Quorum Court

County Judge Doug Fields presides at his first meeting with the Columbia County Quorum Court.

The first meeting of the Quorum Court of Columbia County of 2023 dealt mostly with minor housekeeping items and honoring the service of elected officials who have left office.

One procedural change will be the meeting time, which will now be 5 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the courthouse, instead of the first Monday of the month.

Columbia County Judge Doug Fields said he would like meetings to be more informative than in the past.

“I want to get more information out instead of people walking away without knowing what is going on,” he said.

Another change Fields made is switching Justices of the Peace from their former committees to new ones. The committees of the Quorum Court are Jail, Building, Finance, Personnel, Solid Waste and Rescue Truck.

“I wanted to change committees to put new eyes on the areas because some of them have been on the same committees for a while,” he said.

The Quorum Court handed out certifications of appreciation to several retired former county workers. They passed a resolution saying goodbye to 12-year Columbia County Sheriff Mike Loe, who was the longest serving sheriff in the county’s history, beginning his term on January 1, 2011. Loe is now serving as Justice of the Peace District 11 so he will continue to work for the county in this respect.

Along with Loe, the court passed a resolution of appreciation for the service of Rhonda Rolan who served as Columbia County Librarian since October 1, 2013. Rolan asked Quorum Court members to continue supporting the library. She expressed the need for a replacement for her who would need to be a certified librarian and have the knowledge of how to go after critical library grants.

Rolan is known for her tireless efforts throughout the years to sustain and improve the library through numerous federal and state grants.

Also, on January 9, they passed a resolution honoring John Ed Gunnels, who retired in December from the Columbia County Rural Development Authority. Gunnels began working for the county on January 1, 2007.

Since December 2020, Gunnels had been working with the state to help fight the invasive plant species giant salvinia at Lake Columbia. The plants spread across the lake and had to be eradicated. They were suspected to have come from other fishermen in Texas and Louisiana who traveled to Lake Columbia to fish.

Since March 3, 2020, Denny Foster has been Columbia County Judge and his term expired Dec. 31, 2022. His work was honored by the members of the Quorum Court. Foster has over 18 years of law enforcement experience on county and state levels.

Foster was appointed as interim Columbia County Sheriff in July 2009 after former Sheriff Calvin Knighton passed away in the office with 17 months remaining on his term.

In addition, Quorum Court members thanked Justice of the Peace District 5 Rick Waller for his service since January 1, 2019, Justice of the Peace District 6 Greg Sanders for his service since January 1, 2021, and Justice of the Peace District 11 Jenny Marie Whitehead for her service.

The District 5 seat now belongs to Jeremy Langley of Emerson. The District 6 seat now belongs to Shaun Dodson of Taylor. The district 11 seat now belongs to Loe of Magnolia.

Another item on the agenda was passing a resolution and ordinance, “establishing the rules of procedure for transacting business at all regular and special sessions of the Quorum Court of Columbia County.”

Fields said this ordinance is something passed by the court at the first of the year each year to assure everyone is familiar with the procedures of the meetings.

According to Ordinance No. 2023-1 passed by the members of the court, the rules of procedures for transacting business at all regular and special sessions of the court shall be Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised, except when they are in conflict with the general laws of the state.

The ordinance also reads that Quorum Court may, “at any regular meeting, revise or modify these rules or adopt new rules by a majority of the full membership.”

Under the heading of agenda in the ordinance it reads that three members of the Quorum Court and the county judge may jointly submit items after the agenda closes, if it is considered to be in the best interest of the county. The agenda shall close at 4:30 p.m. three business days preceding any regular or special called meeting of the quorum court.

The ordinance also reads that meetings of the quorum court shall conform to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, according to this section.

Fields said something he wants to make sure the Quorum Court is following is all the mandates set by state law for open meetings and that is why he handed out handheld pocket guides explaining procedural guides for Quorum Court meetings.

“I want to be more open and I think a part of that is communicating more on social media and putting items on our Facebook page. And we want to communicate to the public and get their input and have a presence there.”

In terms of making public comments at a meeting, which has sometimes been an issue brought up by the public in times of dissension, Fields said he will ask for public comment after the adjournment of each meeting. However, if a member of the public wants to speak about a specific item on the agenda during a meeting, they must come to the county judge’s office before the meeting to fill out a form and get approved to speak at that meeting.

Also at their first meeting of 2023, the Quorum Court passed a resolution to enter a contract of obligation with the Department of Environmental Quality. This is a standard obligation to manage the landfill and happens each year, Fields said.

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