Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

TOP STORY > >Major battle for judge

Leader senior staff writer

Dissatisfaction with the current 880-bed Pulaski County Detention Center has spilled over into both the Democratic primary and November general election races for county judge.

County Judge Buddy Villines, 60, who is seeking his sixth two-year term, is being challenged in the May Democratic primary for the second consecutive time by Buddy York, 70, a bail bondsman. In the November general election, the winner will face Phil Wyrick, 58, a businessman, former legislator and head of the state Livestock and Poultry Commission.

York, a bail bondsman for 30 years, says he would “cut off some of the fat from all of the departments,” to fund expansion of the jail’s capacity.

“We need 1,400-1,500 beds, but we built an 1,100-bed jail, and we ought to house 1,100,” he said. “They want to tax people more money. They told us ‘give us a quarter- cent sales tax and you’ll never have to worry about the criminals being on the street,’” said York. “It’s not even 20 years later and they are begging for more money.”

Wyrick says it will take four years to fix the jail problem and that if he can’t fix it by then, he’ll step down.

He said the study by Dr. Charles Hathaway found that people of the county lacked confidence in the county government. That’s why they turned thumbs down on a bond issue intended to finance jail expansion.

Wyrick said that after former Pulaski County Comptroller Quillin admitted embezzling county funds, there should have been a full audit. He said Quillin was “sitting at the right hand of the current county judge.”

Running as a Republican in a county where all countywide offices are held by Democrats, Wyrick said winning wouldn’t be easy.

“I’m not naive, this is a tough situation, a Democratic county,” said Wyrick. “But we’re talking about competency, not about gay rights, abortion or the war in Iraq. I want to get the county on a good financial ground. If I can’t do it in four years, that’s enough.”

“We’re making lots of headway,” said Villines. “I’ve warned for years about an impending financial crises looming. I’ve implemented things to make us financially stable. We’re repairing the old jail and hiring architects to draw another 200-bed facility. We’re looking for funds to operate it.”

Of his critics and opponents, he said, “They are going to try to make this a one-issue election. Neither one of them has ever done it—manage something as complex as county government.

“We’ve gone to the cities and the voters (looking for money to expand the jail), and we’ve not been successful,” the judge said. “If they have some way to bring a ship of gold in, let them bring it in. It costs a lot of money to run a jail.”

The other countywide contest will be in the November general election, where first-term Sheriff Doc Holladay, a Democrat, faces a challenge from Patrick Mulligan of North Little Rock.