What began as a normal Cleburne County Quorum Court meeting became somewhat contentious Monday night as tempers flared between JPs and two constables over the purchase of a car.
The unusually long three hour meeting began with the final approval of an ordinance authorizing acceptance of the Dayco bid and Eagle Bank line of credit for use by the library should those funds be needed. This line of credit is an emergency fund that will be used in the unforeseen event the Library Board doesn’t receive future anticipated pledges for the construction of the new library. Although the motion to accept the bid and line of credit was passed at the last meeting, debate arose again with Brent Foust expressing concerns that the county could possibly be responsible for interest payments in 2013, for which there is no budget appropriation. Sam Henegar, who voted against the original motion in the last meeting, said although he had full confidence that the Library Board would have enough money to cover the cost through pledges, he had to consider the “worst case” scenario and didn’t believe the county could afford the cost of the loan in that event. After debating the pros and cons of the ordinance and offering several amendments and alternatives, the Court passed the ordinance with Henegar, Foust, and Bobby Mooney voting against.
In the next order of business, Frank Wimberly with the Greers Ferry Lake Trails Council gave the Court a rundown of the proposed walking trails planned for Heber Springs. These trails would total approximately 10 miles and would make use of existing paths created by the old railroad tracks. Wimberly stressed the importance of walking trails to help combat the obesity epidemic in the nation, including Cleburne County. Wimberly claimed 35 percent of Heber Springs students are overweight. He informed the Court that he was not there to ask for money, but to show the importance of the trail system and garner support for the project.
James Mitchell spoke to the Court next. Mitchell is the architect that designed the new court building. Mitchell expressed his gratitude to the Court and the citizens of Cleburne County for placing their trust in him to “put together a building that could be used for 100 years”.
In the next order of business, Constables Dennis Moseley and Keith Corbitt addressed the Court to argue the case for Corbitt’s purchase of a vehicle from the state surplus store. This issue was addressed in the previous meeting in which it was revealed that Corbitt received authorization from County Judge Brenda Hunt to be placed on the buyers list for the surplus store. It was not known at the time that individuals on the buyers list could not pay for materials with their own money. According to the state surplus store, that money can only come from the county. Corbitt purchased the vehicle in Cleburne County’s name with the intention of having the county pay for the vehicle and reimbursing the county for the full amount. In the previous meeting, the Court rejected the authorization to pay for the vehicle because they had not been consulted or asked approval for purchase of a vehicle in the County’s name. Also, for audit and legal purposes, the county cannot write a check for which there is no prior budget appropriation.
Page 2 of 3 - Tempers began to flare when Moseley informed the Court that he felt they had been misled by Judge Brenda Hunt and wanted to know why they (the constables) were told they could buy the vehicle only to have the Court reject the request to pay for it. Henegar responded, “I don’t remember you ever coming to the Court to ask permission.” Moseley said he was under the impression, as per a conversation with Hunt, that they were authorized to make the purchase, to which Hunt responded, “I didn’t know you were going to go buy a car.” Foust interjected and said, “There is no money appropriated for this car.”
Corbitt, who purchased the car, informed the Court that there was nothing deceptive about the purchase and that the car has been parked since it was brought to the county, and thus the county has had no liability risk. Corbitt stressed that, even though he is an elected official, he and the other constables cannot buy from the state surplus store as individuals because they do not receive at least 51 percent of their funds from tax money. He and Moseley told the Court that constables typically pay for most of their equipment and supplies themselves and from revenue they raise writing tickets. County Judge Elect Jerry Holmes explained to the constables that, regardless of the intention to fully reimburse the county for the purchase of the car, the Court could not legally spend money for which there was no appropriation.
When asked to whom the constables answered, Corbitt responded “No one.” Tim Caldwell asked about a possible rumor he heard that a constable had fired a weapon and whether they, like county deputies and city police, were required to file incident reports in those circumstances. Corbitt informed the Court that he was the person that fired the weapon and he was dealing with an intoxicated male. He further explained that situations like that, in which the Sheriff’s Office is in route, he and other constables are usually by themselves and if they feel the person may have a weapon or they feel they are in danger they will fire their weapon. At this point, Moseley offered a clarification to the original response to the accountability question and told the Court that there is “no accountability except with the state and the state police.” Caldwell asked Corbitt, “You didn’t actually shoot at the guy did you?” to which Corbitt responded, “No, if I did he’d be dead.”
The constables continued to insist that, regardless of the decision of the Court, Cleburne County is now the owner of that vehicle. Henegar responded, “Did we pay for it?” When the response was “no”, Henegar said, “Then we don’t own it.” Moseley told the Court that Hunt had signed off on authorization to be placed on the buyers list, to which she responded she wasn’t aware the county would be responsible for the payment. The argument between the Court and the constables became more heated as Moseley continued to assert his feeling they had been misled. Later he said he believed that it was more an issue of miscommunication and misunderstanding by all parties involved. In an effort to move the meeting along, Heneger said, “We made a decision (referring to the rejection of payment in the previous meeting) and I haven’t changed my mind.” The Court rejected reconsideration of the payment proposal with Hunt telling the constables, “We’re done. We’re moving on. Thank you.”
Page 3 of 3 - The Court moved on to other business, approving the distribution of sales tax funds for rural fire departments and providing money to pay for the county’s portion of 911 services. The 2013 budget appropriations were also approved with only outgoing JP Phil Grace voting against.
The meeting ended with a heartfelt recognition of all the outgoing JPs and Judge Brenda Hunt for their service to the county. All were presented with a plaque and JP Barbara Pitts was given special mention for her many years spent representing her constituents on the Court. She gave incoming JPs a word of advice – “I’ve taken heat for some of my decisions. Be prepared for the heat, it’s part of the job.”