3 Carroll County JPs visit White House for conference

Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Carroll County Justices of the Peace (from left) Don McNeely, Craig Hicks and Matt Phillips recently visited the White House for an intergovernmental affairs conference.
Submitted photo

Carroll County had a delegation of justices of the peace (JPs) visit the White House on Tuesday, Aug. 21, for an intergovernmental affairs conference.

JP Craig Hicks said the White House invited all quorum court members and county judges from Arkansas and Oklahoma to the conference. He said he and JPs Don McNeely and Matt Phillips accepted the invitation and funded the trip out of their own pockets.

“We got to spend the whole day on the White House complex and got a White House tour,” Hicks said. “At the conference that afternoon we got to hear from people such as the secretary of agriculture, [White House press secretary] Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy secretary of education and a representative from the Office of National Drug Control Policy.”

“I think there were seven or eight departments altogether,” Phillips said. “It was very informative. The reason for the trip was they wanted everybody to know they’re open and there for the counties and local guys. They wanted to make sure we know we have access to them at any time.”

Hicks said the county officials felt very welcome.

“They were basically letting us know the federal government believes in what local and state officials are doing,” he said. “They’re trying to let local and state officials make more decisions instead of so much coming from the federal government.”

McNeely said his favorite speaker was Mick Zais, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

“He was super-qualified and had a lot of credentials,” McNeely said. “He talked about how he and [United States Secretary of Education] Betsy DeVos are working to make improvements to our country’s education. The school system hasn’t changed much in several decades, so they’re looking at ways to save money and bring teachers in through the Internet.”

He continued, “Zais said they could give all teachers a raise if school districts would slow down on hiring assistants. He mentioned how one school had five vice principals. He asked if they needed that many, and the school said they did. Of course in government and administration, you can always find something for people to do.”

Hicks said the highlight of the trip was meeting Vice President Mike Pence.

“The man was so welcoming and humble,” he said. “He let you know that White House appreciates what we do locally and wanted to build a rapport with local and state officials.”

“We had a surprise visit from the vice president,” McNeely said. “As a former governor, he said he knows and appreciates what JPs do. He wasn’t on the agenda, so I was proud of him for taking the time to talk to us.”

“Meeting Sarah Huckabee Sanders was interesting, too,” Hicks said. “With her being from Arkansas, she said it was important for her to be there and meet state and local officials. This is a program they started last year, inviting different county and state leaders every month from different states.”

“My favorite moments were getting to meet some of these heads of departments and hear what they’re doing,” Phillips said. “I thought that was pretty spectacular that they care about the small guys. It was also a pretty humbling experience to go to Arlington Cemetery for the first time.”

McNeely said they visited the grave of Green Forest native Tommy Ratzlaff in Arlington National Cemetery.

“It was humbling,” he said. “It really makes you appreciate soldiers and what they give for our country.”

Hicks said the JPs had to miss a quorum court meeting to attend but felt it was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up.

“Unfortunately, we had to miss the meeting,” he said, “but we thought taking the opportunity to hear what they had to say and bring that back would be important. For me, it was an overwhelming experience to be invited to the White House. They certainly made us feel really welcome.”

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