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Dueling ordinances split justices of the peace

by Eplunus Colvin | May 22, 2023 at 3:09 a.m.
The Jefferson County Quorum Court's Human Resource Committee discusses the policy and procedure ordinance. (Pine Bluff Commercial/Eplunus Colvin)

Two procedural ordinances were considered by the Jefferson County Quorum Court's Human Resource Committee last Tuesday -- a 19-page amendment and a simplified three-page version; by one vote, the simplified version will pass onto the full court for approval today at 5:30 p.m.

The first proposed policy and procedure ordinance was the 19-page amendment to the original version that was presented to the justices in January by County Judge Gerald Robinson.

The amendments were drafted by the Judicial Committee, which Justice of the Peace Lloyd Franklin Jr. helped compose with nine other JPs before the committee was reconstructed with new members by Robinson. Nine of those pages, however, reference state statutes to support the amendments.

The second policy is a three-page simplified version from the county judge's office that was also revised from his original version presented to the justices in January that was criticized for what the justices called "strong language."

The rules of decorum for the court were removed from the county judge's latest version. Originally it stated the following:

1. Members of the Quorum Court shall not use or make inappropriate, vulgar, or opprobrious words or offensive comments. Members shall maintain a civil and courteous manner and tone.

2. Members of the Quorum Court shall only speak to the matter currently under consideration by the Quorum Court.

3. During presentations, discussions, or debates, members of the Quorum Court shall refrain from communicating with each other, giving attention and due respect to the speaker or Quorum Court member addressing the body.

4. While a member of the Quorum Court has the floor, members of the Quorum Court and members of the public shall not interrupt the speaker unless the speaker is ruled out of order.

5. Justices violating any rules of decorum may be ruled out of order by the County Judge. An individual violating rules of decorum may be removed from the meeting by a majority vote of the Quorum Court or by order of the county judge.

"This is the fifth month we haven't been able to take care of the county business," said JP Ted Harden. "In the previous 30 years, we've had [the] AAC procedural guide that we've gone by and if necessary we went to Robert's Rule of Order."

Harden said he felt most of the 19-page revision did not pertain to operating procedures.

"The judge revised his ordinance and took out items requested dealing with the quorum," he said. "He's made a concession on that but [we've] got here 19 to 20 items hanging in full court that we can't get passed."

The difference between the two versions is the additional language added by the majority. Added to Article One is a provision that states the quorum court further reserves the right to enact any changes and/or new legislation "governing the organization, authority, responsibilities and execution of its powers through the proper parliamentary procedure by a majority vote of quorum court members."

Other additions pertain to the Quorum Court Administration, calling quorum court and committee meetings, agenda preparation, quorum court committees, per diem compensation and ethics to name a few.

For agenda preparation, the 19-page revision states it shall be the duty of the clerk and all agenda and legislation must be created or sponsored by at least one justice. It also states the county judge will hold an agenda development meeting with chairpersons. Other inserts in the revision include that committee chairs must entertain non-committee members' questions and comments.

When five or more justices sign on to sponsor a legislative request, the committee of the whole will immediately convene and review the request. If the committee gives the request a "do pass," it will be forwarded and must be added to the most immediate quorum court agenda.

According to the procedural rules, the county judge shall create any new committee as he sees fit, appoint committee members to all committees and appoint all chairpersons of committees, but the 19-page revised version concerning committees states the quorum court shall create any new committee as necessary conferred by majority vote and shall appoint all chairpersons conferred by majority vote.

There are currently four standing committees: Finance and Budget, Public Safety, Human Resources and Judicial. The revisions to the committees made on the 19-page policy and procedure revision are as follows: Finance; Emergency and Public Safety; Grievance and Human Resources; Agricultural, Rural Zoning and Community Development; Youth and Education; and Judicial.

Also added are two special committees: Committee of the Whole and Budget Committee consisting of all 13 members.

The amendment reads that the quorum court committee will select the chair and assistant of all committees by majority vote with experience, seniority and equity considered. It also states a JP may chair only one committee at a time for one year and no more than two consecutive years.

For voting on a motion, the revisions state the ordinance or amendment must be read in its entirety after the first, second or third reading before voting.

"We have a system that if anyone has a question with any ordinance that we have, we have a chairman that you can go to," said Harden. "If you can't get the resolution done by the chairman, you can go to the county judge. He's always had an open-door policy and he still does."

Harden moved that the three-page proposed ordinance from the judge's office be approved as the operating procedures and sent on to the full court with a "do pass" recommendation.

With only committee members able to speak, Franklin, who tried to interject, was unable to state his opposition to the ordinance. A roll call vote was taken. Committee members for the motions were Roy Agee, Ted Harden and Patricia Royal Johnson. Against it were Conley Byrd, Brenda Bishop Gaddy and Cedric Jackson. To break the tie, chairman Danny Holcomb voted yes.

The motion passed and will be sent to the full court. Jefferson County full Quorum Court will meet today at 5:30 p.m.

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