Leader Blues

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

TOP STORY > >Lonoke County JPs feud with judge

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

“Quit feuding and get on down the road taking care of the people of this county,” Sheriff Jim Roberson admonished the Lonoke County Quorum Court on Thursday night, so thin had worn the thin veil of civility.

Democrats on the court applauded, but most of the Republicans, twice rebuffed in recent months by County Judge Charlie Troutman’s actions, pressed on to challenge the judge, using harsh language and tone.

Republicans on the quorum court went over in detail the findings of the state Legislative Audit Committee review of county fi-nances, particularly those in which Troutman authorized the sale of county equipment to county employees.

Troutman said that the vehicles in question were essentially junk, but that he would abide by the rules in the future that require an auction or public sale.

Twice Republicans have left quorum court meetings believing they had prevailed on an issue, only to be frustrated by the judge’s unitary, but apparently legal, actions.

The first time, he overturned their choice of health insurance agents, convening a special session of the county court, over which he presides.

Then, since the May meeting, he vetoed an ordinance unanimously ap-proved by the quorum court to hire a consultant to study personnel and salaries, but without the support of Democrats on Thursday, Republicans couldn’t even suspend the rules to try to override his veto.

Some Democrats had voted for that ordinance believing it was part of a deal struck with Republicans.

Republican JP Mark Edwards was particularly confrontational with Troutman, saying the judge had lied when he told a reporter Republicans had reneged on the deal after approval of the ordinance they sought.

Thursday night, Edwards said there was never any hard and fast deal. He demanded an apology from the judge, who said, “I could tell you what to do with it, but I apologize.”

At that May quorum court meeting, members unanimously approved a resolution to hire JSEP consultants to evaluate job descriptions, pay and benefits for all county employees and compare them to similar local jobs in the public and private sectors.

But the Democrats on the court believed that unanimous approval was tied to approval of changes in the personnel-policy handbook, and most Republicans voted against that ordinance, which amended the personnel policy.

The first reading of the personnel-policy ordinance, which increases starting salaries for deputy clerks to $18,500 a year plus benefits, was approved Thursday night by a vote of eight to five.

So frustrated was Republican Lynn Clarke last Thursday that she gathered up her belongings and left quickly without a word.

In other business, the England School Board appeared before the court, asking it to appoint someone to fill a board vacancy until the September school board elections.

The school board, deadlocked at 3-3, deferred to the quorum court, and after JP Mike Dolan of England abstained, the quorum court’s first vote was a 6-6 tie.

Eventually, on a revote, Clarke abstained also, and by a 6-5 vote, Shaunda Brewer, 26, was appointed to fill the vacancy over rival Randy Stracener, 54.

Among the issues at hand is whether or not to buy out the contract of England Superintendent Paula Henderson.