The Greene County Quorum Court has adopted changes to its meetings.
At its Feb. 17 meeting, the court adopted an ordinance to permit justices of the peace and county officials “to attend, speak and vote using zoom [sic] or other virtual communications means during Quorum Court meetings.”
In addition, the ordinance permits members of the public to attend and speak virtually. The ordinance also requires that “an alternative and simpler communication means such as speakerphone should be provided for citizens” if computer virtual access is unavailable or insufficiently understood.
The ordinance also regularizes the time and place of Quorum Court meetings. Although Quorum Court meetings during the pandemic have been taking place in the Circuit Courtroom, the ordinance specifies they are to take place in the “middle courtroom,” the Chancery Courtroom. And although the time of Quorum Court meetings have alternated between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. depending on whether Standard or Daylight Saving Time (respectively) is in effect, the ordinance establishes the meeting time to be 6 p.m. year-round.
Unless otherwise noted, the meetings still take place on the third Monday, although (as further established in the ordinance) the County Judge is authorized to change the day, time and place of the meeting with 24 hours’ notice.
The ordinance declared an emergency, and thus became effective upon enactment.
The Quorum Court also adopted an amendment to the appropriation ordinance, adding a total of $700,613.81 to appropriations for 2021. The lion’s share, $506,000, went for payment of a grant to Arkansas Methodist Medical Center for COVID-19-related expenses funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020. The grant is to be administered by the East Arkansas Planning and Development Division.
The Quorum Court also approved an added $20,769.75 for the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to convert a part-time Hot Check Coordinator position be converted to a full-time employee with broader responsibilities. “The people in the office deal with lots of matters,” Robert Thompson said. “Law Enforcement brings files to the office, they take fine payments, they work with victims and witnesses.”
Thompson said that just in 2020, the office handled between 900 and 1,000 cases. “I started [as deputy prosecuting attorney] six years ago,” he said, “and I’ve seen an increase [in case load] of 20-25 percent in those six years. And it will probably be that many this year.”
Thompson noted that with COVID-19, the use of debit cards and of online purchases, the amount of checked returned for insufficient funds – “hot checks” – had diminished by more than 80 percent, from $15,500 in 2019 to about $2,500.
The amount appropriated does not cover the full year’s pay for the full-time employee, but only from the present date to the end of the year. Pay for the employee is $14.44 an hour.
The ordinance also appropriated $17,716.2 to the Juvenile Division to upgrade its computers, add a server, and a printer plus software. The Sheriff’s department also added $156,127.86 to its appropriations to cover projects originally begun in 2020 that have not yet been finished.
Money was the focus of Greene County Tech School District’s February board meeting.
The board approved the purchase of a 2021 Ram 2500 Crew Cab 4x4 3/4-ton truck for the Agri Department, which proved to be a bargain for the department. According to information made available by superintendent Gene Weeks, the bid price of the vehicle, $36,827 from Bayird Dodge Chrysler Jeep in Paragould, was less than the state bid price of $37,109 from Bayird Dodge Chrysler Jeep.
“School Districts can buy local if the local dealership will match or beat the state bid,” Weeks noted.
The board also approved purchase of 300 student laptops and 85 teacher laptops from Vernon Hills, Ill.-based CDW-G at a cost not to exceed $300,000 (including tax). Weeks said the purchase will be through the TIPS/TAPS cooperative purchasing contract, using funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund provided under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
“These need to be ordered now,” Weeks said, “so we can have them for the 2021-22 school year.”
The school board also approved renewal of the district’s Worker’s Compensation Insurance through the Arkansas School Board Association. The premium for the current calendar year is $122,444. Weeks acknowledged the premium is up 25 percent from last year’s $97,774.
“We had a lot of knee injuries,” Weeks acknowledged. “We currently conduct monthly safety meetings to try and prevent accidents that cause injuries and lost work time for our employees.”
Conditions that lower and raise the premium are the number of claims, number of employees and lost work time.
The board also undertook the following personnel actions:
Larissa Newman from her Jr. High Dance Team Sponsor position (only), effective at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.
Madison Tedder from her Jr. High Assistant Dance Team Sponsor position (only), effective at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.
Christina Fry, from her Custodial position at Jr. High School, effective March 1, 2021.
Bradley Andrews, from his 1st Grade Teaching position at Primary School, effective at the end of the 2020-2021 school year, for retirement.
Miranda Smith, medical, effective Jan. 22, 2021 lasting 6 weeks.
Debra Whitaker, to extend current medical leave of absence, effective Feb. 15-March 29, 2021.
Kathy Vowell, medical, effective Feb. 8-March 22, 2021.
Patricia Pitman, medical, effective Feb. 1, 2021 lasting 6 weeks.
Terry Kelley, from ISS Paraprofessional at Intermediate School to Library Paraprofessional at Intermediate School, effective Feb. 11, 2021.
Charles Nelson, High School Assistant Principal/AP Coordinator position to Jr. High School Principal, effective for the 2021-2022 school year.
Bo Carter, from Custodial position at High School to a Maintenance position, effective Feb. 11, 2021.
Mary Jo Foster, from Assistant Kitchen Manager position at Primary School to Regular Child Nutrition Employee at Primary School, effective Feb. 11, 2021.
Krystal Vanhorn, as ISS Paraprofessional at Intermediate School, effective Feb. 11, 2021.
Amy Lucius and Scott Gerrish (each), existing contract extended one year through the 2023-2024 school year (2020-2021, 2021-2022, 2022-2023 school years are already on existing contract.)
The Arkansas Department of Health reported 245 new COVID-19 cases on Monday.
There were 4,899 active cases in the state with 588 people hospitalized due to the virus.
Six also were added to the state total of COVID-19 deaths. That brought the statewide total to 5,363.
There has been a total of 315,759 COVID-19 cases in Arkansas since the pandemic began about a year ago, and 242,135 recoveries.
The counties with the most cases of COVID-19 on Monday were: Pulaski, 34; Garland, 21; Benton, 18; Pope, 16; and Sevier and White with 13 each.
In Greene County as of Monday 5,770 confirmed and probable cases had been reported.
There are 51 active COVID-19 cases in the county and there have been 74 deaths due to the virus.
“New and active cases continue to remain lower than we’ve seen in the past few weeks,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement released on Monday. “We’re distributing vaccine doses throughout the state and encourage those who are eligible to make sure they’re signed up. We expect vaccine and testing numbers to increase this week with clear roads across the state.”
On Sunday coronavirus cases in Arkansas rose by 284 and the death toll increased by nine.
Hutchinson visited a pharmacy in Bryant on Sunday to discuss vaccine distribution. He had urged vaccine providers on Friday to schedule extra hours over the weekend to make up for a slowdown because of last week’s snowstorms.
The ADH reported that more than 9,500 vaccine doses were given on Sunday.
More than 515,000 vaccine doses have been given in Arkansas.
The seven-day rolling average of new Arkansas cases has fallen during the past two weeks, from 1,737 per day to 443.6, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project.
The Greene County Circuit Court has accepted pleas or otherwise disposed of the following criminal cases, as indicated below.
Jerry Adams, 22, has negotiated a guilty plea to a charge of one count of breaking or entering, a Class D felony. He did not face prosecution on other charges filed against him. He was sentenced to 90 days (less credit for 81 days’ time served) in the Greene County Detention Center (GCDC) and to 60 months probation. He was also fined $500, ordered to pay $440 in costs and fees, plus a monthly fee of $35 for probation supervision. Revocation of that probation could result in a sentence of up to six years (less 90 days credit for time served) and/or a fine of up to $9,500.
James Michael Raines, 46, has negotiated a guilty plea to charges of three counts of theft of property valued between $1,000 and $5,000 and one of first-degree criminal mischief, each charge a Class D felony. He was not prosecuted on other charges in return. He was sentenced to 120 days (less 90 days credit for time served) in the GCDC and to 72 months probation. He was also ordered to pay $440 in costs and fees. If he violates the terms of his probation he could face up to 24 years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC), a fine of up to $40,000 or both.
Cody Aaron Burton, 27, has negotiated a guilty plea to a charge of one count of third-degree domestic battery (second and subsequent offense), a Class D felony. He was sentenced to 18 months (less 78 days credit for time served) in the ADC; he also faces 54 months suspended imposition of sentence. He was also fined $500 and ordered to pay $465 in costs and fees. Vacation of his suspension could see him sentenced to up to 4-1/2 years in the ADC and/or a $9,500 fine.
Eloy Garza, 56, has negotiated a guilty plea to a charge of failing to register as a sex offender, a Class C felony. He was sentenced to 120 days (less 70 days credit for time served) in the GCDC and to 48 months probation. He was also fined $500 and ordered to pay $690 in costs and fees, plus a $35 monthly fee for probation supervision. If his probation is revoked, he could face up to 10 years (less 120 days) in the ADC and/or a fine of up to $9,500.
Travis Dewayne Speaks, 39, has negotiated a guilty plea to charges of one count each of first-degree criminal mischief and terroristic threatening, each a Class D felony. In return, prosecutors elected not to proceed against him on other charges. He was sentenced to time served (112 days) in the GCDC and to 60 months probation. He was also ordered to pay $440 in costs and fees, plus a monthly $35 fee for probation supervision. Although neither any conditions of his probation, nor of penalties for revocation, were listed at his web page at the web site of the Administrative Office of the Courts, revocation of probation in cases involving a Class D felony typically could result in a sentence of up to six years (less 112 days credit for time served in this case) in the ADC and/or a fine of up to $10,000.