Disagreement must end now


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Sometimes adults can end up acting like children on an elementary school playground. Perhaps Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter, a former football official, might come out of retirement, put on his black and white referee shirt and umpire the Jefferson County Election Commission dispute.

The controversy erupted literally minutes after the three members of the commission, Ted Davis, Shara Williams and Stu Soffer, were sworn in Wednesday.

A request by Davis to conduct an organizational meeting was rejected by Soffer, who was elected chairman of the commission after being nominated by former chairman Trey Ashcraft in January.

Davis, who served as administrative assistant to former Pine Bluff Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr., was elected chairman of the county Democratic Party in January, and was selected by the party to replace Ashcraft, who resigned because he is moving out of the county, on the commission.

“Because the chair is a public officer serving a fixed term, and there is no statutory provision for removal, it is my opinion that the commissioners may not remove the chair from office,” Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in a May 2011 legal opinion.

Soffer contended only the chairman of the commission can call a meeting and “there’s no need to call a meeting now.”

Since state law provides that the commission conduct a reorganizational meeting before the next general election in November 2014, Soffer said he anticipates remaining as chairman until then.

This is not a Republican or Democratic issue, but one of very serious public concern, with city councils for two Jefferson County municipalities and one school district looking at bond referendums that would be run by the commission this year.

If we had a yellow flag, we would throw it down.

Judge reversed

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The Arkansas Department of Community Correction can proceed with plans to house paroled inmates at four halfway houses on department property in Pine Bluff. The state Supreme Court on Thursday reversed Circuit Judge Rob Wyatt Jr. and dismissed the case.

The city of Pine Bluff filed suit against the department and the state last year seeking to block the halfway houses, contending that any change in the use of the buildings required approval of the city’s zoning department.

Chief Justice Jim Hannah, writing for the five-member majority, held Wyatt erred when he concluded that the Arkansas General Assembly intended to waive the state’s sovereign immunity from a lawsuit when it adopted rules requiring that the department establish minimum standards for transitional housing, including complying with any local zoning ordinances.

Associate Justice Karen Baker, one of two justices who dissented, said the ruling “provides that not only is it discretionary with the board whether or not they will comply with local zoning ordinances, but that the board may also disregard all of (the law’s) requirements, including compliance with state and federal health and safety codes, fire codes and plumbing codes.

“This is an absurd result that directly conflicts with the Legislature’s stated purpose,” Baker wrote in a dissent.

The decision dissolved an injunction that Wyatt had issued prohibiting the department from operating the facility until it went before the Planning Commission or City Council for approval of the project.

Residents on Pine Bluff’s west side complained to aldermen after the state announced the plans and City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott filed a lawsuit against the department and state, maintaining the city “would suffer irreparable harm” if the halfway houses were placed in “close proximity, of the citizens of that area.” We understand the neighbors’ objections.

Hadden-Scott can seek a rehearing, but we must still remember we are a nation of laws, not of men.