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Quorum Court hires jail contractor, delays passing meeting rules

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Photo by Richard irby Three new Justices of the Peace took their seats on Jan. 7 at Fulton County Quorum Court's first meeting of the new year. Mark Guffey (left), defeated incumbent David Cunningham in the fall election. Johnny Moody replaces Michael Roork who did not seek re-election, and Burton Yarnell was elected to fill the seat of Jim Bicker, who did not seek re-election.
At its Monday, Jan. 7 meeting, Fulton County Quorum Court officially hired Tate Construction of Jonesboro as the contractor who will build the new county jail this year.

As County Judge Charles Willett explained, nine general contractors submitted proposals at the Dec. 13, 2012 bid opening. After reviewing all of the bids, county consultant Spirit Architecture has certified that Tate Construction was the low bidder at $1,749,000 and has met all of the conditions to receive the bid.

The Judge also relayed the good news that the interest rate on the low interest loan from the USDA has dropped to 3.125 percent.

"Our payment, instead of $7,191, will go to $6,290, dropping almost $1,000 a month," Willett said.

According to the Judge, the lower interest rate is locked in, and a Jan. 31 closing date has been set on the loan.

After the closing, Tate Construction can start work at the prepared project site, at the rear of the old nursing home on Main Street, when weather permits.

"We gave them 12 months to complete the project but they (Tate Construction) think they will get it done in seven or eight months," the Judge told JPs.

The Quorum Court unanimously approved awarding Tate Construction the bid.

In other business, JPs decided to continue holding their regular meetings on the second Monday of the month at 7 p.m.

The main discussion of the meeting centered around an ordinance the Judge presented members setting proceedures for Quorum Court meetings.

The ordinance called for beginning Quorum Court meetings with a public comment period, in which any member of the public had the opportunity to speak for three minues on the topic of his or her choosing.

A citizen who desires to speak for more than three minutes must meet with the county judge at least ten days before a meeting to seek permission to be added to the agenda.

During the three minute comment period, a speaker would be required to make a comment, and would not be allowed to ask questions of public officials.

Any outburst or disruption from the audience or speaker would result in the person's removal from the meeting by the Sheriff or his deputy.

Two Justices of the Peace raised concerns about the proposed rules.

JP Jim Marler did not like the fact the ordinance appeared to stop people from making a comment as an ordinance or other business was discussed.

"We're a public meeting and we're supposed to be representing the people, and I would still like it to be open to the people so they could say a comment or ask a question of the Judge or Quorum Court," Marler said. "I would just like it to stay the way it is, because we're taking more rights away and it don't seem right to me. I can't vote for this ordinance like it is."

JP Mark Guffey, one of three new members attending their first meeting, questioned the three minute limit during the public comment period.

"The three minutes is to restrictive, and it might almost talk people out of coming and voicing their opinion," Guffey said. "It's like we're trying to restrict them and don't want to hear from them."

Judge Willett explained that Quorum Court rules of conduct were being passed, for the first time, because, at a meeting of the County Judges Association, judges were asked to comply with a long-time state law that requires that rules of conduct be passed each year.

County Plumlee Dwayne Plumlee added that the ordinance presented was just a set of suggestions, and members could pass them "as is," amend the rules or throw out the ordinance and write their own.

"In 17 years I've been coming to Quorum Court meetings, there's never been anyone not allowed to speak, and public meetings have never been extended unreasonably. So, to put a time limit on the public speaking is a little ridiculous, I think," citizen Mary Rivera said.

Another citizen, Nancy Cole, agreed the public has always had the right to speak at meetings, and the Judge has the right to stop those who go on for too long. "This is a great example. We've been asking questions and giving suggestions and it has been helpful," Cole said in speaking against limiting public comment.

Judge Willett finally ended the discussion by asking JPs to look closely at the proposed ordinance, and give him comments and suggestions so that the County Attorney could write meeting rules that would be acceptable to the body.

In other business, JPs authorized the Judge to enter into an agreement with the White River Planning and Development District to provide administrative assistance as the Fulton County Water Authority undertakes an expansion of rural water lines. The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission will cover White River's costs through a grant.

The court passed an ordinance authorizing the county to continue buying supplies and equipment from Sharp County Office Supply, because it is the only local vendor that provides some of the services the county needs. The ordinance was needed because another new JP, Burton Yarnell, is an employee of Sharp County Office Supply.

Johnny Moody was the third new JP taking a seat on Quorum Court at the first meeting of the year. All three JPs had been sworn in by Clerk Vickie Bishop before the meeting.

JPs also approved moving $22,099 from the General Fund to the Road Fund. The two funds split the amount of property tax relief funds that the county receives each year from the state.

The next regular meeting of the Quorum Court will take place on Monday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m.

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