A proposed appropriation ordinance that would restore just over $200,000 that was removed by mistake from the 2018 budget for the Jefferson County Sheriffs Office was put back in by the Quorum Court when they met Monday night.
The reduction came from the Public Safety Sales Tax that was approved by Jefferson County voters. Justice of the Peace Dr. Herman Ginger, chairman of the Finance Committee of the county’s legislative body, said he was “having trouble believing that the sheriff’s office public safety sales tax budget was cut to $80,000, particularly since we give rural fire departments $80,000.”
County Attorney Jackie Harris said the problem arose because he was not aware that some members of the department were paid from the tax money.
“We went back and looked at it, and I spoke to the treasurer,” Harris said. “The money is available for appropriation.”
After the explanation, Ginger said he was satisfied and the ordinance passed without opposition.
A second proposed ordinance, which would have authorized payments to members of the Jefferson County Board of Election Commissioners for performing what the ordinance called “clerical duties which the election coordinator is unable or unwilling to perform,” was tabled until more clarification can be obtained.
Harris said the proposal created constitutional issues since it would take away day to day supervision of an election coordinator away from the county judge and let the election commissioners decide what the unwilling and unable to perform designations were.
Commission Secretary Stuart “Stu” Soffer said he disagreed with Harris’ analysis, citing an Attorney General’s opinion, which said that nothing in existing law prohibits commissioners from being paid for work that can not be performed during a meeting.
He said that the work would not be clerical, as stipulated in the ordinance.
“We had 65 boxes of records that had to be shredded, and there was no coordinator to take them to the shredder,” Soffer said. “We had an election that had to be programmed and there was no coordinator to do it. When we get a trained coordinator this will not be a problem.”
County Judge Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV selected Efrem Elliott as election coordinator after his first choice, former coordinator Will Fox, was rejected by Soffer and Mike Adam, chairman of the commission. Elliott has since resigned after the commission voted 2-1 to decertify him as an election official; Wilkins then designated Rachel Cherry, who manages his office, to serve in the position.
Both Soffer and Adam are Republicans and voted to decertify Elliott, while the third member of the commission, Democrat Cynthia Sims, voted to accept him.
After a lawsuit last year, Circuit Judge Rob Wyatt Jr. ruled that while the county judge has the sole ability to hire an elections coordinator, he also made clear that it was up to the commission to decide what duties that coordinator would be assigned. At the same time, the court order said that the election commission has to give the coordinator access to election material, the election commission office and commission computers and the like.
That order is currently on appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
At a meeting last year, the commission voted 2-1 to set a rate of $50 per hour for any work commissioners did outside the course of a normal meeting, and Soffer said setting that rate was a mistake. The proposed ordinance that was tabled would set the rate at $35 an hour.
“This ordinance is not needed,” Soffer said. “The Quorum Court just needs to pass an ordinance setting a fair hourly rate for us.”