Justices continue East/West battle in Craighead County

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 175 views 

The debate continued Monday as justices discussed the operations of both the eastern and western districts of Craighead County, as one justice discussed the origins of the law.

Justice Terry Couch said an 1883 law creates an eastern district, with Lake City as a county seat, along with Jonesboro; as well as keeping all budget items separate in both the Jonesboro and the Lake City districts.

After some discussion, Justice Josh Longmire asked that the issue be tabled until an Attorney General’s opinion is received. Justices voted 12-0 to table the issue.

There has been controversy in the past month over the operation of both courthouses and the circuit clerk’s office. Circuit Clerk Candace Edwards has asked for the budgets of Lake City and Jonesboro to be combined due to budgetary and state legal issues. However, supporters of keeping the budgets separate say the Lake City Courthouse has served for the convenience of area residents for many years.

A 2003 law put the Eastern District Sheriff and Eastern District Clerk’s offices under the auspices of the county sheriff and circuit clerk’s offices, respectively. Edwards said she is attempting to follow state law, not to mention a recent opinion from the Bureau of Legislative Research.

The opinion, from attorney Kerrie Carlock, said the Lake City courthouse is not a county seat and that the situation “violates the common law prohibition on dual office holding.”

“This office in Lake City is simply a satellite office as Craighead County is not a county with a dual county seat,” Carlock said in the letter. Carlock said other county offices like the county clerk, assessor and collector could put an employee at the Lake City courthouse.

In other action, justices also received a report on the county’s 2014 audit from the Division of Legislative Audit. County Judge Ed Hill said the county received an overall clean audit except for former Circuit Clerk Ann Hudson.

The audit noted the cash receipts and disbursement journals for the Circuit Clerk Fee Account were only maintained for January through June 2014 and not for the remainder of the year. Hudson, a Democrat, did not seek re-election in 2014 and was replaced by Republican Candace Edwards.

The issue has since been remedied, Edwards said.

Justices also voted 12-0 Monday to support Assessor Hannah Towell and employees in her office on a religious liberty issue.

The resolution from Longmire would support the right of a county employee to have a religious symbol, including crosses, at their desk. The resolution cited both the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clause of the 1st Amendment as support on the issue. The issue would apply to all religions, officials said.

There was a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation over the displays, county officials said at the meeting.