Friday, July 19, 2013

TOP STORY >> Officials question expense

Leader staff writer

Members of the Lonoke County Quorum Court spent at least 30 minutes Thursday evening discussing whether County Assessor Jack McNally should be allowed to spend $3,500 for a four-day conference in Grand Rapids, Mich., only to conclude that money for education was in the budget they approved. So, like it or not, they couldn’t stop him.

County Judge Doug Erwin placed the discussion on the agenda saying he had turned down the $1,000 registration fee for the conference because he didn’t know how much the trip would eventually cost.

He said near the end of the discussion, “I denied the claim because I didn’t think they should spend the taxpayers’ money in Grand Rapids, Mich., when there are conferences locally.”

JP Henry Lang spoke about the trip after the meeting saying, “It’s a check and balance thing. The judge has oversight. He has the right to refuse any expenditure that he deems not beneficial to the county.

“It’s a shame that there are people in Lonoke County who have a hard time coming up with $10 for gas to go to work, and he is spending thousands of dollars on a trip to Grand Rapids, especially when you consider that 90 percent of Arkansas counties are not participating and the state offers training for free,” Lang said.

The conference that McNally wants to attend with one of his deputies is the 79th annual conference for the International Association of Assessing Officers.

He told the quorum court the conference is to assessors what the Emmy awards are to actors.

The website for the IAAO says “the annual conference provides educational sessions, networking, special events and exhibits that supply the tools you need to succeed.”

Contacted Friday morning, Debra Asbury, executive director of the Assessment Coordination Department for Arkansas, said her department provides a lot of training for county assessors, but she also encourages assessors to attend the IAAO conferences because it offers information that her department doesn’t.

“For the assessor to be so new and want to learn so much, we encourage that,” Asbury said.

McNally is in his third year as Lonoke County assessor.

Before members of the quorum court decided that they didn’t have authority to disapprove McNally’s trip to Michigan, Erwin said he wanted them to decide the matter because he wanted their involvement. Thirteen heads are better than one, he said.

“If they approve this, you’ve got my blessing,” Erwin told McNally.

“I don’t need your blessing,” McNally responded.

JP Adam Sims made it clear that he was opposed to the trip but said the quorum court had approved money for education in McNally’s budget and couldn’t tell him how to spend it.

He said later, “We have a separation of powers to prevent a dictatorship. This isn’t rules we made up. This is constitutional. It’s not our job to run his office.”

In other business:

 Sims was the only member of the quorum court who voted against the purchase of nine more electronic polling books using a $9,855 grant from the secretary of state. Sims said later that there is nothing wrong with the old method.

 The quorum court approved an ordinance appropriating a state grant for $141,300 to cover most of the cost of installing an elevator in the courthouse.

Erwin said the additional $60,000 needed had been promised by state Sens. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) and Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe).

 The quorum court also approved paying $21,477 for digital recording of records in the county clerk’s office. Funding will come from fees collected in that office that may only be used for automation.

 The quorum court passed an ordinance setting a $1,000 fine for anyone who collects a bounty in Lonoke County on beavers trapped outside the county.

The ordinance does not raise bounty on beavers back to the $30 set earlier this year to encourage trapping during the summer months. Erwin lowered the bounty to $20 when he suspected trappers were coming from White and Prairie counties where the bounty was lower.

Neither does it require the geo-tagging that Sims recommended as a way of determining where the beaver is trapped.

 The quorum court appropriated an insurance check for $16,700 to allow Sheriff John Staley to replace the truck he wrecked when he hit two deer on the way to a call.

Staley said he was borrowing vehicles from off-duty deputies and needed to have one of his own. Prosecutor Chuck Graham, who bought the truck for the sheriff’s department with confiscated drug money, joked that if Staley had his lights on when he hit the deer he was spotlighting.

 Erwin announced that Kathy Zasimovich, head of the county’s office of emergency services, resigned July 5 to tend to her elderly mother and that her position would not be filled.

Zasimovich was paid $36,122 plus benefits. Erwin said some of her work would be done by Rita Schmitz, his secretary, who will be paid an additional $4,500 for disaster planning and coordinating county fire service.

Schmitz is the Red Cross coordinator for Lonoke County and is already familiar with the type of work she will be doing, he said.

The balance of the job, which includes flood plain management and tornado shelter inspections, will go to Jimmy Depriest, who did all the work before Zasimovich was hired.

In response to questions from the quorum court, Erwin said Depriest would not be paid more for the additional work.

 Erwin read a proclamation honoring retired Cabot Chamber of Commerce director Billye Everett.