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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

New County Judge goes after rowdy Izard Quorum Court behavior

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Izard County Judge David Sherrell (second from right) talks to new Justice of the Peace, Paul Phipps, after presiding over his first Quorum Court meeting. During the meeting, Sherrell won approval of new rules of conduct for future court meetings.
As he presided over his first Quorum Court meeting, new Izard County Judge David Sherrell served notice that court meetings are about to become more quiet and more orderly.

Sherrell's first order of business at the Jan. 4 meeting was to introduce an ordinance "Establishing the Ground Rules for Conducting Quorum Court Meetings."

Over the past year, the number of citizens attending Quorum Court meetings has grown. The citizens have been very vocal during the audience comment period of the meetings, sometimes making insulting and threatening comments to Justices of the Peace. Audience members also freely interrupt, shouting out comments as Justices discuss proposed ordinances.

"We are being made a spectacle of and the reason we are coming up with this ordinance is to conduct court business," Sherrell said.

Under the rules proposed by Sherrell, the audience comment period of a meeting will be moved from the last order of business to just before New and Old Business are discussed. Speakers will have three minutes to comment. Speakers who want to speak longer must contact the Judge in advance of a meeting and seek to be placed on the agenda.

After the public comment period, the ordinance says "Any outburst or disruption from the audience will result in removal from the courtroom by the sheriff or deputy."

Randall Lovelace, a citizen who frequently addresses the court, had two criticisms of the ordinance.

"Three minutes is not enough time...to make a point and make good arguments..." Lovelace said. "This time should be five minutes."

Lovelace added that citizens who wish to speak longer than three minutes should not have to "plead" to the county judge for a spot on the agenda.

Lovelace claimed, "As long as this is a discourse on the court's agenda, there is no reason why a citizen should be denied the right to be put on this agenda."

Another citizen, Scott Bar- ber, objected to the Judge's request to pass the new rules immediately by declaring an emergency need for passage.

Barber said, "an emergency ordinance must contain an explanation of the emergency that exists and define what is the emergency. I'm asking you, what is the emergency?"

"We're a legislative body and we've turned into everything but that and we are going back to that," Judge Sherrell responded. "I think the emergency I am talking about is pandemonium."

The meeting was also the first for four new JPs: William Savell, Tom Rushing, John David Miller and Paul Phipps. They joined four returning members in passing the new rules of conduct in three consecutive readings.

Judge Sherrell also took up a matter left over from former Judge Rayburn Finley's last days in office, controversy surrounding the firing of the two employees of the Izard County Library.

Finley joined Justices of the Peace in challenging the firings of librarian Zennie Pollard and her daughter, Melanie. The Quorum Court Employee Grievance Committee ruled the Library Board did not have legal grounds to fire the employees and ordered them reinstated.

Sherrell told the court Mike Rainwater, an attorney with the Arkansas Association of Counties, joined him on Jan. 3 in meeting with the Library Board.

Rainwater expressed the opinion the Library Board had the power to fire the employees and recommended that Sherrell uphold its decision to remove the two women.

Sherrell accepted that legal advice and the Pollards, who had returned to work, were relieved of their duties a second time.

According to Quorum Court Attorney Brad Sipes, the Grievance Committee can file suit against the County Judge and Library Board seeking to reinstate the employees. If it does not file suit, it would be up to the two women to take legal action, if they want to fight their dismissals.

During a public comment period, Pineville Fire Chief Mike Stephens asked the court to make a new radio system for police, fire, and ambulances "a priority." Stephens said the inability of emergency crews to communicate properly must be addressed "before something happens, someone is seriously injured or doesn't get the help they need." Stephens also called for an updated mapping system to be uploaded, so that GPS devices the emergency responders use have current information. Stephens also pointed to the need to install new road signs to help guide crews during emergency runs.

Bill Bebee, who was introduced as the new director of the Office of Emergency Management, supported the call for a new radio system.

"If we can't talk, if our emergency responders can't talk, we can't do our job," Bebee told the court.

Bebee, who has 38 years of experience in emergency management, said he was going to survey county bridges and roads and seek grant money to fix areas where emergency vehicles cannot get through.

Judge Sherrell said he would ask the court next month to reconsider a hazardous mitigation program that FEMA sponsors.

Last summer, FEMA and Arkansas Emergency Management officials came under fire from citizens as they tried to explain how Izard County could get grants to fix bridges and make other improvements, to reduce future damage from tornados, ice storms and other natural disasters.

The court failed to take action on hazardous mitigation after citizen opponents claimed FEMA was seeking power to control how private property and waterways are used.

At the Jan. 4 meeting, Judge Sherell said, "We tried to get the folks to come back up to explain in detail about this hazardous mitigation program. They would not come back. It (the summer meeting) was conducted kinda like a lynch mob to them and we can't get them back, so we're going to review this and make some kind of decision on it in February."

The February Quorum Court meeting will take place on Feb. 1 at 6 p.m.

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