JP's conduct at ACA info meeting 'upsetting'

Attendance was unusually high at the September Quorum Court meeting, which was the first with newly appointed Justice of the Peace Rebecca Lynn.  Lynn was appointed by Governor Beebe to fill the vacancy left by the passing of J.P. Bobby Mooney.  Lynn will hold the position until elections determine a replacement in 2014. 

Before regular Court business got underway, County Judge Jerry Holmes allowed citizens to air grievances over an incident that took place during an informational meeting by the State Department of Health at the Heber Springs Community Center on August 19th.  As part of a scheduled tour of Arkansas counties, the Health Department sent a representative to Cleburne County to educate citizens on the Affordable Health Care Act, which is scheduled to begin implementation on October 1.  Attendance was reportedly high for the presentation.

According to eyewitness reports to The Sun-Times, including a letter to the editor that was published on August 30th, Justice of the Peace for District 10 Jacque Martin disrupted the meeting with interruptions and alleged harassment of the presenter to such a degree that those present were not able to get any information they were after and the presenter wasn’t able to fully complete the informational session.

A group of citizens appeared at the Court meeting to address the assembly regarding the incident. 

Dr. Bill Wells of the Christian Health Center spoke to the Court about the meeting in August.  “On the 19th of last month, I was made aware of a meeting that was being brought to us by the State Health Department,” said Wells.  “The Affordable Care Act is not a simple type of situation.  I wanted to know how to advise my patients to access the benefits.”  “There were several folks there wanting to learn how to use this new law that’s coming into effect,” continued Wells.  “Unfortunately, a member of the audience (referring to J.P. Martin) kept interrupting her with personal accounts and questions about the legislation.  This employee of the State Health Department had nothing to do with the legislation.  She was just giving information on how it was being implemented.  She kept being interrupted until people began to leave.  It was obvious we weren’t going to be able to get any information.   I was embarrassed for the speaker.  It was embarrassing because it was in Heber Springs, in Cleburne County.”  “I am upset,” said Wells.  For everyone to have liberty and justice for all, everyone needs to be able to speak their piece.  This representative should have been allowed to do that, and she didn’t have that chance.”

Dan Nestlehut rose to speak after Dr. Wells.  “It was a public education format,” said Nestlehut.  “Some of the folks were upset and did leave.  I didn’t think the presenter had a chance to get the facts to these folks.”

After both speakers finished, Judge Holmes commented on the incident.  “This was hard to do,” said Holmes.  “Hearing the concerns.  The reason it was a concern to me is my office received calls.”

“I did not attend that meeting in my official capacity,” interjected Martin.

“You have every right under the sun to do what you did,” continued Homes.  My concern is when I receive phone calls in my office that same day and the fellow and his wife that wrote the letter confronting me in the Wal-Mart parking lot advising me that one of our Quorum Court members pretty much destroyed an informational meeting that we had the right as citizens to hear.  I think in your capacity, in the Court’s capacity, once we take on the obligation of being elected by the people that we hold just a little bit higher calling because you represent not only your district, but the County as a whole.”

Martin responded by saying, “I went to get information as well, but they could not tell us the cost.”  “As everyone knows, I have been fighting the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, whatever you want to call it for the last five years,” continued Martin.  “I’ve worked with state legislators to fight it as well.  The questions I went to get answered were about cost. The lady finished her presentation…”

“Well, according to the lady I spoke with, Ms. Hightower (the presenter)…..,” said Homes.

“Can I finish please,” interrupted Martin, to whom Holmes said, “Go ahead” and Martin responded “Thank you.”

“She finished her presentation.  Yes, I asked her questions about information she had on her slides.  I was very polite and very professional and afterwards I hugged her and told her I didn’t mean to give her a hard time,” said Martin.

“Mrs. Martin,” said Holmes, “the concern of the people that attended the meeting is they did not get to hear pretty much anything Ms. Hightower came to present.”

Martin apologized saying, “I apologize to the people that think I was rude.  Several people thanked me.  I think it was just a matter of perspective.”

After discussion was closed, most of the people that were at the meeting left, leaving the usual number of attendees at the monthly meetings.

In other Court business, amended budget items, authorized the County to enter into a contract for Mt. Top water extension improvements, authorized Judge Holmes to apply for a grant to upgrade computer systems for the Cleburne County Library, also to apply for a grant for fairground improvements.