The Sebastian County Quorum Court appointed nearly an entire school board at Tuesday’s (Aug. 20) regularly scheduled meeting at the Greenwood courthouse.
The Court appointed Sharon Ford, Gary Raines, Marty Blanchard and Erin Lanman to the Hartford School Board at the recommendation of the school's legal counsel and with the approval of prosecuting attorney Dan Shue, who serves as legal counsel to the Court.
According to Arkansas Code § 6-13-611, "If, as a result of several vacancies on the board, only a minority of the directors remain or if the remaining directors fail to fill vacancies within thirty (30) days, the vacancies shall be filled by appointment by the county quorum court."
The issue arose after the filing deadline came and went for the five school board seats with no candidates declared.
"One of the five-member Board did not wish to run again for their position," wrote Hartford Superintendent Teresa Ragsdale in a letter to County Judge David Hudson. "Two of the board members were not appointed until June 13 and did not know of the deadline to file. The filing deadline 'snuck up' on the other two members."
The law states that any appointed board members would only be allowed to serve until the next annual school election, "at which time the electors shall select in the usual manner directors to service the unexpired terms of the vacating directors."
PUBLIC COMMENT CHANGE
In other business, the Court voted to move the public comment section from the end of Quorum Court meetings to the beginning of each meeting.
The change is necessary, Hudson said, in order to comply with Arkansas Code § 14-14-109, which states, "…entity shall adopt rules for conducting the meeting which afford citizens a reasonable opportunity to participate prior to the final decision."
In discussing the change, the judge advised all Court members that the solution would be an immediate fix to be in compliance with the law, adding that changes could be made at a later time.
For an example of changes that could be made, Hudson provided members with Ordinance No. 24-10 from the city of Fort Smith, which spells out the city's public comment policy. In short, public comment at the city of Fort Smith is taken on each agenda item prior to a vote.
Justice of the Peace Bob Schwartz said while he thought the current law "worked just fine," he said any changes to the law should include more than just moving the comments from the end of the meeting to the beginning.
"If we're going to do this, we need to do it right. We need to put some teeth in it because … everybody that comes up there is different, and not all are going to be the same."
Schwartz was alluding to the possibility of setting some sort of limits, such as three minutes to speak on a topic.
What he was advocating resonated with JP Danny Aldridge, who said while the ordinance passed may bring the county into compliance with the law, the county should have looked at doing more to include the public in public meetings.
"Something more like the city where from the beginning people will know we have three minutes to present our views so we don't have one person trying to take 30 minutes to talk about an item. That's an agenda item. If it's not an agenda item, they can have a different amount of time … I know Dan (Shue) said we could do what we wanted to do. I agree with him. It addresses the wording of the law, but I think the spirit is for public input before every vote and we have input that's respectful for the taxpayers each time that we vote."
Hudson said regardless of what the Court ultimately decides to do, he said the public comment policy of the past has been more than obliging to various issues that demanded public comment and moving comment to the beginning of the meeting would also accommodate openness to the public.
"If it's a controversial matter, you know, I think we've been very generous and liberal and considerate to the public and I'm sure the body will want to continue to do that."