Former Jefferson County Judge Dutch King has asked for a recount after losing his bid to reclaim the judge’s office to Jefferson County Sheriff Gerald Robinson by 104 votes during the Democratic Primary on May 22.

Mike Adam, chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Election Commissioners, said in an email on May 24 that King had submitted a petition and payment in the amount of $2,404 for a recount of the Democratic Party race for county judge.

As of press time, the results of the recount, which were to take place on Tuesday, were not known. Please see next week’s Journal for details.

Based on unofficial numbers from the May 22 primary, King was beaten by Robinson by 104 votes, with Robinson receiving 4,164 votes and King 4,060.

Robinson announced his plans to retire as sheriff at the end of this year.

King had previously served two terms as county judge before losing in a 2016 runoff to Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV, who resigned earlier this year after being indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of accepting bribes while a member of the Arkansas legislature.

No Republicans ran for the seat.

Sheriff

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Maj. Lafayette Woods Jr. is the winner in a three-way race for the Democratic Party’s nomination for sheriff as a result of voting in the May 22 Democratic Primary. There was no Republican candidate for the seat.

Woods fought off challenges from former deputy Larry Gragg and retired State Police Investigator Roger McLemore to win without a runoff.

Complete but unofficial voting totals are:

Woods 4,639 Gragg 1,754 McLemore 1,769

“I’m humbled by the numbers,” Woods said. “I’ve been blessed by support from the entire community the entire way.”

Woods said that while he had been involved in other campaigns, particularly those of his father, who is the Jefferson County circuit clerk and of current Sheriff Gerald Robinson, “It’s different when you’re running your own campaign. There has been no stone that I’ve left unturned, be it social media, door to door, mailers, you name it I’ve done it.”

As the operations commander and public spokesman for the sheriff’s department, Woods was the hand-picked choice of Robinson to replace him at the top.

He has been on the job since 2004 and worked uniform patrol until being reassigned to the Tri-County Drug Task Force and loaned to the Drug Enforcement Administration where he worked undercover narcotics. He said he almost went to work for the DEA full time before Robinson talked him out of it and he has been with the department ever since.

“It’s been a bittersweet career,” Woods said. “I am following a higher power and the Lord put me in this place at this time. This is the next step in my career because there is nowhere else to go.”

Asked about the county’s budget and the lack of funds available, Woods said “we’ve got challenges in public safety and recruitment because there’s not a lot of money. We’re trying to recruit qualified people who want to make a career and not just have a job.”

To that end, Woods said he frequently attends career fairs and Southeast Arkansas College and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and the department also offers internships which will pay students and allow them to receive college credit at the same time.

He said that in 2015, the department’s budget was cut “but we were still expected to do the same job. We know the challenges because no matter what, we’re expected to provide the same level of services.”

Woods said that Jefferson County is one of the largest counties in the state and the demand for services is great “but we don’t control the price of gas.”

He said his first priority as sheriff will be to evaluate the command staff and ensure that “people are the most effective and most needed.”

“Second, I want to make sure the department has all the resources and tools we need to make the job easier. We do a good job but there’s always room for improvement.”

Another plan is to reactivate the junior deputy program, which, he said, “has gone downhill for the last couple of years. We want to try to reach kids in grade school and get them excited about a career in law enforcement. We already do a program for kids with the Sheriff’s Fun Day every year but we can reach out in other ways as well.”

With his number of years in drug investigations, Woods said he will “vigorously go after those that sell drugs,” including the unauthorized use of prescription drugs.

“We’ve got to learn to do more with less,” Woods said.

Tax collector

Political newcomer Tony Washington won the race for Jefferson County tax collector in the May 22 Democratic Primary.

Complete but unofficial results are:

Washington 5,029 Leslie Mitchell 2,640

Mitchell, who currently works as a case coordinator in the prosecuting attorney’s office, was running against Washington, who has worked for the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office as a senior public affairs liaison and is currently serving as the Government Relations Liaison for the University of Arkansas Pulaski Technical.

Each sought to replace Jefferson County Tax Collector Stephanie Stanton, who is retiring.

Washington said he never planned on running for office, preferring instead to try and help other people get elected. He worked on several prior campaigns, including serving as the campaign manager for 11th-West Judicial candidate Alex Guynn in 2016, as the Arkansas political director for President Obama’s first campaign, as 4th Congressional District outreach director for the coordinated campaign, and as a regional field organizer for the Democratic (Party) Coordinated Campaign.

“I decided it was my turn,” Washington said. “I could be in the community and serve as a role model for kids.”

Washington said he has talked with Stanton, who received top marks from the Association of Arkansas Counties for the job she has done and wants to continue that tradition.

“I believe the people of Jefferson County deserve the best customer service that can get,” he said.

Washington said that “the biggest issue is getting people to pay their taxes and I would go see them if they were delinquent.”

“We’re still operating the county like it was 20 years ago,” he said. “A lot of changes can be made to make the office run better.”

Both Mitchell and Washington said a change in state law that will allow county officials who are elected this year to serve four-year terms instead of two will be beneficial because it means they will have more time to be in the office and not having to worry about running every two years and the campaigning that goes with that.

Washington received a degree from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in 2001 and is also a licensed real estate agent. He is married to Mae Washington, and they have one son.

No Republican ran in this race.

Coroner
Incumbent Jefferson County Coroner Chad Kelley had no trouble fending off the challenge of one of his former deputies on May 22 as he picked up the Democratic Party’s nomination for the office. Kelley faces no Republican opposition in November.

Kelley, who has held the office for 10 years, easily defeated former Deputy Coroner Christian Westbrook.

Complete but unofficial totals are:

Kelley 5,573 Westbrook 2,403

Westbrook left the coroner’s office under a cloud in 2013 amid allegations of fraud but said he was cleared when an Arkansas State Police Investigation said there was no merit to the allegations.

Kelley, a Pine Bluff native, said he became interested in the job when former Coroner Havis Hester came to Watson Chapel Junior High School and presented a program on the office.

“I was totally enthralled about everything he said, the stories he told and how he helped families,” Kelley said. “I was 16 and went and talked to Havis and Holly (Watkins-Sperry, who at the time was Chief Deputy Coroner and later became Coroner when Hester retired) and they talked me into coming and help run the office. I saw that as my opportunity to get my foot in the door and learn about the office.”

After receiving an associate’s degree from Southeast Arkansas College in 1998, Kelley became a deputy coroner and office manager under Watkins-Sperry for eight years before she made the decision to retire; she encouraged Kelley to run for the office.

“I’ve been doing it ever since,” Kelley said. “I’m running on the job I have done and the way I’ve taken care of families. I try to treat all of them the same way I would want my family to be treated. The hardest part of this job is to knock on a door and tell a family that their son or their daughter or their husband or their wife is not coming home again. It’s something they will never get over.”

Kelley said he has received extensive training for the position, which has included a certificate from the St. Louis University School of Medicine in forensic and environmental technology, training in medical-legal death investigation, child death investigations and others.

“All the training and experience I’ve gained over the past 18 years truly makes me the best candidate,” Kelley said.