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RITASurprise— Submitted by a Conway resident who attended

It surprised some to see the proposed RITA project under Old Business on the Quorum Court’s agenda for what turned into a 3-hour meeting last Tuesday night.

Interestingly, the subject of RITA was not a complete surprise for the six or seven Arkansas Representatives and Senator Jason Rapert, who were in attendance ready with facts, figures, and documents supporting the proposed “federally funded” project.

RITA had not come up for full Quorum Court discussion before because it was still being held “in committee.”  However, because newly elected Judge Jim Baker has disbanded working committees and instead decreed the entire Quorum Court to meet as a “committee of the whole,” he is free to bring up anything he wishes.

Several JPs expressed concerns about what jurisdiction the Court would have once the RITA is built (Answer?  None).

Because many of the JPs are not in agreement with forming a RITA, they were warned about how many federal dollars Faulkner County would not get if they don’t act to approve the project.

As if that weren’t enough, they were also told the money would instead go to “some lesser county” (kind of reminds us of the Big Bad Wolf and the piggies’ houses).  Discussion on the RITA then was tabled until the next meeting.

As is the case with most Quorum Court meetings, there were some ordinances about moving county funds into the appropriate categories to pay county expenses.  To amend a specific county court funding motion, Judge H.P. Foster asked for salary approval for a replacement clerk in his court and a raise for one in Judge Charles Clausen’s court.

That’s when JP Steve Goode suddenly asked about “the elephant in the room,” saying he is uncomfortable about giving raises for anyone else when badly needed raises for the County Sheriff’s Department have been held up for an extended period of time.  After some discussion, the court funding motion was voted on and failed.  When the motion was restated without the raises, it passed.

“I voted against it because I feel like if anything, the Legislature should have to be held to the standards we are held to as a Quorum Court concerning FOIA.” — Damon Edwards, JP District 12

A second surprise was the Quorum Court’s approval (10 to 3) of Justice Randy Higgins’ resolution that urges the Arkansas Legislature to pursue a FOIA policy change allowing off-the-record conversations.   Justice Higgins cited his interactions with the state Legislature as being behind the resolution, saying he wants the Legislature to operate under the same standards as Quorum Courts.  Higgins explained:

I have spent time with my local state Representatives about other issues.  They woulds say things like “Let’s get together and talk about this or that.” I say, “Ya’ll can have conversations in the hallways, but we (Quorum Court members) can’t… We have to send some type of message.”

County Judge David Hogue added, “I want to be sure to say the Quorum Court has no problem wth FOIA, but they have an issue with the interpretation of casual conversations being a public meeting.”

The Court also decided to hold a JP caucus, scheduled a week before the next Quorum Court meeting.