Spring 2022 County Lines

Page 1

County Lines

Spring 2022

Stately Lady

Hempstead County opens new courthouse. Page 28


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In This Issue Spring 2022


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

Hempstead County Unveils New Courthouse...............................28


Features AAC Calendar.......................................................................................6 AAC Staff Profile: Loretta Green....................................................32 AAC Staff Profile: Paige Harris.......................................................32 AAC Staff Profile: Jenny Evans.......................................................33 AAC Staff Profile: Courtney Murray................................................33

From the Director’s Desk...................................................................7 President’s Perspective.....................................................................9 From the Governor............................................................................11 AG Opinions........................................................................................13 AAC Research Corner.......................................................................14 Seems to Me..................................................................................... 17 Governmental Affairs.......................................................................20

AAC Photo Recap: Safety Meeting...............................................36

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

AAC Photo Recap: County Collectors.........................................37

Risk Management Services............................................................24

AAC Photo Recap: Quorum Court Association...............................38

Litigation Lessons.............................................................................25

AAC Photo Recap: County Assessors.............................................39

Wellness & Safety............................................................................27

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

News from NACo...............................................................................42

Cover Notes: Stately Lady

( P hoto by Caitlin Brown)

Hempstead County officials held a grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony for their new courthouse on May 19, 2022. See the story on page 28. — Photo by Caitlin Brown COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2022





AAC Mission Statement

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

Sept. 26-28 County Clerks Ozark Folk Center, Mountain View

Sept. 7-9 Judges Fairfield Inn & Suites, Benton

Oct. 11-14 Circuit Clerks Embassy Suites, Jonesboro

Sept. 14-16 Treasurers Winrock, Petit Jean Mountain

Nov. 27-29 Collectors Wyndham, North Little Rock

Calendar activities also are posted on our website:


Contact AAC


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

Jenny Evans, Accounting & Program Assistant Karen Bell, Program Assistant jevans@arcounties.org kbell@aacrms.com

Anne Baker, Executive Assistant abaker@arcounties.org

Mark Harrell, IT Manager Ellen Wood, Admin. Asst./Receptionist mharrell@arcounties.org ewood@aacrms.com

Loretta Green, Receptionist


Risk Management/ Workers’ Compensation

Brandy McAllister, RMS Counsel bmcallister@arcounties.org

Eddie Jones, Consultant e.jonesconsulting@gmail.com

Debbie Norman, Risk Mgmt. & Insurance Director Colin Jorgensen, RMF Litigation Counsel dnorman@aacrms.com cjorgensen@arcounties.org

Mark Whitmore, Chief Legal Counsel mwhitmore@arcounties.org

Debbie Lakey, Workers’ Comp Claims Mgr. JaNan Thomas, RMF Litigation Counsel dlakey@aacrms.com jthomas@arcounties.org

Josh Curtis, Governmental Affairs Director jcurtis@arcounties.org

Cathy Perry, Program Analyst Melissa Dugger, RMF Litigation Counsel cperry@aacrms.com mdugger@arcounties.org

Lindsey French, Legal Counsel lfrench@arcounties.org

Kim Nash, Workers’ Comp Claims Adjuster Camille Neemann, RMF Litigation Counsel knash@aacrms.com cneemann@arcounties.org

Christy L. Smith, Communications Director csmith@arcounties.org

Renee Turner,Workers’ Comp Claims Adjuster Fonda Fitzgerald, RMF Paralegal rturner@aacrms.com ffitzgerald@arcounties.org

Caitlin Brown, Communications Coordinator cbrown@arcounties.org

Riley Groover, Claims Analyst Shantina Osborn, RMF Paralegal rgroover@aacrms.com sosborn@arcounties.org

Karan Skarda, ACE Program Coordinator kskarda@arcounties.org

Greg Hunt, Claims Analyst Samantha Wren, RMF Paralegal ghunt@aacrms.com swren@arcounties.org

Cindy Posey, Accountant cposey@arcounties.org

Kim Mitchell, Premium Analyst James Mirus, Member Benefits Manager jmirus@arcounties.org kmitchellt@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 Caitlin Brown

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



Conference, retirements and a legislative session are to come


n early July you find our staff feverishly preparing for the AAC annual conference. As we put together speakers and events we constantly communicate about what we believe will bring you the best proChris Villines gramming in a short amount of time. For many years when I AAC Executive Director was the Tax Collector in Saline County, I circled these August dates as a period of time I could get away from the office, reconnect with all of my friends, and enjoy presentations that made me a better collector at home. Many of you, like me, have circled these dates in 2022 and our registration numbers are climbing yet again. Another record year for attendance could be in the making — and Hot Springs is a wonderful venue that everyone seems to enjoy. I say all this to tell you, it is not too late if you have not yet registered. At the time of magazine printing there may still be time to register and get a room, but hotel space is quickly filling up and this fact may push you to an off-site hotel. Please let us know if you need any help. ••• It’s always bittersweet to say farewell in retirement to people we’ve worked closely with, but two such people have recently decided to enjoy their time after county government. You know both of them well, and I’d like to take this time to wish Fran Walker with Nationwide Retirement Solutions and our own Becky Comet a wonderful future as they ease into the next stage of life. Becky joined the AAC 10 years ago on the heels of being a finalist on “The Biggest Loser” television show. What many of you may not know is that Becky lived next door to my family on Lynnwood Drive in Benton. We had known her for some time and call the Comet family friends. Her daughter, Samantha, even watched our children a few times. Becky brought us a great smile and pleasant attitude. She did a wonderful job setting up our membership benefits program — and many of you have enjoyed the fruits of this labor in the form of discounts at stores or theme parks put together for county employees in Arkansas. Becky also worked closely with many of our jail staffs to put together a program for utilization of Guardian RFID equipment in our jails. We have no doubt saved lives and avoided lawsuits because of the implementation of this great Risk Management benefit tool provided free to all member counties, made better by Becky’s hard work. Fran has roamed through many of your courthouses encouraging you to join Nationwide Retirement Solutions programs. And she has always done so with a caring demeanor. She cares that you are taken care of in retirement, and it shows. It is exciting to see such a wonderful ambassador for this program now enjoying her own retirement and living the dream she has preached to all of us will one day come. For 14 years Fran has been working with counties of Arkansas, and I’d have to say almost every one of our county officials has developed a relationship >>> with Fran during that time. She has helped so many people begin the 7



process of setting aside some money for the eventuality of retirement, and her knowledge of the 457(b)(3) program is simply superior. Thank you both to Becky and Fran as you enter many years of blessed retirement — we wish you the absolute best. ••• A legislative session is on the horizon. And I’m not talking about what will (hopefully) prove to be a short special session in August. In January the 94th General Assembly will convene in Little Rock, with many new faces leading the legislative effort. In our own ranks we will also have many new faces as we will see unprecedented turnover in the county ranks. This was expected to happen considering the first cycle of fouryear terms is now concluding. I’ll share more on an expanded New-Elects training in a future column but suffice it to say our collective work is in front of us to bring many new officials up to speed. A lot of work will be done by our member associations between now and January, and I appreciate all of you working so hard within your associations and with your AAC liaisons to prepare legislative packages to be presented on behalf of

county government. We are extremely successful with our legislative package each session because it is well thought out and vetted between all associations through the AAC legislative committee process. A special thanks to Craighead County Treasurer Terry McNatt, who sits as the chair of our legislative committee and for his leadership of that group through this process. We anticipate finalizing our package in late October and presenting it to key legislators and constitutional officers beginning in December. The legislature will follow a very specific calendar, with some of the key dates as follows: • • • • •

Nov. 15, 2022 – pre-filing bills and resolutions begins Jan. 9, 2023 – the regular session will convene Jan. 23, 2023 – deadline to file retirement legislation Feb. 8, 2023 – deadline to file constitutional amendments Feb. 27, 2023 – deadline to file appropriation bills

I encourage all of you who don’t have a relationship with any of your legislators to make that happen now. Once the session begins it is too late to introduce yourself. You are trusted experts in your field, and it is vitally important that they know how to contact you and vice-versa.

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Change is in the air

hange has been the theme of the last couple of years, whether we wanted it to be or not. The pandemic challenged county officials in ways we could not have imagined. Despite the rapid spread of COVID in our communities, we still had a responsibility to provide essential services. And, as leaders, we had a responsibility to remain upbeat and set an example for our staffs, the public, and each other. We still have that responsibility because change continues to be in the air. Hundreds of new faces — that includes justices of the peace — will join the ranks of county government next year. We have lost several colleagues in the last four years, and many more are choosing to retire when this term ends. Some will have experience as deputies in their offices. Others will be brand new and seeking guidance. We must be leaders and mentors to those coming into office. But it’s not only county government that is experiencing change. This is a transitional time at the state level, too. Next year we will have a new Governor, as well as many new legislators in the General Assembly. We must work to develop relationships with these officials. Many of the House and Senate races were determined in the May primary election. Don’t wait until January to reach out to your representatives. Start developing a positive working relationship with them now. That way when we go to the Capitol for the next legislative session, they will be receptive to listening to our requests. And rest assured that our requests are rigorously vetted. The AAC’s Legislative Committee recently held its first planning meeting. This committee is composed of members from each of the nine associations that fall under the AAC

umbrella. During your continuing education meetings, your associations have been working with your AAC liaison to identify issues that may need to be addressed during the next legislative session. If approved by your association’s DEBBIE WISE legislative committee, then these AAC Board President; items become part of your assoRandolph County Circuit Clerk ciation’s legislative package. Those packages will be submitted to the AAC at the August conference. The AAC Legislative Committee then reviews the proposals. Those that are approved go to the AAC Board of Directors, which examines them and decides which ones to approve. Those proposals become the AAC legislative package presented at the Capitol. The AAC typically presents about 30 proposed bills to the Legislature and has a passage rate of more than 90 percent — all due to the communication that takes place among our associations. As we prepare to enter a new chapter, it is important to keep those lines of communication open. We are stronger and so much more effective when we work together. We must prepare for and embrace the changes that continue to come.

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

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



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Ensuring the safety of Arkansas students and teachers

s our nation mourns the death of nineteen students and two teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, the national conversation has turned again to the need to make our schools more secure. In Arkansas, educators and legislators have long recognized the need for vigilance to keep our children safe. Concern for the safety of our students didn’t suddenly become a priority last week because of the violence in Texas. Four years ago, after a young man killed seventeen students in Parkland, Florida, I created the Arkansas School Safety Commission to assess the state of school security. The commission submitted a 124-page report with thirty significant recommendations. The work of the Commission hasn’t sat on a shelf. In fact, most of the recommendations have been adopted, or we are working toward implementing them. But we need to do more. The attack in Texas compels us to revisit the findings and to assess the effectiveness of any changes school districts have made. I have asked Dr. Cheryl May, director of the School Safety Center and the Criminal Justice Institute and who was chair of the commission, to call the members back to follow up on their work to ensure that we are doing all we can. I am considering calling a special session this summer, and if we have one, I will recommend a grant program to help fund the schools’ efforts to improve security. There are many ways to harden the security of schools. We can invest in security guards, police officers, and school resource officers. We need to control and secure points of entry into a school. And we need to design schools with security as a top priority. One area of concern is the mental health of students, which is part of the Arkansas Commission’s report. In 2019, the General Assembly responded by passing Act 190, which reduced the administrative duties of school counselors to 10

percent of their time and requires them to spend 90 percent of their time in direct counseling with students. This emphasis on students increases the likelihood that Hon. ASA counselors will identify students HuTCHINSON who are struggling with emotional Governor of Arkansas or mental-health issues. Other laws that came out of the commission’s work included Act 629, which allows school districts to form their own police departments, and other enactments which focus on comprehensive school safety audits, emergency operation plans, lockdown drills, and require Youth Mental Health First Aid for school counselors. U.S. senators and representatives are discussing the issue in Washington. Congress certainly has a role in this ongoing conversation and can be helpful, but ultimately, each state and school district must decide locally how to protect students. There are common sense ways to predict these tragic events, and we must work together to do everything in our collective power to protect our most vulnerable Americans – our children. The matter of safe schools doesn’t belong to Republicans or Democrats. Each of us has a responsibility to see that schools are among the safest place for our children and educators. Americans in each political party and at all levels of government must work together to ensure that our students and teachers return home after the final bell rings at the end of the day.

Asa Hutchinson The Honorable Asa Hutchinson Governor of Arkansas

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From road funds to equalization boards AG OPINION NO. 2021-045 Whenever dedicated road funds are used to purchase real property, may a portion of the real property be used by the road department? For lease for other purposes? For use by other governmental entities? For lease and use to non-profit organizations? The AG determined that the answer is in the affirmative as to all of these uses. The uses of county road taxes from millage and road taxes, except for State Aid funding, permit the purchase of real property. A lease to a non-profit for use is permitted either at market value or for a nominal sum — less than market value provided there is an adequate public advantage and adequate consideration. In this instance, the primary use of the real property was for the road department (expansion of the current road department facilities). Interim uses of a portion of the real property were proposed, and lawful as per the Attorney General, for other governmental entities and non-profit organizations. AG OPINION NO. 2021-053 The AG was posed several questions regarding the homestead property tax credit and veteran’s property tax exemption. The AG explained that the homestead tax credit afforded under Amendment 79 of the Arkansas Constitution and Ark Code § 26-26-119 plainly limits the claim to one homestead credit per year. The AG determined that a married couple that owns multiple residences jointly cannot each claim an additional or separate homestead credit. Ark Code § 26-26-119(a) and Ark Code § 26-26-118(b) by operation

of law preclude spouses claiming multiple homestead credits. Likewise, a married couple owning multiple residences jointly cannot claim both a homestead property tax credit and a veteran’s property tax exemption. A homestead credit under Ark Code § 26-26-118 is unavailable to a disabled veteran claiming a property tax exemption under Ark Code § 26-3-306.

Mark Whitmore Chief Legal Counsel

AG OPINION NO. 2021-057 The AG had the opportunity to explain the meaning of Ark Code § 26-27-324, the training conducted by the Assessment Coordination Division (ACD) for board of equalization members. The question was whether the training had to be conducted online or in person. The law provides for comprehensive training for equalization boards but does not designate the manner or method of conducting the training. The law required the training materials to be made freely available online, but did not direct that the training be conducted online. The ACD conducts the subject training to assist members of the board of equalization to better perform their duties under the law. The legislature was not attempting to mandate the manner of conducting this training.

The AAC hosted a Fine Collection Seminar on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. In attendance were those in sheriff’s and circuit clerk’s offices who collect fines. The group of about 70 heard about fine collection policies, procedures, and best practices. Presentations focused on software and credit card processing, state income tax setoff, suspension of driver’s licenses, the ArDot Litter Pickup Program, debtor’s prison, order of payment, and more. In this photo, AAC Legal Counsel Lindsey French passes out materials to attendees.

— Photo by Caitlin Brown COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2022





Duties and recent advancements for coroners and deputy coroners

s far back as ancient Greece, people were selected to investigate deaths in the community. The term “Coroner” initially comes from antiquity, namely when the deceased was entrusted to the coronator in which the corpse was prepared according to custom. Ancient Rome likewise had coroners investigating deaths. It was recorded that the body of Julius Caesar was examined by a physician named Antisius, who declared that out of 23 wounds inflicted, the one that penetrated the thorax was the cause of death. The Justinian Code (529-533 A.D.) required the opinion of physicians in certain cases and is often credited as the origin of recognition of the correlation of law and medicine in effecting legal justice. The formal office of “Coroner” originated in England around 1100-1200 A.D. During the time of Richard I, Richard the Lionheart. In September 1194, it was decreed by the “Articles of Eyre” to establish the office as the “keeper of the pleas of the Crown.” This role provided a local county official whose duty included protection of the financial interest and the interest of the Crown in criminal proceedings. They were appointed by the Crown to investigate violent, unexplained deaths and to make sure that any property left by the deceased was added to the treasure trove of the King of England. The Latin word for crown is “corona,” which is why the office became known as “Coroner.” In England the office of Coroner was a necessary substitute, for if the sheriff is interested in a suit, or if he is of affinity with one of the parties to a suit, the coroner must execute and return the process of the courts of justice. This role was qualified in Chapter 24 of the Magna Carta in 1215, which states, “No sheriff, constable, coroner or bailiff shall hold pleas of our Crown.” The person who found a body from a death thought sudden or unnatural was required to raise the “hue and cry” and to notify the coroner. Coronial manuals written for sheriffs, bailiffs, justices of the peace, and coroners were published in the 16th and 17th centuries. Handbooks specifically written for coroners were distributed in England in the 18th century. Determining the cause of deaths would also be important in the New World. It is believed that William Penn appointed one of the first coroners in the American colonies in 1682 after a dead body was found on a riverbank. This coroner system was used as the country grew, and coroners were elected in all the original 13 colonies. As the new states and territories developed, coroners were elected to be county officers, comparable to sheriffs, with whom they often traded places. Also, the coroner was instructed to investigate the facts concerning the death, proceeding in the same manner as was customary in England except that the property of the dead man was to be 14

held in trust for the heirs. Article 7, § 46, of the Arkansas Constitution, creates the elective office of coroners and directs the qualified electors of each county to elect Mark Whitmore one coroner. As per Amendment 95 Chief Legal Counsel of the Arkansas Constitution, coroners, along with seven other county elected offices, have four-year terms. (Justices of the peace are district officials who serve two-year terms.) Coroners have a litany of duties prescribed by Arkansas law. The County Lines readership and the public should briefly take time to learn of the some of these duties. When a death is reported to the coroner, he or she shall investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of an individual and gather and review background information, including, but not limited to, medical information and any other information that may be helpful in determining the cause and manner of death. Ark. Code Ann. § 14-15-301. Coroners are tasked with the investigation of deaths occurring within the county 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days per year. Although the duties of the county coroner may be conducted intermittently, the office is a full-time position. At any time, the coroner is required to investigate deaths. In Arkansas, coroners’ responsibilities are concurrent with and separate from sheriffs’ responsibilities. Ark. Code Ann. § 14-15-302(a). A coroner’s investigation does not include criminal investigation responsibilities. However, the coroner shall assist a law enforcement agency or the State Crime Laboratory upon request and shall be given access to death scenes to perform the duties set forth in this subchapter. Ark. Code Ann. § 14-15-302 provides that law enforcement officials must give the county coroner access to all scenes of deaths with respect to which the coroner is required to carry out an investigation pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 14-15-301. The Attorney General allowed that it is true that a coroner investigation does not include “criminal investigation responsibilities.” (See: Attorney General Opinion 1995-263.) However, the Attorney General construed this provision to mean, primarily, that the coroner is not responsible for determining the identities of persons who commit crimes resulting in death. In undertaking his investigation into the cause and manner of death, however, the coroner must satisfy himself or herself as to whether the death was the result of a crime. They act separately from and independently of the sheriff. A coroner may issue subpoenas as necessary to secure pertinent medical or other records and testimony relevant to the determination of the cause and manner of death, as well as COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2022



antemortem blood, urine, or other biological fluids or toxi- sas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training cological samples relevant to the determination of the cause (CLEST) in coordination with the Arkansas Department of and matter of death as provided by Ark. Code Ann. § 14- Health (ADH) establish a training curriculum for medicolegal 15-301 and 302. A physician, hospital, or other healthcare death investigators, coroners and deputy coroners that consists provider may make biological fluids or toxicological samples of no less than 16 hours and no more than 40 hours of instrucavailable to the coroner without an authorization, subpoena, tion. The law outlines the courses required in the curriculum. or court order, or as directed by the subpoena of the coroner, The commission is to certify a certificate of satisfactory comlaw enforcement or prosecuting attorney. Additionally, Ark. pletion of training. In 2019, the law was amended to direct Code Ann. § 14-15-301(c)(1) provides that a coroner or his or certain training to be mandatory for all deputy coroners in her deputy who has received instruction and has been deemed Arkansas. A grace period for meeting the mandatory training qualified by the State Crime Laboratory to take and handle requirements was provided due to the COVID-19 pandemic. toxicological samples from dead human bodies may do so for A deputy coroner who does not comply with the law shall not the purpose of determining the presence of chemical agents continue employment or activity as a deputy coroner, includthat may have contributed to the cause of death. ing without limitation signing death certificates or assisting in Coroners in Arkansas have extensive duties related to reports death investigations. as well. Ark. Code Ann. § 14-15-302 (e)(1)(A) A preliminary The training has been a resounding success. Since 2014, written report of the coroner’s investigation shall be completed there have been 16 ARMDI classes with a total attendance within five working of 295. Also, there days and shall include have been numera pronouncement of ous other training death. If indicated, hen a death is reported to the coroner, he or she programs including: a subsequent report six on Crime Scene shall be completed. shall investigate the circumstances surrounding Photography; two If the death occurred on Aquatic Drownwithout medical ating and Homicidal the death of an individual and gather and review backtendance or was the Death Investigations; result of a homicide, and three on Sudden ground information, including, but not limited to, median accident, or a suiUnexplained Infant cal information and any other information that may be cide, the preliminary Death Investigations. written report shall Coroners and various helpful in determining the cause and manner of death. include without limistakeholders should tation certain outlined be extremely proud of information regarding the advancement of the decedent. Corothe improved access ners also have duties in reporting child maltreatment and and level of training of coroners and their deputies. adult maltreatment, respectively. (See Ark Code §12-18-401 Coroners have made several other recent advancements. and Ark Code §12-12-1707). As well, they have an obligation Until recently almost all records of coroners in Arkansas were to report and certify deaths under Ark Code § 20-18-601. paper documents. Records maintained exclusively in paper To better ascertain and perform their duties under the law, format have limited accessibility and usefulness. Several corocoroners and their deputies have access to in-state training. ners in Arkansas did not have offices, and their records were Initially, over the years, training was conducted ad hoc by the extremely difficult to retrieve following changes in the office Arkansas Coroners’ Association, the Arkansas Crime Lab, and holder. Also, many Arkansans seek to make anatomical gifts other stakeholders such as Arkansas Regional Organ Recov- of their organs and tissues upon death. However, the lack of ery Agency (ARORA). However, funding for the training was timely notification of the death caused these needs to go unlimited and sporadic. Some training was funded by virtue of fulfilled. Cause of death is vital information. Coroners’ offices the Paul Cloverdale Forensic Science Improvement Grants in the United States using and maintaining electronic records Program. Then in 2013, the Arkansas Coroners’ Associa- have many major positive attributes over those using only pation in conjunction with several stakeholders sought — and per records. In 2014 the Electronic Records of Arkansas Vital the General Assembly passed — Act 551, Ark Code § 14- Events (ERAVE) System was launched and enabled death cer15-308. Act 551 established access and funding for in-state tificate information to be submitted electronically. training for coroners and deputy coroners on a similar basis as Following that advent, many of the coroners in Arkansas the training available for county clerks and circuit clerks and their deputies. Ark Code § 14-15-308 directs that the ArkanSee “Coroners” on Page 16 > > >






Coroners joined an electronic record system called Medicolegal Death Investigation Log or MDI Log. This major advancement commenced in 2017 and was largely achieved over the past few years from many of the coroners embracing MDI Log. The Arkansas Coroners’ Association, ARORA, State Drug Director Kirk Lane, and the Crime Lab engaged coroners and deputies and, in essence, many of them responded positively to the need for an electronic records system. MDI Log also provides timely notice for purposes of organ and tissue donation, and an excellent means of creating electronic records for coroners’ investigations and reports and populating death certificates. Additionally, the use of electronic records is key to integrating vital data in the state, city, county, and federal databases about the cause of death, such as drug overdoses, public safety or public health issues, etc. The data is used to track trends in overdose deaths throughout the state. A lot of dollars come from federal grants and other funding to affect these issues. Many of those grants are competitive for the states. Having current data allows Arkansas to be competitive with other states and gives a clear picture of exactly what Arkansas is dealing with. When these grant dollars are received, current data allows the state to plug them into areas where they are most needed to combat overdose deaths. It is important to have this data to show where we need improvement, as well as where we are achieving improvement. Grant-funding agencies require the state to report data and results. Being able to do so efficiently allows Arkansas to better access new grants that can be used to improve outcomes for Arkansans.

Continued From Page 15


Effective March 1, 2022, the Arkansas Crime Lab began accepting body submissions from coroners or deputy coroner only in a uniform electronic format under the MDI Log, which was already used by many or most coroners in Arkansas. This has further solidified the use of electronic records by coroners in Arkansas. We should all appreciate the many benefits for use of an electronic records management system for reporting deaths in Arkansas. This will assure that all coroners in Arkansas will be on and using the uniform electronic system for body submissions to the crime lab. Act 194 of 2017 was adopted, creating Ark. Code § 14-141212 as Arkansas law. This statute defines a “certified county coroner” and allows the county quorum court to adjust through the annual budget ordinance the annual salary of a certified county corner. This established a separate maximum annual salary for certified county coroners and authorizes annual salary adjustment. The quorum court of each county that has a certified county coroner is authorized to fix by ordinance the annual salary of a certified county coroner within the schedule of maximum salaries under § 14-14-1204. By all accounts, the Arkansas Coroners’ Association has recently demonstrated to be a forward moving group. The Arkansas Coroners’ Association and its partners have been embracing their legal duties and role in society. Their leadership has greatly improved the access and level of in-state training. They have embraced the modern era with a uniform record keeping system. Arkansans should be mindful of long-standing important duties of coroners and their deputies, as well as their recent leaps forward.

Arkansas Municipal League Executive Director Mark Hayes (right) attended the April 13, 2022, AAC Board of Directors meeting to discuss the outcome of opioid litigation launched by cities, counties, and the state. He sits alongside RMF Litigation Counsel Colin Jorgensen (left).

— Photo by Christy L. Smith 16




County officials should be knowledgeable, wise


f you’ve visited New York City and had a chance to stop by 30 Rockefeller Plaza, you probably noticed the words “wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times” over one of the main entrances. If you think that sounds familiar, maybe it’s because it is a verse from the King James Version of the Bible, Isaiah 33:6. The main entrance of 30 Rockefeller Plaza was designed as a loggia of three arches: one at the center and two somewhat smaller on the sides. Lee Lawrie designed the sculptural group Wisdom, A Voice from the Clouds for the lintels of the three arches. Lawrie’s carved rendering of Wisdom is above the center arch, flanked by Sound on the left and Light on the right. The Wisdom frieze above the entrance is accompanied by the Biblical inscription “Wisdom and Knowledge shall be the stability of thy times.” It definitely makes for some very interesting art deco art. This verse in Isaiah is evidently an address to King Hezekiah and asserts that his reign would be characterized by the prevalence of wisdom and knowledge. The stability of his reign denotes firmness, steadiness, constancy; and means that in his time, knowledge and the fear of the Lord would be settled on a firm foundation. Hezekiah was the son of King Ahaz and the 13th successor of David as King of Judah at Jerusalem. Hezekiah reigned at a time when the Assyrian empire was consolidating its control of Palestine and Syria. His father Ahaz had placed Judah under Assyrian control. The principal riches of King Hezekiah were his knowledge and wisdom. In his religious reforms, Hezekiah asserted Judah’s inherited Hebrew traditions and practices against imported cults of the Assyrian gods. He tried to achieve both political and religious independence for Judah. The book of 2 Kings provides the history of the virtuous reign of Hezekiah. I personally believe that the Bible verse “Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times” is a great inscription to put over the door of every county official — or more importantly over/in your heart. Knowledge and wisdom are elements of stability — a universal truth. What has ignorance and foolishness ever protected, built, or stabilized? Nothing. They are destroyers and exploiters. It was my goal during my years as an elected county official to gain knowledge daily and learn to use that knowledge wisely. I continue on that journey. But it takes effort. I’m no smarter than the next person, but I work at learning every day. Every county official should. There is so much to learn that you will never learn it all. But every time you learn something you’re a little bit closer. COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2022

I said all of that to say this: Let’s learn a little with a Q & A session. Question — Why are counties not allowed to do business with credit unions? Answer — The short answer is we Eddie A. Jones aren’t allowed to use credit unions County Consultant because of the “bank lobby.” Every few years, credit union supporters and advocates take their plea for fairness to the Capitol with a simple message: Allow local government to have a choice when it comes to their banking needs. Current law does not allow credit unions to accept deposits from local government entities; it only allows for local governments to bank with commercial, for-profit Arkansas banks. Arkansas county officials cannot drive down the street to the local credit union and conduct county business with them because legislation that would allow local government that choice has been stopped time after time. The ability to do county business with a credit union could lead to receiving a better rate of return on tax dollars and the ability to keep county funds within their communities. Further, credit unions are 100 percent member-owned and return all their profits to their members, and in turn, into the community. Banks, on the other hand, are management/board driven, shareholder owned, for-profit institutions that transfer their earnings back to their shareholders, which are more than likely outside of the community or the state — especially in today’s bank climate of large conglomerate buyouts. In the past, opponents of a credit union bill have claimed that credit unions should not be allowed to serve local governments because they “do not pay taxes,” which is not only a grave misrepresentation of the facts, but a rather archaic and self-serving argument. To claim that only for-profit banks should be able to conduct business with local government is a clear attempt to maintain the monopoly banks have had on accepting public funds and limit another accessible and qualified institution’s ability to compete in the market. Credit unions pay tangible personal property taxes, real property taxes and, as employers, all employment taxes, as would any other bank. They are exempt from paying federal income taxes due to their nonprofit structure and mission to serve their communities. Essentially, credit unions pay the same taxes as a Sub S corporation. See


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Credit unions, in previous attempts to be allowed to take court held that the expense of office space is the responsibilpublic deposits, have not asked for any kind of preferential ity of the county, not the county officer occupying the space. treatment when it comes to the public funds market. Credit And since the expense was not that of the county officer, it unions have simply sought the opportunity to provide decould not be recovered as an expense of his office from funds pository choice for public offices. handled by him on behalf of various taxing units. Credit unions offer higher savings rates and lower interest That same reasoning was used in a 1983 Arkansas Supreme rates on loans. Since they’re not focused on making profits Court case out of Pulaski County — Venhaus v. Board of but on covering their operating costs instead, credit unions Education. In that case County Judge Venhaus diverted funds are able to offer better interest rates to their members. from school taxes to the county general fund to pay a porCreated by the U.S. Congress in 1970, the National Credit tion of the rental of office space occupied by the assessor and Union Administration is an independent federal agency that collector. The County Board of Education filed suit and won insures deposits at federally insured credit unions, protects in Chancery Court. The county appealed but the Supreme the members who own credit unions and charters, and reguCourt affirmed the chancery court decision citing the 1924 lates federal credit unions. Penix v. Shaddox case where it was ruled that the expense of Counties are grateful office space is the responfor the good relationships sibility of the county. they have established Then in 1995 an AG with banks over the years nowledge and wisdom are elements of stabil- Opinion [AG Op. No. and for the many good 95-209] was rendered things that the bankity — a universal truth. What has ignorance when Sen. Stanley Russ ing industry has helped of Conway asked if provide for our areas over Faulkner County could and foolishness ever protected, built, or stabilized? the years. But there is assign a pro rata portion Nothing. They are destroyers and exploiters. really no good reason for of the costs of concounties not to be able to structing a new county use a credit union. The building to the county only reason we can’t is treasurer as an expense due to turf protecting. I of that office. The anget it; I just don’t agree with it. But I know what the law cur- swer was no, saying that the court cases Venhaus and Penix rently says, and as long as it does counties must do business were controlling on that question. The AG opined that the only with Arkansas banks. expense of providing office space is a county expense and not an expense of the office holder that can be recovered from Question — Can the Assessor, Collector, or Treasurer pay taxing units. for major repairs, rent of an office building or the purchase of a building for office operations out of their office budgets Question — There are times when county employees are funded by commissions or “off the top” taxes coming from pulled for jury duty just like any other county citizen. Is a the various tax entities of the county, or is that an expense of county liable for paying the normal juror fees to a county the general fund? employee for serving as a juror or prospective juror?


Answer — I contend that routine maintenance can be charged against the office as part of the operation — a part of the expenses for operating the office. So, if it was a small, routine plumbing or electrical repair, I say yes. However, if it is a complete redo or replacement of all plumbing or electrical, the answer is probably no. Here is my basis for that answer. The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed in Penix v. Shaddox (1924) that it is the county’s duty to furnish offices to the several county officers. The 18

Answer — Yes, a county employee should be paid the per diem compensation for serving as a juror just like any other person. Ark Code § 16-34-103(a)(1)(2) says, “Any person who receives official notice that he or she has been selected as a prospective juror or who is chosen as a juror is eligible to receive per diem compensation for service if: (1) The person actually appears at the location to which the juror or prospective juror was summoned; and (2) The person’s appearance is duly noted by the circuit clerk.” COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2022

AAC The per diem compensation, as established by Ark Code § 16-34-103(b)(1)(2), is $50 per day for a person who is selected and seated to serve as a member of a jury. Those who are excused or otherwise not selected and seated as a member of the jury are provided per diem compensation of not less than $15 as established by ordinance of the county quorum court for each day that they are required to appear at the location to which they were summoned. In addition to the per diem established for jurors and prospective jurors, Ark Code § 16-34-104 establishes an avenue for mileage reimbursement in the event and to the extent that a county quorum court adopts by ordinance a policy for reimbursement of mileage costs for jurors. The mileage reimbursement payment is allowed only to those whose primary place of residence is outside the city limits of the court that summoned them for duty and is paid from and to his or her home by the most direct and practicable route at the rate prescribed by the county. The deduction of jury duty fees from the salary of a county employee is prohibited by state law. Ark Code § 21-5-104(a) says, “No state, county, or municipal employer in this state shall deduct from the usual compensation of any employee, all or any part of the fees or compensation received by the employee for appearing for grand or petit jury duty or serving on any grand or petit jury in any court in this state.” In fact, a county employer who violates the provision of Ark Code § 21-5-104 is guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction can be fined up to $250, and the violation constitutes grounds for dismissal of the employer from his or her office or position of public employment. Don’t jeopardize your job over a few dollars. Did you learn anything? Can you use it wisely? Wisdom and knowledge have quite a bit in common. Both


words are listed as synonyms for one another at Thesaurus. com. In some cases they may be used interchangeably, but there are some important differences. The word “knowledge” is defined first as the “acquaintance with facts, truths or principles. Knowledge is typically gained through books, research, and delving into facts. “Wisdom” is defined as “the state of being wise,” which means “having the power of discernment and judging properly as to what is true or right: possessing discernment, judgement, or discretion.” “Wisdom” is typically gained from experiences and acquired over time. The primary difference between the two words is that “wisdom” involves a healthy dose of perspective and the ability to make sound judgments about a subject while “knowledge” is simply knowing. Anyone can become knowledgeable about a subject by reading, researching, and memorizing facts. It’s wisdom, however, that requires more understanding and the ability to determine which facts are relevant in certain situations. Wisdom takes knowledge and applies it with discernment based on experience, evaluation, and lessons learned. A quote by an unknown author sums up the differences well: “Knowledge is knowing what to say. Wisdom is knowing when to say it.” To put it another way, there is this simple fruit salad philosophy: “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in the fruit salad.” My advice to county officials would be, “Learn county law and use it wisely.” To use another Biblical admonition from the New Testament Book of James, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

“I should like to know what a man with knowledge does not have. And I should like to know what he has, who has not knowledge.”

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Broadband in Arkansas

hat is broadband? It is high-capacity transmission technologies that transmit data, voice, and video across long distances at high speeds. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the definition of broadband internet is a minimum of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload speeds. Broadband provides high speed internet access via multiple types of technologies including fibser optics, wireless, cable, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), and satellite. Fiber Optics is the most soughtafter technology, but it can be the most expensive and may take longer to deploy. Fiber carries lots of data using pulses of light through strands of fiber at the fastest speeds. Wireless broadband connects you to the internet using radio signals instead of cables. This is commonly called wireless internet, broadband wireless, or cellular internet, which can be either fixed or mobile. Cable delivers the internet over the same coaxial cables that connect to your TV set. DSL also uses cables, but the data is transmitted over traditional copper lines. Satellite is becoming more popular and is often the best option in rural Arkansas because satellites in space provide connectivity. Whether its cost, speed, or deployment, each one of these technologies has pros and cons. Why do counties need to be educated on broadband and the different technologies that deliver connectivity? Counties play a huge role in deciding whether an Internet Service Provider (ISP) can apply for grants and do work in their county. Every grant application that goes before the Arkansas Department of Commerce Broadband Office must be signed by a county judge or a mayor. In the beginning, judges would sign just about any application that came across their desk because they were excited to get more broadband access for their county. Since we have plenty of examples now of work performed by ISPs, we can be more critical in reviewing proposed applications. Counties can ask more questions and check references. Most of the time a judge wouldn’t award a project without reviewing previous work performed by a new contractor. This now can become the practice when reviewing broadband applications. We encourage counties to ask about cost to their constituents. Will there be a low-cost option? Will they allow houses to connect for free? One complaint we have heard from judges is ISP contractors tearing up roadways and busting pipes. You can ask about all this and do your due diligence before signing off on an application. Since 2019 the Arkansas Rural Connect program has approved over 160 grants totaling $392,924,037.15 for broadband deployment. That’s not a typo. Yes, almost $400 million for ISPs to connect Arkansans. The bulk of this money — $274,455,914.90 — has come from the first tranche of the American Rescue Plan (ARP). Another $113,960,590.43 has 20

come from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) and yet another $4,507,531.82 has come from the state. As you can see this has been a top priority for the Governor and the legislature. Josh Curtis “This broadband initiative Governmental Affairs should make the constituents Director of Arkansas extremely proud in how their government has operated together,” said state Sen. Jimmy Hickey. “The Legislative Branch and the Executive Branch have worked together to provide an efficient avenue to provide service across a broad area of the entire state of Arkansas.” Broadband Development Group (BDG) was hired in October 2021, to conduct a six-month, statewide study to develop a comprehensive master plan; to determine the true state of broadband coverage in Arkansas; and to find the most efficient way to fund deployment to those remaining underserved. BDG CEO Lou McAlister and his team hosted a series of more than 300 community meetings in all 75 counties and received more than 18,000 surveys from residents across the state. Lou even met with us here at the AAC and came to speak at the CJAA winter meeting. “Now is a critical time for our state to close the digital divide,” said state Rep. Matthew Shepherd, Speaker of the House. “The legislature invested in this report to develop a strategic plan moving forward. We want to see Arkansans not only connected, but operating at speeds necessary for work and education in years to come.” The report addresses the key deliverables required by the contract: assessing available broadband assets in the state; mapping out where the broadband gap exists in the state; calculating the budget needed to bridge the gap; and recommending improvements to the Arkansas Rural Connect grant program. According to its findings, Arkansas currently has 110,000 underserved households. “I’m pleased to see the state broadband report and recommendations from Broadband Development Group,” said Gov. Asa Hutchinson. “We’ve already made significant progress with an aggressive approach to getting broadband deployed to rural areas of Arkansas. I’m appreciative of the thorough report and recommendations of BDG, and I am particularly grateful for the partnership with the Arkansas General Assembly in getting ahead of the curve with an early start to deploying rural broadband. I look forward to expedited progress as we put into operation the recommendations and continue our partnership.” BDG corrected the FCC map by identifying about 210,000 See

“Broadband” on

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The critical role of property taxes in Arkansas and why we should leave them alone


et’s be honest: no one likes taxes. No one wants the Department of Education Elto pay taxes. Taxpayers hold a particular disdain ementary and Secondary Education for property taxes because you must pay taxes on Division. real and personal property you own every year. That is a lot of numbers and inforBut it’s important to look at what property taxes actually mation, but I promise there’s a point. LINDSEY FRENCH fund in Arkansas and how much in property taxes Arkan- While property taxes are not loved by General Counsel sans pay compared with taxpayers in other states. anyone and detested by many, propFirst, there is no state property tax in Arkansas. Property erty taxes in Arkansas are necessary taxes are levied by local school districts and approved by the for the secure and stable funding of quorum court. Seventy-nine percent of property taxes paid our public school system. The current administration has go to fund Arkansas’ public schools, 13 percent of property worked with the General Assembly to responsibly lower taxes collected go to counties, 7 percent to municipalities, income taxes for Arkansans, and Governor-hopeful Sarah and 1 percent to other entities. For school districts, there Huckabee-Sanders has said she will take those cuts even is a minimum uniform rate of taxation (URT) of 25 mills further if elected. Elementary and secondary education is set by state constitution and statute (Ark. Const. Article already a huge chunk out of the state’s general revenues, in 14, §3; Ark. Code Ann. § 26-80-101), but any millage over fact it is one of the state’s greatest annual expenditures. If that must be voted on by local taxpayers (Ark. Const. Ar- Arkansas begins to move toward no income tax, property ticle 14, §3; Ark. Code Ann. §26-80-102). In 2021, the taxes will be more important than ever for the funding of statewide average millage rate was 38.48, only 65.7 per- our public schools. With the state already supplementing cent of which is covered public school funding by the URT. This is imby over $2 billion per portant because, pursuyear, it is easy to conant to Ark. Code Ann. clude that property taxes irst, there is no state property tax in Arkansas. §6-20-2305, if a school alone, as currently addistrict’s net property ministered and assessed, Property taxes are levied by local school distax revenues collected are not enough to fund are less than 98 percent the schools. tricts and approved by the quorum court. of the URT, the DepartArticle 16, §5 of the ment of Education shall Arkansas Constitution distribute to the school mandates that all real district the difference and personal property between 98 percent of subject to taxation shall the URT and what was actually collected. However, the be taxed. It gives the General Assembly the latitude to state is not required to supplement any revenues not col- amend the methodology of assessment by a three-fourths lected in excess of the URT (25 mills). vote of each chamber. Additionally, it sets forth the propActual millage rates for school districts vary from around erty that is exempt from taxation. In recent legislative ses28 mills to 48 mills, with the statewide average millage sions, there have been bills presented that would reduce around 38.5 mills in 2021. The total taxable property and eventually eliminate personal property taxes in Arkanvalue for all real, personal, minerals, and utility property sas. Personal property tax assessments make up nearly onein Arkansas in 2021 was $57,213,455,655. In each school quarter of the total property taxes assessed in Arkansas. The district, the total taxable property assessments are multi- state’s public schools certainly cannot afford to lose half a plied by its levied millage rate (times 0.01) to determine billion in property tax dollars without some way to make the actual assessed value of property in the district. In up for it — and it doesn’t look like greater supplementation 2021, the statewide average collection rate for school dis- from state general revenues is a popular option. tricts was 95.73 percent. In the same year, about $2.09 Furthermore, Arkansas has one of the lowest real propbillion in property taxes were collected for school districts erty taxes in the country. According to a 2021 publication statewide. Comparatively, for the State’s Fiscal Year 2021, by the Tax Foundation, Arkansas homeowners pay a smaller $2.28 billion in state general revenues were expended by percentage of their home’s value in property taxes than in




AAC 38 other states. In contrast, according to the same organization, Arkansas has the third highest average sales tax rate of any state in the nation. An approved measure to provide property tax relief to Arkansans, Amendment 79, passed by a vote of the people in the 2000 general election, and placed caps on how much real property can increase after a reappraisal, with a 10 percent cap on all real property and a 5 percent cap on all homesteads. Additionally, Amendment 79 gives a tax break to homeowners age 65 and older or who are disabled by freezing their home’s value for ad valorem tax purposes, preventing any increases in their home’s assessed value. The amendment also created a homestead tax credit for homeowners that was increased by the General Assembly to $375 in 2019. Also, farmers are provided property tax relief by Amendment 59, passed in 1980, which requires agricultural, pasture, and timber land to be assessed according to its use and production, rather than its true market value like all other property is assessed. This results in these lands being assessed at a much lower



value than its market worth. In conclusion, it is not surprising that property taxes are unpopular. It is the only tax that most Arkansas taxpayers have to sit down once (or in three installment payments) a year and write a check for all taxes due for the year. Most people have their income taxes withdrawn from their paycheck throughout the year to lessen the blow, and sales taxes are paid a little bit at a time every day. No one likes to go get their vehicle license renewed and be told they have to pay their property taxes, all of them, first. However, the role that property taxes play in Arkansas cannot be underemphasized. If the goal is to draw more people and businesses to our state, few things are as important a recruiting tool as a great public school system, and adequate funding is crucial for us to achieve and maintain that goal. In the upcoming conversations about tax reductions in Arkansas, we cannot forget that personal and real property taxes serve a critical purpose that benefits all Arkansans and should not be diminished.




At-will employment and what it really means


ost employment in the state of Arkansas is at-will employment, which means that an employee can quit for any reason, or no reason at all, and that an employer can end the employment relationship for any reason, or no reason at all. Right? Close, but no cigar. What it really means is that an employer can end the employment relationship for any reason, or no reason at all, as long as they don’t do it for an illegal reason. When an ex-employee files a lawsuit after being terminated, they will often claim they were fired because they were part of a protected class of people. Protected classes may include, but are not limited to, race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or disability status. It may also include an individual who has exercised a right under state or federal law that prohibits retaliation or discrimination. Examples of this may be employees who have recently taken time off under the Family Medical Leave Act, or more relevant now in an election year, an employee who has exercised a First Amendment right to free speech. This does not mean that you cannot terminate an employee who is a different race than you, or who goes to a different church than you, or who campaigns for your opponent. What it means is you cannot terminate an employee because of these differences, or any other protected reason. That brings us back to the most often asked question when someone calls for employment advice — “I thought we were at-will so why do I need a good reason to terminate?” Because we are always preparing for the eventual employment lawsuit or EEOC Charge that says you fired someone illegally. If you are faced with a charge of discrimination, and have to explain to a judge or a jury why you really fired that employee, explaining they were fired because you are an atwill employer and you did it because you can, isn’t going to win the case. The jury in a case like that will hear two stories. They will hear the story from the fired employee, which is that you never really liked them, you picked on them, and eventually fired them, and it was all because of their protected status. Then they will hear the story from you, the employer, which is that they were fired because you just didn’t think they were a good fit and since they were an at-will employee that is a good enough reason. If that is the only reason you can give, it is highly unlikely that you will win the case. This is why it is important to keep good documentation of employee performance that does not meet expectations. Performance can include the obvious category of work 24

product, mistakes, ability to complete tasks, etc., but it also includes attendance and attitude. If you are repeatedly upset with an employee about something they are doing at work, that needs to be addressed with them, and Brandy McAllister documented by you. Risk Management When you regularly give feedLitigation Counsel back to your employees, whether good or bad, and you document those conversations, it creates a strong defense in any future employment claim that a termination decision was based on an employee’s protected class status. This is because you can now show the judge or jury a pattern of poor performance, or attitude, by the employee that eventually led to the separation. Documentation comes in many forms. It can be a reminder email to an employee about expectations or policies. It can be a verbal coaching where you explain the errors and demonstrate through additional training how to improve. In the case of verbal conversations, be sure to send a follow up email, or make a note in their file regarding the date and topic of the conversation. It can also be a formal write up that states if the behavior or performance fails to improve there will be further discipline, up to and including termination. No matter what form the documentation takes, remember, it is a key piece to both helping employees perform to the maximum ability, and to defending future claims that a termination was discriminatory. While employee performance issues will fall into specific categories, the facts are different in each case, so it is important to evaluate every situation independently before making a decision to terminate. Litigation is never fun, even when you win. It still causes stress and takes up valuable time, so remember, we are here to help talk through employee discipline and termination decisions and can help guide you to prevent lengthy litigation in the future.

This article should not be considered legal advice, but is general guidance. You should call our office to discuss employment issues prior to termination. COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2022




Cucumbers, pickles, and hope

reetings, faithful county officials and friends of landmark report entitled Facing county government. Addiction in America, addiction As I’ve written about in roughly half of my is a disease that changes the funccolumns over the past five years, we — the tion of brain circuits involved in united counties and governments of Arkansas — are engaged pleasure, learning, stress, deciin a yearslong effort to bring financial recovery into the state, sion-making, and self-control. to help our communities, families, and addicts, recover from Addiction “is a chronic illness Colin Jorgensen the Arkansas opioid epidemic. I will surely write more about that we must approach with the Risk Management this in the future. same skill and compassion with Litigation Counsel My column is entitled “Litigation Lessons,” and I usually which we approach heart disease, try to stay in my lane. But today, I shall preach a bit about diabetes, and cancer.” Addiction cucumbers, pickles, and hope. is the “public health crisis of our time” because untreated It’s no secret that I’m a sober alcoholic (at least at the time addiction prevents addicts from living healthy and productive of this writing — one day at a time). But because of baseless lives, and it has profoundly destructive effects on families, stigma, many folks like me choose to recover in the shadows. friends, colleagues, and entire communities. That is absolutely their The Surgeon General choice — a necessary has also explained that choice for some folks to there is no cure for the he social stigma strongly associated with adachieve and sustain sodisease of addiction — briety, and a choice that no magic pill or surgery diction is understandable given the way we should be respected by or therapy that will all. Other folks choose fully vanquish the disease act. We arguably earn our reputations as weak-willed to recover out loud, from the addict. As some people who made bad choices — moral failures, bad while respecting the folks say in recovery, anonymity of others. once a cucumber turns apples. But the stigma is incorrect. Anonymity is esseninto a pickle, it can’t be a tial for many who seek cucumber again. recovery from addicBut there are solution, primarily because of the shame and stigma associated tions to addiction. As explained by the Surgeon General, with the disease of addiction. Shame often accompanies public policies, education, a variety of medical treatments, addiction because when we drink and/or use, we do shamecounseling, social support, and mutual aid groups have all ful things. There’s no sugar-coating the conduct of an active proven successful at helping addicts achieve sobriety, sending addict. We lie, manipulate, disappoint, fail, and worse in the disease into remission. There is always hope of recovery. pursuit of the next fix over all else. Whether we like it or not. The most important message from the U.S. Surgeon We lose the power of choice, completely. We are powerless to General is this: Our biggest challenge with alcoholism and behave differently, and we are powerless to conquer addiction addiction — and the primary reason it is a public health on our own — no matter how much we yearn for sobriety. crisis of such magnitude — is the social stigma and shame We must have outside help, or the addiction and the shamethat makes alcoholics and addicts unlikely to come forward ful behavior will continue until it ends in death. and seek help. The social stigma strongly associated with addiction is Think about that for a minute. We have solutions to the understandable given the way we act. We arguably earn our biggest public health crisis that we face. But despite having reputations as weak-willed people who made bad choices — solutions, we fail to solve the crisis because of baseless stigma moral failures, bad apples. But the stigma is incorrect. and shame. This saddens me to no end. But we are changing I have been trapped in the hell of alcoholism, where drink- — slowly but surely, the stigma is eroding. And that delights ing was no fun anymore and I wanted to stop drinking more me to no end. than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life, but I couldn’t You might ask yourself: What can I do to help eradicate because addiction robs the addict of the power of choice and renders us powerless. As the U.S. Surgeon General stated in a See “CUCUMBERS” on Page 26 > > >







Continued From Page 25

baseless stigma? Whether you are a local leader, or an ordinary citizen, or an addict like me, the answer is the same. You can reject the baseless stigma associated with addiction (and while you’re at it, feel free to reject the baseless stigma associated with mental health challenges like depression). You can understand and know, and perhaps even explain to others, that people who suffer from addiction are not moral failures, not weak, not stupid, not hopeless bad apples. They are sick. And they need help getting well. Many of you already know this. Some of you are advocates and leaders who work to educate our citizens and eradicate stigma about addiction and recovery. Thank you. Some of you who do this important work have lost loved ones to overdose or other deaths of despair. God bless you and yours — and thank you. Some of you who do this important work are ordinary alcoholics and addicts like me, who’ve managed to string together some sobriety, and want nothing more than the same miracle for anyone else who suffers like we have. God bless you, my friends — and thank you for saving me in my time of need.


Recovery from addiction and alcoholism is replete with paradox. We gain power over our disease through our admission that we are powerless over our disease. We seek progress, but not perfection. We scrutinize our past and seek to make amends for past misconduct, but we don’t regret the past — we learn to be grateful for it. We are all, or nothing. Once a cucumber turns into a pickle, it can’t be a cucumber again. To those who discover that you have been pickled: You have a fatal disease, but do not despair. You are not terminally unique, though it feels that way. You are not alone, though you may be isolated. You may feel hopeless, but there is hope. Professional help is more widely available, and more helpful than ever. There is no shame in seeking treatment or counseling. But many of us only need the help and understanding of fellow alcoholics and addicts. We have a remarkable and even miraculous ability to help each other. We know the truth about addiction — we are just like you, and you are just like us. Baseless stigma and shame have long been defeated in the recovery community. And a fellowship of joyful pickles stands ready to help you trudge the road of happy destiny.









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Reflections of the last 10 years


y 10-year anniversary at the Association of Arkansas Counties is June 4. It is hard to believe that 10 years have come and gone in what seems like the blink of an eye. During my time here we have had three presidents and two governors. The AAC went through a major addition to our building, giving us tons of new space. But now, our staff has increased to the point that we could soon outgrow the space we have. In 10 years, we have seen a lot of changes in our country, our state, and at the AAC. I started working at the AAC after teaching in Arkansas schools for 27 years. I did not know what I was in for, but I was ready to take on a new challenge. I began by attending the June Association meetings so I could meet my new county family. I traveled to quite a few counties educating Volunteer Firefighters about the Safer Grant Program. Then came August and my first AAC Annual Conference. In some ways I felt like I had been thrown in the deep end in that first three months, but I had so much fun getting to know all the county people we work with. My position and what I do has evolved with time. I am proud of many things I have done, but there are a few that really stand out for me. When I started at the AAC, Executive Director Chris Villines asked me to find businesses willing to give county government employees discounts on goods and services. I was not sure where to start, but I dove in headfirst. Some people may not see this program as a big accomplishment. However, I cannot tell you how much joy it gives me when people have emailed or sent me notes saying how much a discount meant to them. One note will stand out in my mind for as long as I live. A lady emailed me to tell me that she had not been able to afford to take her children on a vacation in eight years, but the discount we have for Silver Dollar City was going to make it possible for her to take them to Branson and have some fun. There are times when the things we do in our jobs may not seem like much. A phone call here, an email there, a few words in passing. Nevertheless, the things we do matter to someone. When I began working at the AAC, I had just been on the TV show “The Biggest Loser.” So, health and fitness had become a new passion of mine. One of the things I have done through different avenues is to remind the county family how important it is to take care of themselves. We had County Biggest Loser competitions in which hundreds of pounds were lost. We had step competitions with a traveling trophy. We even received a Blue&You grant to purchase pedometers for our step participants. I have written numerous articles for this magazine about physical health, as well as mental health. I have been honored to speak at many of the Association meetings through the years about diet and exercise. We even added the Wellness Walk to the AAC Annual Conference agenda. I have been incredibly blessed to be able to share the health and fitness journey of so many folks in our county family. COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2022

My connection to GuardianRFID also has evolved. GuardianRFID is an inmate monitoring system used in many county jails. This program has put me in touch with the amazing team from Guardian on one side and the outstanding Becky Comet corrections staffs in county jails on AAC Member the other side. Many would not Benefits Manager think this to be an enviable position, but you would be wrong. I started out contacting jails and getting them onboard with the program. As the program developed, my role changed and grew. The team from Guardian have a passion for corrections officers and the work they do. Almost all of them have worked in corrections in various capacities for many years. They want our county jail staffs to do the best job possible. They train them, work with them, take phone calls all hours of the day and night to help them. Since I have no background in corrections, they have been patient with me and my questions. They have taken me under their wing and made me a part of their family. I could not be prouder to be associated with our Guardian team. On the other side of the coin is our county jail correction staffs. These folks work tirelessly, putting up with unimaginable things, and they are underpaid for what they do. But they come to work every day to keep their inmates, coworkers, and community safe. The GuardianRFID system is designed to streamline their job with technology, make what they do more defensible in court, and make sure they all go home at the end of their shift. These men and women also have a passion for what they do and most want to do the best job possible. One of the things I do for them is keep them apprised of their compliance numbers and help them, if I can, to increase that compliance. They do not always like hearing from me. I am a mom of four and a former teacher. I understand the concept of tough love. Sometimes it is tough. However, I have the utmost respect and love for those in corrections and what they must do. I am blessed to be able to work with them. The last couple of years has changed the way we work — work from home, Zoom meetings, 6-feet of distance, and air high fives to name a few. We have, as we say in education, “monitored and adjusted.” I would say we all did a pretty good job of taking care of the things that needed to be done and the people that we serve. Bravo to the 75 counties of Arkansas and the AAC. Moving forward, I am not sure we will ever completely go back to the way things were before COVID. I believe it is a bell that cannot be unrung. However, I also believe that the resilience of our county and AAC folks has shined in many ways. I look forward to seeing what the next 10 years will bring to us all. 27



Hempstead Co. unveils new courthouse

The county purchased the former bank building for $1.5 million in 2017.


Story by Christy L. Smith Photos by Caitlin Brown

AAC Communications Staff

fficials in Hempstead County hosted a grand opening for their new courthouse on May 19, 2022. It was almost exactly 82 years to the day that the first court proceedings were held in the previous courthouse on May 13, 1940, according to an article written by Mark Christ, formerly with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, in the Spring 2017 issue of County Lines. The vintage-1939 building was deemed unsafe several years ago, and the county began reviewing its options. Farmers Bank & Trust officials were planning to downsize and 28



Opposite page, top: The county purchased the former bank building in 2017. In March 2020, Hempstead County voters approved a 1-cent sales tax to be collected for two years to fund the renovation of the building for use as a courthouse. That tax sunsets in July. Opposite page, bottom: This photo shows detail of the front of the building. Above, top: The two-story rotunda features stately columns and historical photographs. Above: Pictured are Hempstead County Treasurer Judy Lee Flowers, Circuit Clerk Gail Wolfenbarger, County Clerk Karen Smith, Assessor Kim Smith, Judge Jerry Crane, and Prosecuting Attorney Christi McQueen. Not pictured is Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton. COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2022


needed to sell their three-story building at 200 E. Third in downtown Hope, according to Hempstead County Treasurer Judy Lee Flowers. In his remarks to those attending the grand opening ceremony, Hempstead County Judge Jerry Crane credited Bob Burns, Farmers Bank & Trust chairman of the board, and former Hempstead County Judge Haskell Morse with the “vision that the county would own this building someday.” He said in a telephone interview, “Everybody’s excited it. It has new technology. And no mold and no asbestos — that’s the big thing.” In addition, Crane said the new courthouse is simply easier to access for the public since it’s located downtown. The Hempstead County Quorum Court voted on Feb. 23, 2017, to purchase the bank building to serve as a new home for county government operations. “On Dec. 20, 2017, we wrote a check for $1.5 million and purchased” the bank building, Flowers said. The county entered “a lease agreement for them … to pay us rent until they could build their bank across the street and move.” Flowers said it was 2019 before the bank moved into the downsized facility. But the building needed to be renovated for courthouse use — and the county did not have the money. Officials began floating the idea of placing on the March 2020 ballot a temporary 1 percent sales tax to help fund renovations and to section off a portion of the old courthouse. During a January 2020 public meeting, county officials said the need for containing and limiting access to the old courthouse was due to black mold, according to a March 8, 2020, article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “The most important reason why this tax measure needs approval is for the health, safety and welfare of our residents who still come out to conduct business See


Page 30






Top: Modern light fixtures hang from the ceiling in the rotunda. Bottom: The courthouse includes two courtrooms, one for circuit court and another for district court, on the third floor. The prosecuting attorney’s offices are on the second floor, and all county officials’ offices are located on the first floor. The former bank building is located in downtown Hope, which Hempstead County Judge Jerry Crane called an “asset” because it is more accessible to the public than the historic courthouse located at 400 S. Washington St. 30

Continued From Page 29


at the old courthouse every day,” said Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton, who was quoted in the article. Hempstead County voters approved the sales tax, to be collected for only two years, on March 3, 2020. The breakdown was about 55 percent voting for the tax and 45 percent voting against. Collection of the tax began in July 2020 and will sunset at the end of June 2022. “I was hoping for a wider margin, but the main thing is that we can move the courthouse out of this building and into a safer building,” Judge Crane told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in a March 8, 2020, interview. The pandemic delayed some of the renovation work, but eventually it was completed. At the grand opening, Justice of the Peace Ed Darling said the county spent $6 million on renovations. County offices began moving into the new courthouse in March of this year. “This is a building of art. It’s equipped with the top equipment that could ever be put into a new courthouse as of this day. We were able to refurbish 95 percent of all furniture,” said Justice of the Peace Steve Atchley, who served as project manager for the move from the old courthouse to the former bank building. According to Judge Crane, the first floor of the building is home to all county offices. The second floor houses the prosecuting attorney’s offices, and the third floor has two courtrooms as well as circuit and district court offices. Only the Hempstead County Cooperative Extension Service office remains in the old courthouse. That is a temporary situation until the county can find them another place. Judge Crane said the old courthouse is a historic site and, “We, at this time, have not made plans to do anything with it.” However, he said, there are plans to turn the grounds into a veterans’ memorial park. COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2022



Top: The renovated bank building features three floors. It was constructed in 2003, but then Farmers Bank downsized and built a new facility across the street. Bottom: Hempstead County retains all three of its historic courthouses. This Art Deco-style, four-story courthouse served the county for 83 years before it was deemed unsafe due to mold and asbestos. COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2022




Where were you born and raised? I was born in Malvern but raised in Sheridan. Family information: I am married to my husband of 11 years. We have been together for 16 years. I have a wonderful boy who is an only child and about to be 18 years old. We have a pet lizard named Ziggy and several “niece” dogs who visit me several times a week and sometimes stay the night. Their names are Katie and Bella.

weekend trips throughout the year. The accomplishments of which I am most proud: Is being a mother and wife. My family is everything to me. The hardest thing I have ever done is: Losing both of my parents.. At the top of my bucket list is to: The top item on my bucket list is a week-long vacation in Hawaii. You might be surpised to learn that: Something surprising to learn about me would be that I had my son on my best friend’s birthday.

My favorite meal: My favorite meal is spaghetti. Loretta When I’m not working: I’m spendGreen ing time with my family and friends. I love to shop, trout fish on the White River and take

My pet peeve is: When my son doesn’t clean his room. Motto or favorite quote: You only live once.

LAW CLERK — Paige Harris Where were you born and raised? I was born and raised in a small town called Wellingborough in Northamptonshire, England. Family information: I live in Arkansas with my boyfiend, Tyler, and the two American puppies: Toshka and Tuukka. Back in England, my two British puppies (Finn and Hamish) live with my parents and a sassy black cat called Effie.

My pet peeve is: People slow walking whilst texting. Paige H arris

The accomplishments of which I am most proud: Getting my bachelor’s degree and master’s degree; surviving my first year of law school; and performing at the Royal Albert Hall in London. I performed at the Music For Youth Schools Prom with the Wellingborough Music & Arts’ Concert Band. I was in the flute section and we played Song of Sailor and Sea. The hardest thing I have ever done is: Move to a different 32

At the top of my bucket list is to: Go to Hawaii and see the volcanoes. I’ve been wanting to go ever since my geography teacher showed us pictures in the sixth grade. You might be surpised to learn that: I’m a hockey fan, and I’m learning to play. The Boston Bruins is my team.

My favorite meal: Anything with sweet potato fries. When I’m not working I’m: Going to Barre fitness classes at Full Out Barre.


When did you start working at the AAC, and what types of projects are you working on? I started working at the AAC in early May. So far I have been supporting JaNan by researching topics for the Jail Law book. I have been checking to see if any case law mentioned in the book has been overturned and monitoring what trends are developing in this region in regards to jail law. Motto or favorite quote: Nothing is impossible; the word itself says, ‘I’m possible!’ — Audrey Hepburn COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2022



ACCOUNTING & PROGRAM ASSISTANT — Jenny Evans Family information: I am mom to Olivia, who is 15 years old. It has been the two of us for the last 10 years. We have three cats Zelda, Link, and Navi. I am originally from Texas, but have been in Arkansas long enough to call it home.

loss of my Dad in January 2021 and my best friend of 27 years, 9 months later, in September 2021. At the top of my bucket list is to: Act in a community theater play with my daughter. You might be surpised to learn that: I coached high school basketball.

My favorite meal: Seafood. I could eat shrimp every single day. When I’m not working I’m: Taking Olivia to theater, music lessons, choir, or wherever else she needs to be. After that, taking a nap.

My pet peeve is: Fidgeting.

Jenny E vans

The accomplishments of which I am most proud: Going back to college to finish my degree while raising my daughter on my own. The hardest thing I have ever done is: Walk through the

Motto or favorite quote: If you love someone, tell them. We are not promised tomorrow. How long have you been at the AAC, and what do you like most about your position at AAC: I started at AAC in May 2022. The best thing about my job is that I get to work with numbers. Everything about my job makes sense and that makes me happy.

LAW CLERK — Courtney Murray Where were you born and raised? I was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and raised in Longview, Texas. Family information: My family lives in Longview. I have two brothers and two dogs. My favorite meal is: Chicken Alfredo. When I’m not working I’m: Watching new TV shows, shopping, or redecorating my apartment.

At the top of my bucket list is to: Go to the Maldives. You might be surpised to learn that: I lived in Canada for three years. My pet peeve is: Being interrupted in the middle of a story. When did you start working at the AAC, and what types of projects are you working on? I started working at the AAC in May, and so far, I have been assisting the attorneys in the litigation department by writing documents and researching issues that have been brought up.

Courtn ey Mur ray The accomplishments of which I am most proud: Making it through my first year of Motto or favorite quote: Be who you are and say what law school. you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those The hardest thing I have ever done is: Go to law school. who matter don’t mind. — Bernard M. Baruch

www.arcounties.org COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2022




Broadband households that are currently covered by the minimum FCC standard. It will cost an estimated $500 million to serve the remaining 110,000 households. Although some say this is a conservative amount, it would take 40 percent of those funds to cover the last 10,000 households. These 10,000 households are some of the most remote places in Arkansas and would cost about $20,000 each to service. However, 31,000 of the households are currently covered under Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) grants to wireless providers, of which BDG has concerns. Federal rules prohibit further funding to serve these locations. They think there is significant risk that these households will not be served in a timely or technologically sufficient manner. What this means is some of these homes are covered under Starlink, the SpaceX project that utilizes satellites to deliver broadband. Or they could be on the list of a provider that won the auction for service but may take six years for deployment. The state would like to have everyone served in a timelier fashion. The Broadband Office will be asking the legislature for at least $150 million for the next round of grants from the second tranche of ARP. Additional funding will come from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Each state gets


Continued From Page 29


$100 million, but we have been told that Arkansas could get as much as $500 million from this act Congress recently approved. The broadband office is also anticipating up to $90 million from the Coronavirus Capital Projects fund that can be used for broadband development. All these buckets of money have different restrictions, some more flexible than others. The ARP money for the next round of grants will be specifically for fiber projects. Fiber technology gives us the ability in the future to ramp up speeds. The IIJA dollars are a little more flexible and could possibly be used for wireless or fixed wireless where the terrain isn’t optimal for putting fiber in the ground. January 15 was the deadline for the last round of applications. The Rural Connect program has been largely a success but there areas for improvement Now that they have a master plan from BDG the Broadband office plans to adjust the rules for the next round of grants. One change we anticipate seeing is a minimum of 25 percent matching funding. This match doesn’t have to come from cities or counties, but it can. We will continue monitoring the process and keep you all informed. https://broadband.arkansas.gov/reports-resources/arkansasbroadband-master-plan-maps/


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AAC SAFETY MEETING The AAC RMS staff hosted the annual Safety Conference on May 18, 2022.

Above left: White County Judge Michael Lincoln, Arkansas County Judge Eddie Best, and Howard County Judge Kevin Smith chat before the start of the session. Above right: Clay County Judge Mike Patterson brought with him Road Superintendent Richard Phillips, Road Foreman Randy Hinkle, and Office of Emergency Management Director Alan Vaughn.

Above left: Dixie Moxie, executive administrative assistant to Perry County Judge Toby Davis, checks in with AAC Workers Compensation Claims Manager Debbie Lakey. Above, right: Laura Carter, LTAP/T2 manager with the Arkansas Department of Transportation, delivers a presentation on work zone safety. Right: AAC Loss Control Consultant Matt Bradshaw, with BXSI, speaks about fire prevention and safety. Far right: AAC Loss Control Consultant Sam Best, with BXSI, discusses ergonomics in the workplace.






County Collectors held their spring meeting April 21-22, in West Memphis/Crittenden County.

Left: Garland County Chief Deputy Jennifer Keener, Garland County Deputy Collector Nikki Radley, and Garland County Deputy Collector Deandra Louton pose for a photo. Right: Cross County Collector Debbie Davis chats with Greene County Collector Cathy Hays.

Left: Baxter County Collector Teresa Smith and Sebastian County Treasurer/Collector Steve Hotz enjoy a laugh during a break between sessions. Right: Several County Collectors and Deputy Collectors gather around a vendor table. Right: Dallas County Collector Brenda Wilson-Black smiles for the camera. Far Right: Shawn F. Christian, CTP, TM Commercial Team Regional Manager, SVP, delivers a presentation about fraud.





QUORUM COURT ASSOCIATION The Arkansas Association of Quorum Courts’ Governing Body held its annual meeting April 9 at the AAC.

Association President and Faulkner County Justice of the Peace presides over the one-day meeting.

Desha County Justice of the Peace Dollie Wilson, Jackson County Justice of the Peace Tommy Young, and Lafayette County Justice of the Peace Lenora Jackson get to know one another.

Above left: Association Secretary and Van Buren County Justice of the Peace Mary Phillips searches for her name badge. Above right: Pictured are Pulaski County Justice of the Peace Paul Elliott and Sebastian County Justice of the Peace Danny Aldridge.

Above left: Marion County Justice of the Peace Rick White and Montgomery County Justice of the Peace Kenn Greene chat before the start of the meeting. Above right: Justice of the Peace Erma Brown represents District 4 in Ouachita County. 38




COUNTY ASSESSORS The County Assessor’s Association Spring conference was held March 15-18, in Benton/Saline County.

Washington County Assessor Russell Hill speaks to the group.

Pictured, from left to right, are Crawford County Assessor Sandra Heiner, Randolph County Assessor Stacy Ingram, Lawrence County Assessor Becky Holder, and Greene County Assessor Jane Wheeler Moudy. Far left: Poinsett County Assessor John Hutchison and Mississippi County Assessor Harley Bradley have a discussion during a break. Left: AAC Legal Counsel Lindsey Bailey French delivers a presentation titled “It’s a Zoo Out There; Know Your Role.”

Above left: Earline McWhirter with the Motor Carriers Division of Hot Shot Trucking speaks. Above middle: Several members of the association’s executive board are photographed near the end of the meeting. Above right: AAC Litigation Counsel Colin Jorgensen gives the assessors an update on ongoing litigation. COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2022




COUNTY CIRCUIT CLERKS County Circuit Clerks met March 16-18 in Texarkana/Miller County for their Spring continuing education conference.

Faulkner County Circuit Clerk Crystal Taylor delivers a presentation on Disaster Recovery.

White County Deputy Circuit Clerks Sara Brown (left) and Kayla Butler (right) pose for a photo between presentations.

Left: Pope County Circuit Clerk Rachel Oertling and Columbia County Circuit Clerk Angela Keith smile for the camera. Above: Ethics Commission Attorney Jill Barnum’s program was “Ethics 101.”

Above left: Association President and Washington County Circuit Clerk Kyle Sylvester sports green for St. Patrick’s Day. Above center: Chuck Munson, an attorney with the Arkansas Supreme Court, discusses the electronic appeals process. Above right: Garland County Chief Deputy Circuit Clerk Kristie Womble and Clark County Chief Deputy Circuit Clerk Kendra Nash are pictured here during a break in the conference. 40


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Biden administration relaunches simplified online portal for low-income families to claim their expanded Child Tax Credit By Rachel Mackey, Dorothy Finney


n May 11, the White House, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Treasury (Treasury) and Code for America, relaunched the GetCTC portal, which had been temporarily unavailable to encourage families to submit tax returns during the tax filing season. This simplified sign-up tool, available in both English and Spanish, allows low-income families and individuals who do not regularly file taxes to claim their expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC). Families have until October 2022 to claim their CTC. Those receiving benefits from federal safety net programs, such as SNAP, TANF and WIC, and those without any income are eligible to receive the expanded CTC. Through the non-filer portal, families can also apply for economic impact payments that they have not yet claimed. These economic impact payments, also known as stimulus checks, were provided to individuals three times throughout 2020 and 2021 in response to the economic difficulty many faced as a

result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), the expanded CTC provides major tax relief for nearly all working families. The expanded CTC increased payments to families, expanded eligibility to include those with no earnings, and increased the age of eligible children from 16 to 17, resulting in nearly 27 million additional children qualifying for enhanced income support. However, uptake of the expanded CTC suggests that gaps in access have persisted. An estimated 75 percent of families currently participating in public benefit programs are at risk of missing out on tax credits. As key partners with the federal government in designing and implementing social services and anti-poverty programs, county governments are uniquely positioned to perform education and outreach to connect vulnerable residents with the expanded CTC. The simplified site design will aid county government officials in our ongoing efforts to assist families in accessing this expanded benefit, which will help reduce child poverty and support vulnerable residents experiencing increased levels of economic instability due to the pandemic.

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