County judge to resign due to health problems

Monday, January 19, 2004
Judge Ed Robertson

Making a good decision is not always pleasant, but Carroll County Judge Ed Robertson has decided to submit his resignation to the quorum court.

Robertson, the county's chief administrative officer, has entertained the idea of resigning for several weeks, prompted by the strong recommendations of both his cardiologist and general physician.

In an interview on Wednesday, Robertson seemed to be combating the effects of a cold, and noted that his resistance is apparently down due to his health.

"It's no secret that I have had heart surgery and have been hospitalized three times since then," the judge said. "I have a chronic, repeated heart problem which is exacerbated by diabetes which is compounded by circulatory problems.," In turn, his heart condition is aggravated by his diabetes, constricting the arterial system.

The moderate, but continual, stress of the county judge's job aggravates the condition, he said. "It's not because I can't handle the job," he said, "but I've got to get myself out of this cycle."

Robertson has not determined a date that his resignation will be effective, but it will be no later than March 1, according to County Clerk Shirley Doss, who is responsible for initiating much of the procedure to find a replacement for him.

The quorum court is to be formally notified of the judge's decision at its Friday, Jan. 16, meeting. With that notification, a resolution of vacancy must be declared and published.

After that publication, the quorum court will meet to decide whom to interview. The JPs can go into executive session to discuss candidates in private, but must come back into public session to elect the replacement.

Whoever is named to take Robertson's place will not be eligible to run for the office in this fall's general election.

Robertson, an admitted Type A personality, has been dragging his heels, against his doctors' recommendations, to carry through on a few items of significant county business.

Chief among these is the drafting of an ordinance for a jail loan, as allowed by Amendment 78. Cash flow to pay off the loan, and entire construction of the jail, by Aug 2007, has been determined, and approval for the $2 million loan is already in place.

Second of Robertson's outstanding business items is the routine cleanup of the previous fiscal year's expenditures.

A business item that Robertson will have to leave unaddressed is the 911/central dispatch issue. Unanticipated legalities brought the system to a screeching halt in late 2003, and there is no money at this time to make it a reality.

"I'm a little bit sad that I haven't been able to effect that," the judge said. "If there was not such a sense of parochialism, and people would look at what is good for the county as a whole," more progress might have been seen. "But a lot of things confounded that, and we got headed in a direction where we couldn't make it happen."

Still, in the 36 months Robertson has been in office, he has made significant progress in upgrading county roads and bridges, despite dissatisfaction expressed by persons used to the county providing free grading of private roads and driveways.

But roads are another reason Robertson has been reticent about resigning. "Seven graders are broken down right now," he said. "We've been looking at leasing equipment and have quicker turnaround. I still want to make that happen, but we have limited resources to do the minimum that has to be done."

Problem areas for county roads center around Osage, Bobo Mountain and Beaver Lake, where roads run on steep inclines, are easily subject to damage from storm water runoff, and are "almost terminally ill,"

The judge is also pleased, despite criticism from some quarters, about the new county jail now going up on the east side of Berryville. Designed with the future in mind, expert opinion is that the jail will meet the county's needs for 15 years.

That the county will be able to handle the cost of the 100-bed jail is significant, considering the downturn of the economy, which has been consistent throughout Robertson's tenure.

Robertson also feels positive about resolving the disarray that existed in the Western District Ambulance District, noting that a five-year contract with the City of Eureka Springs has taken the annual discord out of the situation.

He also noted that the county airport has added to its assets using 80/20 matching grant funds, and that taxiway improvement work is under way using airport-generated money combined with grants from the state and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Administratively, the county has become faster, taking advantage of modern technology. He notes that the county is providing a comparable level of service despite a drop of $800,000 in annual revenue since his first year in office in 2001.

"It's not all good," he admits, "but we are operating with less funds."

Voters may recall during his campaign in 2000, that Robertson called attention to his expertise in environmental matters, having considerable experience with EPA requirements while in the energy business in Louisiana.

His efforts in that regard, as well as that of Roger Minor of Carroll County Solid Waste have largely gone unheralded.

Still, Robertson said, fairly significant progress has been made in this regard, with recycling pickup expanded into the county, and a more progressive board with input from Kathy Harrison, Eureka Springs' mayor.

Names being bandied about for Robertson's replacement include Walt Nofstger, Bob Grudek and John Reeve, but Robertson declined to comment on who he would suggest.

"This is a younger man's job," he said. " I hope it will be someone with business and economic education. This is not your grandfather's county judge anymore ---- more business acumen is needed, and work has to be done faster now."

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