Quorum Court funding vote raises legal question

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 32 views 

A vote taken Monday night (Nov. 25) by the Sebastian County Quorum Court could leave one justice of the peace in violation of Arkansas law.

Justice of the Peace Jim Medley voted for a budget line item during the Monday meeting that would grant more than $170,000 in funding to non-profit organizations, including $24,000 to the Area Agency on Aging of Western Arkansas, where Medley services as president and CEO.

The item was voted on twice Monday evening, first failing and later passing once the Quorum Court was given some clarity regarding what they were voting for.

During the first vote, Medley made no mention of his association with the agency, which he voted to approve funding for as part of the non-profit line item. Prior to Medley's second yes vote, Justice of the Peace Linda Murry asked whether Medley should recuse himself due to his associations with the Area Agency on Aging and the Quorum Court.

"Is it a conflict of interest for Mr. Medley to vote on (the appropriation)," she asked.

"Thank you, Linda, for noting that," Medley said. "I think that if I didn't vote it would be a no. I think the law simply requires me to make you all aware of the potential conflict. I've done that on all of my written forms."

Sebastian County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Shue, who serves as the court's attorney and parliamentarian, said Tuesday (Nov. 26) that while he would have preferred Medley have abstained from the vote, he did not think it ran afoul of the law.

"Just on Roberts Rules of Order (the parliamentary rulebook used by the county), you should abstain. But it's not an actionable, ethical violation."

Shue did note that an Arkansas Attorney General’s opinion is “pretty much on point” with what should have happened during the vote. According to Shue, the opinion reads: “It would be appropriate for the quorum court member to abstain from participating in such decisions.”

Shue’s opinion that Medley’s vote is not a violation of the law differs from that of attorney Matt Campbell of Pinnacle Law Firm in Little Rock, who told The City Wire that he thought Medley was breaking the law.

"I can't see how this would be acceptable. When it comes to the rules of conduct for county officers, Arkansas Code Annotated 14-14-1202(c)(1)(A)(i) is pretty explicit that no officer of county government shall: 'Be interested, either directly or indirectly, in any contract or transaction made, authorized, or entered into on behalf of the county or an entity created by the county, or accept or receive any property, money, or other valuable thing for his or her use or benefit on account of, connected with, or growing out of any contract or transaction of a county.'"

Campbell also said it was clear to him that Medley was "interested, either directly or indirectly," and added "that the appropriation violated that rule of conduct. And that's even more true if he refused to recuse and, instead, actively voted to send money to the Agency."

Violation of the law is punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and removal from office, he said, adding that either the county prosecutor or a citizen of Sebastian County could file a lawsuit against Medley in circuit court for violation of the rules of conduct according to that statute.

Reached for comment Tuesday at the Area Agency on Aging, Medley said he would consult with an attorney, though he felt that he had done nothing wrong.

"My response is that since you brought this to my attention, I'll be glad to consult with an attorney and get their opinion."

He again reiterated that he had already made the Quorum Court aware of his position.

Asked whether any of the funds from the county could be used to pay his salary at the Area Agency, Medley said no.

"I don't gain in any way. That money goes to services to people in south Sebastian County for things like wheelchair ramps and things of that (nature)."

A request made on Sept. 24 and signed by Medley to County Judge David Hudson and the Quorum Court detailed what Medley said the money would be used for, though no supporting documentation was provided with the request to prove that funds allocated in previous years were used in the same way.

"We will not use it for anyone that can have services paid for by the State or Federal funds," he wrote in the document requesting the funds. "The type of services we will provide are assistance with personal care, homemaking, minor home repair, dentures, eye glasses, medication assistance, wheel chair ramps, shower chairs, etc."

Medley refused to answer questions about his salary or funding for his salary, which the Area Agency reported to the IRS last year to be $324,496, other than to say that no portion of the $24,000 would be used to pay his salary or benefits.

"I'm saying it's inappropriate for you to ask about my salary much as it would be if you asked how much I paid for a car. I don't ask people their salary."

Medley said he believed Murry brought up his association due to his unsuccessful attempts to take away funding for health insurance for families of Quorum Court members.

"Linda Murry brought it up because she's upset about (proposing that) JPs not (receive) health insurance," he said. "I was the one who brought up the motion. When a person does their job diligently, obviously you'll pick up some political opposition."

Murry said Tuesday that she was not attempting to settle political scores, saying that "it just seemed odd and I expected him to abstain from voting on that."

"He shouldn't be taking it personally. Actually, the thing on the health care for the family doesn't affect me. I don't take family coverage. So what he did on health care didn't have an affect on me."

Should Medley's legal counsel advise him that he is in violation of the law, he said he would work to make it right.

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