Issue of county take-home vehicles unresolved after quorum committee meeting

A proposal by Justice of the Peace Lloyd Franklin II on eliminating take-home vehicles for most Jefferson County employees was unresolved during committee meetings Tuesday night, with the county attorney telling Franklin what he proposed was illegal and with Franklin vowing to find a way to make it work.

Franklin had sent a letter to County Judge Dutch King asking that an ordinance be drafted that would set up a car pool in the county judge’s office for employees needing to use vehicles, and attorney Jackie Harris said that under Arkansas law, the Quorum Court is prohibited from getting involved in the day-to-day operations of county government and that would include the administration of a car pool.

“I don’t think that would pass constitutional muster,” Harris said.

Franklin arrived at the meeting expecting to see a draft ordinance based on the letter he had sent to King, but instead, Harris attended the meeting after Daniel Marks, the legislative assistant to King, contacted him expressing concerns about some of the provisions of Franklin’s letter.

“All I’m trying to do is save the taxpayers money,” Franklin said after the meeting. “We’ve got office managers taking home cars, deputy clerks taking home cars, lots of people taking home cars.”

During the meeting, Franklin also expressed concern about the number of county-owned vehicles that don’t display a county decal, which violates an ordinance adopted by the Quorum Court several years ago.

“We’ve got a bunch of cars riding around that don’t have decals,” he said.

Regarding the car pool idea, Franklin said he “got the impression that the county judge doesn’t want it in his office.”

Franklin also said it appeared King was not concerned about the vehicle expenses and his efforts to cut back on gasoline usage, a suggestion King quickly responded to.

“In one year, we’ve saved 5,000 gallons of gas (used by the County Road Department) and that’s working six days a week instead of four,” King said, going on to say that three vehicles that had formerly been taken home by road department employees were now parked.

“We’re gradually doing some of the things Justice Franklin wants to do,” King said. “I’m very conscious of cutting back on expenses.”

Franklin also asked Harris how to create an ordinance that would eliminate take-home vehicles, a question Harris said was “a political issue, not a legal issue.”

According to a list of suggested actions Franklin passed out to Quorum Court members and the media, county employees would be required to provide justification for taking home a vehicle and the Quorum Court would review and address those based on emergency response needs.

Harris said according to state law, the judge is the only one who has authority to assign vehicles to employees.

Each county elected official has a county-owned vehicle, and the assignment and usage of other vehicles assigned to that office are up to the elected official.

For example, according to a list provided by the judge’s office, the county assessor has five vehicles assigned, the circuit clerk has one, the tax collector one and the county clerk one and the treasurer one, while the Sheriff’s Office has 68 cars and trucks, plus assorted four-wheelers and trailers.

Franklin said he would meet with Harris and discuss his ideas and try to craft an ordinance that would be constitutional for later consideration.

In other business, the county’s legislative body recommended that a $20,000 supplemental appropriation for the County Clerk’s Office be approved when the regular meeting of the Quorum Court is held Monday.

Clerk Patricia Royal Johnson said in a letter to King that the money would be used to cover 2014 election expenses that were not included in the 2014 budget. The funds will be used for postage and election-related materials.