chris Villines visits with Pike County Clerk Randee Reid, Pike County Treasurer Loletia Rather, Pike County Circuit Clerk Sabrina Williams and Hempstead County Clerk Karen Smith before the start of the session. Right: Izard County Treasurer Warren Sanders talks with fellow treasurer Teresa Reed from Miller County. Far Right: RMS Counsel Brandy McAllister speaks to attendees about having hard conversations with employees.

Above Left: RMS Employment Counsel Mallory Floyd speaks to the crowd during one of the sessions. Right: Van Buren County Judge Dale James and his OEM Director Warren Johnson listen intently. 44





AAC hosted a one-day training about crisis communications with Mark Weaver, an expert on how to handle public communications during a crisis.

Above Left: A group of sheriffs practice talking in soundbites after learning about the importance of this skill. Above Right: Speaker for the event and expert on the topic, Mark Weaver, gives attendees direction during an exercise about making a statement during emotional situations.

Above Left: Pulaski County Clerk Assistant Chief Deputy Debrah Mitchell listens during an exercise as Faulkner County Administrator Randy Higgins gives a sound bite explanation of a term. Above Right: Benton County Director of Communications Melody Kwok leads a group through an exercise. Far Left: Johnson County Director of Emergency Management Rickey Casey visits with Johnson County Assessor Rusty Hardgrave. Left: Drew County Sheriff Tim Nichols practices giving a statement during an emotional situation. COUNTY LINES, FALL 2023




COUNTY ASSESSORS The Arkansas County Assessor’s Association held its 69th Annual Fall Conference Oct. 24-27 in Fort Smith/Sebastian County.

Above: State Land Commissioner Tommy Land installed the Assessor’s Association’s new executive board. They are, from left, Lee County Assessor Becky Hogan; Sevier County Assessor Sheila Ridley; White County Assessor Gail Snyder; Logan County Assessor Shannon Cotton; Jackson County Assessor Diann Ballard, president; Faulkner County Assessor Krissy Lewis, secretary/treasurer; Stone County Assessor Heather Stevens, AAC Board member; Pope County Assessor Dana Baker, AAC Board member; and Washington County Assessor Russell Hill, vice president.

Above Left: Crittenden County Assessor Kim Hollowell, past president of the association, passed the gavel to Jackson County Assessor Diann Ballard, incoming president, during a formal banquet. Afterward, Ballard presented Hollowell with a plaque commemorating her service as president.. Above Right: Ouachita County Assessor Tonya McKenzie listens during a Marshall & Swift Cost Approach class. 46




COUNTY CORONERS The Arkansas Coroners Association hosted a forensic photography class at Winthrop Rockefeller Institute.

Top Left: Miller County Deputy Coroners Lisa Watson and Andrew Watson work together to get the best photos of a mock crime scene in the dark. The training focuses on taking pictures in less than ideal conditions and taking photos of small details such as fingerprints or needle marks. Top Right: Greene County Coroner Martin Buchman looks on as Hot Spring County Deputy Coroner Michelle Sollenburger practices taking pictures outside the center. Along with hearing from Instructor Jose Reyes, training participants had opportunities to practice their new skills. Left: Sebastian County Chief Deputy Coroner Ricky Boles takes a picture of a mock crime scene as Deputy Coroner Pam Carter holds a flashlight. Far Left: Instructor Jose Reyes speaks with the class. Left: Training attendees take a funny group photo at the end of the class. Coroners and law enforcement from Sebastian, Hot Spring, Greene, Craighead and Miller Counties participated.





GUARDIAN USERS The annual Guardian RFID Users Conference took place Oct. 12 at the AAC headquarters.

Above: Faulkner County Juvenile Officer Douglas Huett and Faulkner County Lt. Rusty Page prepare for the training session to begin.

Above: AAC Member Benefits Manager James Mirus hosted the Guardian RFID training, which attracted almost 100 participants.

Left: Chris Riedmueller, MBA, of Guardian RFID speaks during the annual User Conference at the AAC office. Middle: Pictured is Jeff Jackson, CJM, of Guardian RFID. The User Conference is designed to teach jail staff how to better use the Guardian RFID system to track things such as meals and medications for inmates. Right: The Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office was well represented by several jail staffers at the meeting.

www.arcounties.org 48




CIRCUIT CLERKS County circuit clerks convened Oct. 11-13 at Mt. Magazine State Park/Logan County.

Top Left: During a presentation about sovereign citizens, Pulaski County Chief Deputy Cheri Abston shares information about issues the Pulaski County Circuit Clerk’s Office has faced involving property records. Above: Garland County Circuit Clerk Kristie Womble-Hughes shares a hug with Crawford County Chief Deputy Carrie Kilgore. Left: From left, Logan County Circuit Clerk April Hice, Cleburne County Circuit Clerk Heather Smith, Union County Circuit Clerk Cherry Govan and Baxter County Circuit Clerk Canda Reese chat.

Above Left: Mt. Magazine State Park Superintendent Sarah Keating leads the group on an interpretive hike to Signal Hill, the highest point in Arkansas. Above Right: Craighead County Circuit Clerk David Vaughn poses a question during a panel discussion about recording requirements. COUNTY LINES, FALL 2023




COUNTY CLERKS The Arkansas Association of County Clerks met Sept. 13-16 at DeGray Lake State Park in Clark County.

Above: Madison County Clerk Austin Boatright and Carroll County Clerk Connie Doss have a conversation during a break between presentations.

Above: Jill Barham, staff attorney for the Arkansas Ethics Commission, makes a presentation during the first day of the meeting.

Above: Pope County Chief Deputy Clerk Karri Warren, left, listens to a presentation as Pope County Clerk Pam Ennis takes notes.

Above: A group of clerks and deputy clerks work on a team building activity. Below Right: Velena McRae, with the IRS, talks with attendees about changes to federal laws.

Right: Former Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners Director Daniel Shults visits with Pulaski County Clerk Terri Hollingsworth after speaking to the group. 50





The Arkansas County Treasurers’ Association held its fall meeting Sept. 11-13 at Mt. Magazine State Park/Logan County.

Right: Hempstead County Treasurer Judy Lee Flowers, Little River County Chief Deputy Treasurer Brenda Snead, and Little River County Treasurer Dayna Guthrie prepare to conduct a team building exercise — “Going on a Bear Hunt.” Teams had to work together to locate certain color paper bears that had been hidden in the lodge.

Left: Treasurer of State Larry Walther joined the Treasurers’ Association for its retirement dinner and spoke about some of the processes his office is streamlining. Right: Association President and Columbia County Treasurer Selena Blair welcomes Garland County Treasurer to the front of the room to say a few words before his retirement in October.

Above left: Benton County Treasurer Deanna Ratcliffe is a longtime treasurer, having taken office in 2005. Above right: Hot Spring County Treasurer Glorie Thornton and Arkansas County Treasurer Ruby Dillion listen to one of many presentations. COUNTY LINES, FALL 2023




COUNTY JUDGES The County Judges Association of Arkansas met Sept. 6-8 at the Benton Event Center in Saline County.

Left: CJAA officers and executive board are sworn in following an election of new officers. Greene County Judge Rusty McMillon was elected president. Clark County Judge Troy Tucker will serve as first vice president and Miller County Judge Cathy Hardin Harrison was elected second vice president. Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson was selected to serve as secretary/treasurer.

Above: Bradley County Judge Klay McKinney poses a question to one of the speakers.

Above: Lonoke County Judge Doug Erwin laughs as keynote speaker D. Wayne Lukas tells a joke during his presentation. Lukas is a world-renowned horse trainer.

Below: Abby Turner teaches a spouses event about putting together charcuterie boards.

Right: Baxter County Judge Kevin Litty and White County Judge Lisa Brown look over a hand out about state turnback funds.



AAC AAC amily


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hen you participate in the A A C Wo r k e r s ’ C o m p e n s a tio n Tru s t, you can relax in the hands of professional staff members who are going to take care of your needs. The AAC team has decades of experience in handling county government claims – t h e y ’ r e s i m p l y t h e b e s t a t w h a t t h e y d o ! Did we mention that participants in our plan are accustomed to getting money back? Since we started paying dividends in 1997, the AAC Workers’ Compensation Trust has declared more than $ 3 2 MI L L I O N dollars in dividends, payable to members of the fund. In fact, we mailed $650,000 in savings back to member counties in July 2023.

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About NACo – The Voice of America’s Counties National Association of Counties (NACo) is the only national organization that represents county governments in the U.S. NACo provides essential services to the nation’s 3,068 counties. NACo advances issues with a unified voice before the federal government, improves the public’s understanding of county government, assists counties in finding and sharing innovative solutions through education and research and provides value-added services to save counties and taxpayers money.

NACo honors 8 who completed leadership program


e would like to acknowledge and congratulate the August NACo Leadership Academy graduates from Arkansas. They join over 10,000 graduates and current participants from across the country benefitting from the 12-week online program enabling existing and emerging county leaders to achieve their highest potential. •

Jennifer Hermann, Human Resources Manager/Payroll Administrator, Garland County Kevin Bell, Sheriff, Randolph County Laura Wiles, Election Coordinator, Faulkner County Margaret Darter, County Clerk, Faulkner County Randy Higgins, County Administrator, Faulkner County

• • • •

• • •

Sherry Koonce, County Tax Collector, Faulkner County Timothy McComas, Chief Deputy, Randolph County Timothy Ryals, Sheriff, Faulkner County

Celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the High Performance Leadership Academy with us — each county can enroll 10 leaders for $15,000 in 2024. Our next cohort starts January 8. Developed by General Colin Powell, the Professional Development Academy and NACo, the High Performance Leadership Academy is an online 12-week program that helps your workforce develop fundamental, practical leadership skills to deliver results for counties and residents. Go to https://www.naco.org/page/high-performance-leadership-academy to register for the next cohort.

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This publication was made possible with the support of these advertising partners who have helped to underwrite the cost of County Lines. They deserve your consideration and patronage when making your purchasing decisions. For more information on how to partner with County Lines, please call Christy L. Smith at (501) 372-7550.


Association of Arkansas Counties 1415 West 3rd St. Little Rock, AR 72201







EXPERIENCE. COMPASSION. RESULTS. Little Rock  Conway  Jacksonville  Hot Springs  Springdale  Bryant  Memphis  Responsible Attorneys: Mike Rainwater & Bob Sexton

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