HOPE- The Hempstead County Quorum Court met Tuesday December 12th. The JP’s got right down to the proposed budget for 2018. Budget Committee Chairman Ed Darling noted that as far as he knew everything had been changed as approved at the last meeting. JP Lynn Montgomery suggested before there was a vote that Darling should let some of the people in the audience speak. Cherry Stewart questioned what this was about and JP Olen Dorman said it concerned the Co-operative Extension Service. Ed Darling said he felt it was important to let the public speak. The JP’S voted on adjoining the budget meeting and it failed 6 to 4. The JP’S dived into the budget changes as detailed by County Clerk Karen Smith. The total budget would be $15,599,326. JP Lynn Montgomery noted he planned to vote against the budget because the constituents hadn’t been allowed to speak. Cherry Stewart moved the budget be accepted. The motion was approved but not enough voted to pass. JP David Clayton.said the budget failed because Steven Sheets had been fired by the Cooperative Extension Service.
The JP’S adjourned out of the budget meeting and went back into regular session. Two voted not to adjourn the budget meeting. JP Monica Johnson moved that one person from the audience speak on the Sheets matter. The motion passed. Johnson said her motion is not meant to exclude anyone. Steven Sheets asked to speak and was granted permission. He read a termination letter that gave him 30 days notice. He said the letter said the Cooperative Extension Service felt he was no longer of benefit the Cooperative Extension Service. He said that he does not get along with Terrie James and she has made it difficult for him to stay. He said he thinks something in the office needs to be changed because he is the fourth employee to leave. Lynn Montgomery and Olen Dorman spoke in favor of Sheets’ performance. Jessie Henry asked what did they expect the JP’s to do? Cherry Stewart said she felt it was more of a human resources matter. Stewart asked how this would help Sheets get his job back. Olen Dorman said cutting the budget would get the Extension Service’s attention. At the request of JP Montgomery , Judge Haskell Morse suggested three people speak. Marlin Ward,, Glen Ford, and Donald Hampton spoke in favor of Sheets’. Ford said if Sheets wasn’t with the Extension Service the budget should be cut. Randy Hare also spoke in Sheets’ favor. JP Monica Johnson said obviously Sheets is valued and asked what the precedent would be? Sheets said he has no appeal rights and he can’t tell them what they can do while he is still employed. Kathy Akin from the audience said it should be dealt with in Extension. JP David Clayton said he has had one call from a constituent on Sheets, apparently supportive of Sheets. John Akin from the audience asked if they cut the budget and Sheets is rehired, how would Sheets be paid? Wendell Hoover said the only thing he sees the JP’S can do is cut the budget. JP Montgomery said he felt they should cut the budget and that would get the Cooperative Extension Service from Little Rock to come down and talk to the JP’s. It was suggested that the Extension Service probably couldn’t discuss personnel in open session. Stewart said there are two sides to every story and they’ve only heard one. She said it didn’t seem fair to cut the budget because of such a matter. Blake Montgomery noted that Sheets noted he has no appeal process with Extension and that possibly the only appeal he has is with Quorum Court. Jessie Henry said he’d love to see Sheets rehired but he’s not sure cutting the budget is the proper thing to do. Sheets suggested the JP’S go ahead and pass the budget and if they want to change it, do so next month. JP Montgomery suggested they cut the budget $5,000 or $10,000 to get their attention. Terrie James said it is a personnel matter and that’s all she could say… but that if the county cuts the budget it will jeopardize getting another Ag agent. Jimmy Don Hill said from the audience that they may not want another agent.
Ralph James, Terrie James’ husband also spoke suggesting some of the JP’S are not being realistic. The JP’S then went back into the budget meeting. A motion was made to cut the Extension budget $10,,000. James noted no one currently employed will lose their job. The JP’s voted 8 to 2 to approve the budget minus the$10,000in Extension.
The JP’s went back into regular session and Ed Darling noted the issue of comp time is a problem. Darling noted some new jobs being created should take care of that in the future. Sheriff Singleton noted the problem comes because of the jail staffing. About $58,000 would have to be paid to avoid being written up by state audit. The issue was tabled.
The JP’s looked at a proposal on purchasing the Farmers Bank. The proposal was approved. An ordinance was approved to purchase the bank and land. The JP’S then approved an ordinance approving the lease of the building back to Farmers until they move.
Judge Morse thanked Ed Darling for his work. Sen Bruce Maloch thanked the county and gave an update on the bank’s plans.
The JP’s had failed to approve the budget in regular session so they voted to approve it . The budget was again approved 8 to 2.
The JP’S approved the special budgets for 2018. They then passed the jail budget, the road budget, and the general budget. The meeting then adjourned.
Information provided by Mark Keith.