Jefferson County Judge Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV announced Saturday that he will not seek re-election to a second term. Former Jefferson County Judge Dutch King is the only other candidate who has announced for the position. Wilkins was elected to his first term in November 2016, becoming the first black person to hold the job.
In a news release sent exclusively to the Commercial, Wilkins wrote at length about his decision not to run.
“I am thankful for the opportunity that the people of Jefferson County have given me to serve as your County Judge,” he wrote. “Throughout the remainder of this year, I will continue the outstanding work and accomplishments of our administration. For the last two decades you have allowed me to represent you as State Senator, State Representative and County Judge. I'm privileged and humbled by your support, encouragement and guidance. Since the mid-1990's we have made history again and again together. We have 'fought the good fight' and blazed many trails.”
“God has blessed me with so many friends who have shown me tremendous confidence and for which I am overwhelmingly grateful. I must also say 'thank you' to the Pastors and faith community that have continually undergirded me with prayers and action. I can't thank you enough! I'm also especially grateful to my family for their assistance, helping hands, advice, care, counsel, encouragement and continuing love. Phyllis, my wife of forty years, amazes me with her gifts and talents which she has used for good to my benefit and to the aid and advantage of others. She always does so with a completely selfless desire to resource and uplift people. I'm blessed to have two wonderful and supportive sons and I'm so grateful to both of them. Wesley has been at the ready on every occasion where his help has been needed. My son Hank V has for several years been an amazing architect of successful strategies, a phenomenally extraordinary community organizer, a superlative 'brain trust' and an unparalleled example of commitment.
“My mother and father who both served in the Arkansas Legislature have left me in awe with the good they have done for hundreds of thousands of people over the years. I received gifts, knowledge, experience and hard work from both. My father introduced me to public service and politics at four years of age. And even now, my eighty six year old mother, (Rep.) Dr. Josetta E. Wilkins, a retired university professor, continues to provide me with a wealth of wisdom and understanding, borne as a consequence of her many years laboring for others with a spirit of unconditional love.
“This decision to not run for re-election is a difficult one because I have been offered some opportunities in the private sector. These offers have come to me in the past, but I've always wanted to serve the public for as long as possible. With my new opportunities, I will continue to be active and supportive in helping to see our community grow and prosper. We will finish the astounding work we've begun.
“I want to show sincere appreciation to the Quorum Court as we have worked together to make decisions that Jefferson County will benefit from for many years to come. My current team in the County Judge's office has labored beyond expectation. Our department heads are creative and dedicated, and the many county officials and staff persons who have worked diligently and collaboratively to accomplish so much in so little time are truly fastidious. Our regular monthly county elected officials meetings have provided for communication and common ground like never before. It is my honor to express in word and deed that everyone is worthy of being treated with respect and dignity.
“Throughout the remainder of 2018, I will focus on completing the tasks we've started, including the energy efficiency program which will save the county over $100,000 per year and a total of between 1.5 and 2 million dollars over the next decade. In accordance with guidelines from the county judge's association, we issued a new RFP for county health insurance, negotiated a better deal, and now project to save county employees nearly $200,000 per year in health insurance costs.
“We have worked hard to ensure that our new Sheriff's office gets completed, and I'm elated that it will be finished in the next few months. We are reducing our employee time liability which reached nearly $1 million dollars before I came into office. In one year we have cut that debt in half! Our county courthouse now has public WiFi and we are running high speed fiber through our buildings to bring our government infrastructure into the 21st century. Jefferson County also has a new '.gov' web address and email system which will expand our ability to share information and services with the public.
“Our buildings and grounds department expanded senior and disabled parking at the courthouse and my team has rearranged and updated the provision of vehicles. The cost of our county fleet of vehicles has been reduced, saving vital taxpayer dollars. I have worked relentlessly to help bring billions of dollars of investment to Jefferson County through Energy Security Partners as well as the opportunity for voters to decide on an investment in gaming and entertainment in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County sure to have at least a $300 million dollar impact over the next decade. Due to renegotiated contracts on items like telephones, copiers and other kinds of equipment, this year and in the future we are saving more than $100,000 a year. Since I took office, the financial future of our county is more sound and we have done so without ever raising taxes.
“It brings me great joy to announce that within the last twelve months, Jefferson County has given more pay raises to county employees than at any time in several years. I've served as a representative for counties across Arkansas in litigation that will recoup many millions of dollars in internet sales where taxes have been collected but have not been remitted to us. Near and dear to my heart, we have successfully applied for funds to keep our juveniles out of the criminal justice system, and successfully implemented an internship program with students at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and at (Southeast Arkansas College) SEARK. Calls of gratitude come into my office regularly about the outstanding work of our county road department.
“Although the opportunities offered to me in the private sector are national in scope, I will remain a resident here in Jefferson County in 2019 and beyond. The immeasurable mentorship, friendship, and partnership of those too numerous to list here has been enlightening, informative and instructive. While I thank everyone in a general way at this time, I will be right here continuing my work as County Judge and assisting in whatever ways possible throughout 2018. I appreciate each and every one you working to build up rather than tear down our community, and I truly believe that in Jefferson County the best is yet to come.”