Fulton County Quorum Court faced with more issues

Wednesday, September 12, 2018
A new sign has been placed at the bridge near Fulton County Hospital in dedication to veterans. “Fulton County Veterans Memorial Bridge” is now the official name of the bridge.
Kim Break

Fulton County Quorum Court passed the ordinance which will allow a special election, with a purpose to increase sales tax in the county for additional funds to operate the sheriff’s department, in December at its monthly meeting held Monday, Sept. 10.

Before approving minutes from previous meetings and reviewing the treasurer’s report, members from the audience were allowed a time to speak.

Bill Lowman, on behalf of Salem VFW, expressed his gratitude toward Fulton County Treasurer Seth Jones, who led the project of having the bridge near Fulton County Hospital dedicated and named “Fulton County Veterans Memorial Bridge”. He invited the audience and members of the court to attend a ribbon cutting ceremony being held the following evening, Tuesday, Sept. 11. The News will have coverage of this event in next week’s paper.

Next to speak was Fulton County Sheriff Deputy Jake Smith. He wanted to share a situation he experienced with members of the court, continuing to show the need for more deputies and increase of salary for Fulton County Sheriff’s Office employees.

“My purpose is not to try and brow beat you. I know you are working hard doing what you can, trying to figure out the situation with the budget,” said Smith. “My purpose is just to try and stress the importance of getting this done and doing it properly. We are shorthanded, we are down a guy. He’s been injured, so it’s been extra short. When I started four years ago, there was a position that was cut. It was never filled and we were shorthanded then. We dredge on and we do our job.”

He shared with the court an experience he had recently while responding to a call. “We got a call about somebody pulling up to a house up near Moko. Nothing too crazy, it was just me on duty, [so] I went up there. The guy wasn’t there of course, I drove around for a while looking for him. I drove around to other parts of the county not being attended to, got a call about 30 minutes later and the guy is back. So I drive up there and I tell the homeowner, who is there with his family, ‘I don’t know I’m going to find him out driving around looking for him, so I’m going to sit in your driveway.’ I was there 15 minutes and the guy comes back. I take off down the road after him. He does finally stop, I get him out of the vehicle, there is something clearly wrong with him, he was combative. It is a dangerous situation and I had to leave the vehicle there. It bothered me and bugs me that I never got to search it. Had we had the manpower required, that vehicle should’ve been searched, it should’ve been towed. There should’ve been a lot done. I don’t know what his intentions or plans were. I don’t know if it was a home invasion and he was working up the courage, I’ll never know. [I] found out later, not long after having him, he’s a bad dude, he’s got nationwide extradition out of Missouri. They would’ve went from Maine to California to get this guy. They are in our county. They are here. We need competent officers. To get competent people, we are going to have to pay them.”

Smith ended by saying he knew what the pay was when he took the job and knew what it meant. He said he needs help, as do other areas of the department. Increased duty time means he is missing out on important training which could help keep residents of Fulton County safer. “We are going to plow forward. We are going to do our job, I can assure you that, but I just wanted to share that story to show you the situation. I think people need to hear a direct story to help understand the situation and where we are coming from.”

A clarification of when the county would begin receiving funds from the sales tax increase, should voters put it into place, revealed it would be April 1, 2019 before the increase would become effective. “After our last meeting, when we determined the wording we wanted in there, I sent the ordinance to Department of Finance and Administration for their review to make sure everything was in compliance. We can not start collecting the tax on Jan. 1, 2019. The earliest it can begin being collected is April 1, 2019. If the sales tax referendum passes in December, we will have to run that in the papers the immediate following week and get everything turned in to Little Rock by Jan. 1, which we can do that is not a problem, in order for it to start being collected on April 1, 2019,” explained Fulton County Judge Darrell Zimmer.

Following the reading of Ordinance 2018-08 for the special election, which can be read in its entirety on page 12 in The News’ Legal section, a motion was made and passed to create a line item on the budget in order to pay overtime for those in the sheriff’s department. Previously, Fulton County Sheriff Al Roork estimated overtime hours to total 650 hours by the end of the year, creating the need for the overtime line specification. The solution was to transfer $10,000 from salary to the new line item. Judge Zimmer explained funds not used for overtime will be used for salary.

Sheriff Al Roork had a report from the Department of Finance and Administration: Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committees. The committee completed an inspection in August. Though Roork and his employees were commended for the work they have been doing, there were still serious issues with operations in the jail, all because it is understaffed.

“It’s pretty scalding. It’s not good,” said Roork. He provided a copy of the report to the media and members of the court. Under “General Findings” the report reads: “The Review Committee commends the county as the staff is working to activate a video/court hearing platform. The Review Committee applauds the staff as they transition to an electronic inmate/staff activity tracking system. The facility is very clean and well maintained. On date of review, the site was housing two Fulton County ADC bound inmates. The staff is updating policies. The staff is working to post SCBAs. The staff is working to update the booking packet and rights posting within cell area(s).”

The next section of the report said, “jail operation has outpaced current staff level”. The following listed items are negative marks against the jail, mostly all related to insufficient staff. “Due to the insufficient staff level, the operation struggles with regard to training goals, appears the site struggles in terms of emergency preparedness, the site is almost always managed by a sole floor officer and within the building is also a dispatch employee, and the site is not able to maintain needed male/female and staff/inmate frameworks. Often, the site has no male staff on duty. With just one floor officer concerns arise with regard to public safety, county employee safety, visitor safety, emergency responder safety and protection of county property. The sole county employee often struggles with regard to hourly cell checks, paperwork, yard call protocols, contraband interdiction, booking processes, security checks, medication protocols, administrative duties and general jail operations. In the event the sole county employee was attacked, the staffer would have no nearby assistance. The Review Committee requests the sheriff’s office to host a staff level analysis with regard to the jail operation. Based on the staff level analysis, the sheriff’s office will provide a staffing plan, complete with a budget framework, to the Review Committee by December 2018. On Aug. 21, the Fulton County Quorum Court voted to host a jail/sales tax election in December 2018. The tax, if enacted, will be dedicated to the sheriff’s office/jail operation and maintenance. The county employees are doing a very good job despite the above noted limitations. The Review Committee applauds the county as officials work to address the serious situation with regard to the staff level.”

“That is an ultimatum guys,” added Roork when reviewing the report regarding turning in a staffing plan by December. “I love being the sheriff because I love law enforcement. I love protecting my community. I hate the dang jail.” He said jails open opportunities for inmates to sue, and that is one reason for the importance of complying with rules and regulations set for jails. “You don’t have to fund anything in this county, except the state law says you will fund the sheriff’s office. With that said, we have to work in what we have to work with and I understand that. I don’t know that we have enough money to do this right now and honestly, I think you have done everything in your power to correct this problem and I applaud you for that and thank you for that. I think you are trying hard to fix a problem I brought to light.”

A concern is, if the sales tax increase is passed, money will not start coming in until approximately July of next year, and the committee is expecting a resolution of jail issues by December. Before, jailers were told not to enter a cell for situations like attempted wrist or neck cuttings, if an inmate attempts to hang themselves or if there is fight break out, until the sheriff or chief deputy can get there. That is not the case anymore, jailers must intervene before backup arrives.

“What’s happened here, now that y’all are aware of this, is it has transferred the liability away from me and Joann to you individually. You can be sued. You could not be until today but now that they have brought this to light, y’all have that exposure of a federal lawsuit. “I’m going to work with you on this thing and try to figure it out, but you are vulnerable from this day forward,” added Roork.

Once Sheriff Roork finished his report, Judge Zimmer called for Fulton County Treasurer Jones to take the floor.

“Fulton County Quorum Court, I want to tell you I’ve been proud to serve the citizens of Fulton County for the last three terms as county treasurer. I’m herby submitting my resignation effective the end of this month,” said Jones. He added he would attend any meetings or answer any questions to help the court. “On behalf of the county, we would like to say thank you for your service and we appreciate it and wish you the best on your next endeavor,” said Judge Zimmer.

A member from the audience asked if Barry Abney, who will begin his first term as Fulton County Treasurer in January, would be appointed. At that time, Judge Zimmer was unsure how that would work. On the day following the meeting, Judge Zimmer said quorum court members will appoint someone at the next meeting.

Other business which took place at the meeting was the appropriation for an e-waste grant. The amount was for $1,828.68, which the county will receive 100 percent back, but it was used on repairs for a truck used in picking up e-waste.

Fulton County Quorum Court meets the second Monday of each month at the Fulton County Courthouse in Salem at 7 p.m.

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