JP ‘insulted and humiliated’: County official allegedly used homophobic slur

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Carroll County Quorum Court took up a mostly routine agenda Monday night, but it was far from a routine meeting.

During the portion of the meeting reserved for comments from justices of peace, District 3 JP Lamont Richie said a county official whom he did not identify was recently accused by a subordinate of using a homophobic slur to describe Richie.

Richie, who is gay, said the official denied using the slur but that the subordinate offered to take a lie detector test.

“We have two people saying two different things,” Richie said. “One of them is lying, and they’re both still employed by the county.”

Richie, who said the official was also accused of using profanity to describe District 1 JP Jack Deaton, said he had referred the issue to County Judge Sam Barr and the Carroll County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office but neither believed they had the authority to take action beyond asking the official to apologize.

Richie said the term allegedly used to describe him was “more than an insult.”

“When a straight person uses that term to describe a gay person, it’s a judgment call about that person’s right to exist,” he said. “… I have been insulted and humiliated.”

Immediately after he finished reading his statement, Richie moved to adjourn the meeting.

District 10 JP Larry Swofford, who was seated to Richie’s right, shook his hand. District 7 JP Noreen Watson hugged Richie for several seconds. Richie then left through the jury room rather than the public courtroom entrance. He did not return a call for comment.

Richie is not running for re-election in November after serving several terms as a JP.

Earlier in the meeting, Richie expressed his frustration with the need for a supplemental appropriation ordinance transferring $10,000 to the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office after he said the sheriff’s office had exceeded its budget for supplies for the county detention center. The ordinance also transfers $8,000 from the CCSO’s budget line item for full-time salaries to the line item for part-time salaries.

“There really is no excuse,” Richie said of the detention center exceeding its supply budget. “This is thousands of dollars. This is inexcusable.”

District 8 JP Don McNeely asked Richie what would happen if the quorum court rejected the appropriation ordinance.

“They’ve already spent it,” Richie said. “We need to pay bills. … I don’t know what the quorum court can do. We can’t control what they spend. It comes to us after the fact.”

CCSO Lt. Jerry Williams, who serves as commander of the detention center, said the facility is spending more on supplies this year because it is housing more state inmates.

“Yes, that does cost money,” Williams said. “But the return on that investment, we’re earning somewhere around $250,000 from the state. … If you’ll look at the difference between what it costs to house them and what we earn, it’s way more than $10,000.”

“That’s great, but it’s irrelevant,” Richie replied. “The bottom line is you’re overdrawn on supplies. It’s against state law to spend money that’s not appropriated.”

District 6 JP Craig Hicks said Williams might not be the appropriate person to answer budget-related questions.

“It may be the sheriff that we need to talk to,” Hicks said.

“I was unaware that we were over budget,” Williams said.

JPs approved the appropriation ordinance by a vote of 10-1, with McNeely voting no.

Sheriff Randy Mayfield was not present at Monday’s meeting but said by phone afterward that Richie was telling “part of the story.”

“They gave me a lot less to operate in 2018,” Mayfield said. “They told me: ‘No worries. If you need more, just come back to us.’ They’re being disingenuous. … I don’t think that’s an accurate assessment of the finances of the facility.”

Earlier in the meeting, JPs heard a presentation from foreman Jim Kelly of the county road department, who had prepared a packet of photos of roads and bridges damaged during spring flooding. The county made the necessary repairs and is awaiting reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that will cover a portion of the county’s expenses.

Kelly told JPs that it costs $2,239 per mile to maintain a gravel rad for a year, not including the cost of materials. For a mile of paved road that is maintained by chip seal, Kelly said the cost is $8,261 per year, including material.

“I believe we’re doing a pretty good job of maintaining them at that cost,” he said.

Kelly said the road department has rehabilitated 59 county roads over the past 10 years — 24 with assistance from the state and 35 with the county absorbing the total cost. He said the department’s focus is on maintaining the existing roads.

“Right now, what we are trying to do is save the ones we’ve got,” he said.

Kelly said the road department receives just 6 percent of all the money collected in property taxes in the county.

Richie responded.

“It’s just that we get the b******g all the time, and it’s not just the road department about ‘give us more money,’ ” he said.

“I’m sorry if I offended you,” Kelly said. “I didn’t mean to.”

“I think y’all do a good job with the money that you have,” Swofford said, noting that JPs are only allowed to budget 90 percent of the revenue designated for a particular department.

“I do, too,” Richie said, noting that roads seem to be a common complaint among residents. “People need to be educated. But it’s been my experience that people don’t want to be educated. They want the latest crisis of the day. … We spend as much as we can. Nobody wants their taxes raised.”

“I want y’all to know I appreciate the job you do,” Barr told the JPs.

“You’ve got a thankless job, but I thank you.”

Later, JPs approved an ordinance appropriating $28,000 for the purchase of a 2018 Dodge truck and a plow frame for the road department to replace a 2006 truck that was deemed a total loss after a recent accident. The county will receive an insurance settlement of $20,723 for the 2006 truck, Richie said, leaving its net expense for the new truck at around $7,000.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, JPs approved the second reading of an ordinance that would create a mechanism to allow for direct deposit for county employees.

JPs also heard from Catherine Baker of the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District, who told them that the district will apply for a state grant on behalf of the Carroll County Health Unit. The grant amount would be between $75,000 and $200,000, Baker said, and would finance renovation and expansion of the health unit. The application deadline is March 2019. Baker said the quorum court would need to hold a public hearing and pass a resolution in support of the grant application and said she would like to have those steps completed by the end of the year. Richie noted that the December quorum court meeting will be devoted to adopting a 2019 county budget and suggested that the public hearing be held immediately before the November quorum court meeting. His fellow JPs agreed.

The public hearing on the grant application will be held at 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 19, followed immediately by the quorum court meeting.

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