PINE BLUFF -- An ordinance passed last month by the Jefferson County Quorum Court has led the circuit clerk to file a lawsuit against the county judge in Circuit Court.
The ordinance, passed May 13, dealt with workforce reduction recommendations made by County Judge Gerald Robinson that called for cuts to the personnel budgets for most county offices.
Circuit Clerk Lafayette Woods Sr., contends in the lawsuit that the ordinance leaves him without enough money in his personnel budget to perform the duties of his office as mandated by the Arkansas Constitution. According to the complaint, Robinson represented the ordinance as cutting one position in the circuit clerk's office, but Woods says it actually cut three positions from the office.
The ordinance authorizes six positions for Woods' office, which currently employs nine people, according to the complaint.
Justice of the Peace Ted Harden of White Hall, chairman of the county finance committee, confirmed that circuit clerk's office has nine employees. Harden said the Quorum Court had approved only seven slots for the office.
"He was over budget in his approved allotment from last year," Harden said Monday. "We had to take that into consideration, plus cut one."
The complaint also says the ordinance was passed improperly by being read only once before it was voted on by Quorum Court members. Generally, ordinances must be read three times in three consecutive meetings before a final decision is made. Exceptions are when the governing body suspends the rules to allow the second and third readings of an ordinance in a single meeting, or when it suspends the rules to allow a single reading.
Neither of those exceptions were voted on at the May 13 meeting.
It is unclear if failure to suspend the rules would void the ordinance. Harden said justices were told in an earlier meeting by the county's attorney, Terry Wynne, that it was not necessary to suspend the rules for every exception.
Wynne declined to comment Monday when asked about to confirm Harden's statement.
"We've forwarded the complaint to counsel, and we're waiting on a response," Wynne said. "That's all I can say about it."
Luther Sutter of Benton, one of Woods' attorneys, said the ordinance was not passed properly and that Woods and his attorneys are seeking to have it set aside.
"There's many reasons," Sutter said. "One, there wasn't a proper motion at the meeting. Two is that we believe the county judge polled the Quorum Court leading to an illegal vote. And third, we don't think the ordinance allows the clerk to do his constitutional duties."
Asked how quickly the case is likely to move through the court system, Sutter replied, "As quickly as I can make it move."
Chris Villines, executive director of the Association of Arkansas Counties, declined to comment on the case other than to say it is unusual.
"I can tell you that it is not something I've seen in this state," Villines said.
Robinson referred all questions to his attorney, Burt Newell of Hot Springs. Newell did not return a call seeking comment Monday. Woods also did not return a message seeking comment Monday.
State Desk on 06/11/2019
Print Headline: Job cuts at center of Arkansas circuit clerk's lawsuit