Lawmakers call on state attorney general to discuss Allport's status

A rusted water tower marks the town of Allport in Lonoke County in this Sept. 16, 2020, file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)
A rusted water tower marks the town of Allport in Lonoke County in this Sept. 16, 2020, file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)

The Legislative Joint Auditing Committee's co-chairmen have invited Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to next month's meeting to explain why her office has yet to take action aimed at dissolving the municipality of Allport in Lonoke County.

But a spokesman for Rutledge said late Thursday that the parties have agreed to an order requiring Allport to comply with Arkansas' municipal accounting laws for 2019 and 2020, and to allow a judge to revoke the town's charter if the town fails to come into compliance by Dec. 14.

With a population of 86, based on 2020 U.S. Census information, Allport is an agriculture-dependent community that sits along U.S. 165 between England and Stuttgart. In 2019, a prosecutor determined the city's police department violated Arkansas' speed-trap law.

In September, the audit committee started, for the first time under Act 712 of 2017, the process of trying to dissolve a municipality, abolish its offices and return the territory and its residents to the county. The committee also authorized notifying the attorney general and governor of what it was doing.

Act 712 was sponsored by now-Senate President Pro Tempore Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana. The law created a procedure for the revocation of a charter of a municipal corporation as a result of noncompliance with state municipal accounting law.

Act 712 requires the attorney general's office to file pleadings in 6th Judicial Circuit Court, based on the committee's notification, to revoke the charter.

The committee co-chairmen -- Sen. Ronald Caldwell, R-Wynne, and Rep. Richard Womack, R-Arkadelphia -- said in a letter dated July 28 to Rutledge, "On September 24, 2020, a letter was addressed to you concerning revocation of the Town of Allport's charter" under Arkansas Code Annotated 14-62-102 (a).

"To our knowledge, ten (10) months later no pleadings have been filed as required by Ark. Code Ann. 14-62-102 (a) (2)," Caldwell and Womack's letter said.

As authorized by state law under Act 938 of 2021 and a motion adopted by committee at its June 4 meeting, Caldwell and Womack, in their letter told Rutledge "we respectfully request that you attend the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee's Friday September 10, 2020, meeting at 9 a.m. to explain the status of this referral and when further action is anticipated."

"Your personal attendance is expected," they wrote.

Frank Arey, staff attorney for Arkansas Legislative Audit, said Thursday that "on Aug. 4, we received back the green card [from the post office] indicating that they have signed for the letter, so we know the AG's office has the letter."

"We have not heard anything since then," he told the audit committee's Executive Committee.

Caldwell said, "When we spoke to [the attorney general's officials] in session, they indicated that they had asked Allport to voluntarily give up their charter."

Afterward, Rutledge spokeswoman Stephanie Sharp said officials in the attorney general's office met several times with counsel for the city of Allport to resolve this issue.

"The parties negotiated in good faith through their attorneys, and filed a joint petition regarding the Town of Allport's obligations regarding Arkansas Municipal Accounting Laws on June 2, 2021 and an agreed Order was entered on June 18, 2021 requiring the Town of Allport to come into compliance with Arkansas Municipal Accounting Laws for 2019 and 2020," she said.

"The Court noted it will appoint a Special Master and, based on a review of the Special Master's findings, will make a determination of Allport's compliance with the Accounting Laws," Sharp said in a written statement, referring to Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herbert Wright.

"If the Town does not come into compliance by December 14, 2021, the Court may revoke the Town's Charter," she said.

Sharp said staff members from the attorney general's office are planning to attend the audit committee's Sept. 10 meeting.

In a letter dated Oct. 20 to the joint auditing committee's then co-chairmen, Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, and Womack, attorney Willard Proctor Jr. of Little Rock said he has been retained by Allport and he has associated with Terrence Cain to assist in stopping the revocation of the city's charter.

Allport has made great strides in getting the information requested by legislative auditors, and "there is an open question about the constitutionality of the statute that is being used to revoke the City of Allport's charter," Proctor wrote.

He could not be reached for comment by telephone at his office on Thursday afternoon.

Prosecuting Attorney Chuck Graham of Lonoke said this week that Allport is still suspended from patrolling all affected highways within the city limits.

In a letter dated Oct. 31, 2019, to Allport Mayor Kenneth Raynor, Graham said he determined that the actions of Allport's police department violated Arkansas' speed-trap law by abusing its police power to enforce criminal and traffic laws for the principal purpose of raising revenue for the municipality rather than the purpose of public safety.

During an audit of Allport's fines and cost revenue, the Arkansas State Police and Arkansas Legislative Audit determined that revenue and fines exceed 30% of 2017 and 2018 adjusted expenditures, he wrote in his letter.

Under Arkansas Code Annotated 12-8-404 (a) (2), Graham ordered the city of Allport to cease patrolling all affected highways within the jurisdictional limits of the city. Any citation, summons or misdemeanor arrest made in violation of this order constitutes a Class A misdemeanor, he noted.

"Please note that this Order does not apply to the City of Allport responding to citizens calls for assistance in the enforcement of the state or local law. It only applies to the enforcement of traffic violations," Graham wrote in his letter.

The city may petition the 23rd Judicial District prosecuting attorney's office at any time after one year and request a review of any public safety concerns as a result of this decision, he said in his Oct. 31, 2019, letter.

The Lonoke County sheriff and Arkansas State Police have agreed to increase their presence within Allport's city limits to enforce the speed limit and any other traffic violations in an effort to protect the safety of Allport's residents, Graham said.

Raynor could not be reached for comment by telephone or email on Thursday.