PINE BLUFF -- Jefferson County election commissioners are getting a new home -- at least temporarily.
County Judge Gerald Robinson said Monday he has decided to move the election commission into the old sheriff's office temporarily, but the move will have to wait until Robinson returns to work after knee surgery.
Robinson said it's possible the move could be made by Dec. 11, but he stressed the move wouldn't be permanent. He said he is working to determine the cost of repairing and renovating the election commission's current office.
"We have plans to use the [old sheriff's office] as a central supply office, which will save the county a lot of money because we can begin buying in bulk," Robinson said. "But temporarily, I'll let them use it."
The election commission is searching for a new office because of deteriorating conditions at its current location. Mold and water leaks have been ongoing problems at its current office on Main Street, which Commissioner Stuart "Stu" Soffer said has put workers' health at risk and jeopardizes the integrity of the 150 electronic voting machines that are stored in the building.
An air quality test in the commission's offices Oct. 31 discovered significant air contamination from mold and other particulates within the building. The commission has met in a room at the Jefferson County Courthouse since then, but its records and equipment remain stored at the Main Street office.
Soffer said last month that the commission was looking at the old sheriff's office as a possible location because it offered all the amenities needed. Soffer noted that the office is in the county courthouse, which is in close proximity to the County Clerk's office, and offers a secure storage area with ramp access.
Robinson, however, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette at the time that he had other plans for the former sheriff's office.
Soffer said Monday he had attempted to make contact with Robinson several times to resolve the situation and begin moving preparations, but Soffer said during Monday afternoon's election commission meeting that he had not received any response.
"We're getting stalled by the county judge's office," he said. "I planned to go in there but, as usual, he's not available. They don't understand that we are up against statutory deadlines and holiday publication requirement deadlines."
Soffer said the commission needs to have a suitable location to work out of as soon as possible because of a school election scheduled for Jan. 14 as well as the primary and general election coming up in 2020.
Election Commission Chairman Michael Adam noted that the absolute deadline for relocation would have to be Dec. 14 in order to allow the commission to meet all of its notification deadlines. Sven Hipp, administrative assistant for the commission, said proposed move dates to move out of the current office and into a new location are Friday, Monday, Dec. 11, 12, 17 or 18.
Adam said any date to move the voting machines would have to be coordinated to ensure that someone from the Election Commission office is present when the machines are relocated.
"You have to be there, or one of us has to be there, to move the voting machines so that they are in the care, custody and control of an election official," Adam said.
Robinson was adamant, however, that the move would only be a temporary measure until he can get the Election Commission office up to an acceptable standard or find new accommodations for the commission.
"Stu wants to change the whole thing around, and I'm not going to let him do that," Robinson said. "The office is already set up the way we need it for a central supply hub, and I'm not going to let him tear walls out and stuff that I'm going to have to come back later and replace."
State Desk on 12/03/2019
Print Headline: Old sheriff's office gets look as quick fix for elections agency