When Jefferson County Judge Gerald Robinson was sworn in Jan. 1, he became the fourth County Judge in a three-year period and wasted no time trying to right the ship and deal with a long standing problem, a lack of funds to operate county government.
Seventeen days after taking office, Robinson called elected officials, department heads and members of the Quorum Court together to give them their marching orders, cut the number of employees.
“We’re still operating Jefferson County like we did when we had 20,000 more people than we have now,” Robinson said. “We have more employees now than we did then and more employees dealing with less revenue.”
He asked each elected official and department head to cut one position from their staff, setting a deadline of April 1 for that to be done.
“I can’t tell the elected officials how to run their office but I can encourage them, and the Quorum Court, who sets the budgets (and) has the responsibility to keep the county financially sound,” Robinson said.
During the May meeting of the county’s legislative body, a revised 2019 budget that was $520,000 less than the budget approved earlier in the year was adopted by a vote of 12-1. Those reductions came as a result of Robinson’s request in January that each elected official reduce their office staff by one person.
Only two elected officials, Tax Collector Tony Washington and Circuit Clerk Lafayette Woods Sr., did not comply with the request to reduce their staffs. Washington contended that he had complied by moving one employee from county general to the Collector’s Automation Fund but that was done without prior approval of the quorum court.
A month after that budget was approved, Woods went to court, arguing that the revised budget actually eliminated three positions in his office, and that the budget did not give his office “sufficient funding to perform duties required of him by the Arkansas Constitution and Arkansas law.”
That case went to trial in August and when he testified, Robinson said it was true that he asked each elected official to eliminate just one position but said in doing research with the County Clerk, who is responsible for doing the payroll, he discovered that Woods’ office had two more deputy clerks than were authorized in the budget and said the clerk’s office was over its payroll budget by more than $34,000.
Following the testimony, retired Circuit Judge David Laser, who was assigned the case after all the judges in Jefferson County stepped aside, ruled that Woods had failed to prove his case. Laser said in his ruling that going from losing one person to losing three people sounded unreasonable, the losses by other elected officials was greater, citing County Treasurer Vonysha Goodwin, whose three person office was cut to two.
Robinson in October had to deal with a member of the Quorum Court who had moved outside his district. District 3 Justice of the Peace Delton Wright listed his address as an apartment in the 1800 block of Linden Street when he completed his filing paperwork to seek reelection in 2018 but questions arose about that residence after a fire at a house on Western Southern Pines in September. Wright contacted MECA (Metropolitan Emergency Communications Association) to report it.
Records at the Jefferson County Assessor’s Office showed that Wright actually bought the property on Western Southern Pines in 2005 and sold the property on Linden Street in 2018. His personal assessment for 2019 lists the address on Southern Pines Drive.
Wright resigned his position and filed for Justice of the Peace, District 4, which is the district in which he currently lives. That district is represented by Patricia Royal Johnson, who has filed for reelection.