Quorum Court again fails at committee plan

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

CARROLL COUNTY -- An ordinance to create committees of the whole failed for the second time at Friday's meeting of the Carroll County Quorum Court.

JP Ronald Flake had first introduced the legislation in January but failed to gather enough support from other JPs, who cited practical and political concerns with his ideas. The discussion was little changed this month.

Flake's opponents have argued, among other things, that his ordinance did not provide enough structure for committees -- an omission Flake said was intentional.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Devon Closser said state law allows for the Quorum Court to organize itself into committees and decide the purpose and size of each. However, only the county judge can appoint the membership of committees.

The novelty of Flake's ordinance is that it would have made every JP a member of all committees, and thereby circumvented the judge's authority.

Flake has argued this would allow JPs greater freedom to assemble and discuss county business outside of regular quorum court.

State open government laws prevent JPs from meeting in private to discuss county business. As it is, Flake said, the only forum for them to do so, other than the once-a-month quorum court meetings, is in committees, and the membership of these bodies is, currently at least, decided by the judge.

Flake pointed out that the Budget Committee was the only one currently in existence. Committees established to consider personnel issues and rural water, respectively, were dissolved with the new year.

Even the budget committee existed in name only, Flake said, because the judge had not yet appointed new members. Barr is supposed to do so each January.

The judge apologized for the oversight on Friday, saying he had simply forgotten to make the appointments last month. Before the end of the meeting, he appointed John Howerton, Jack Deaton, and Dan Mumaugh to serve on the committee, as they had done last year.

In the end, Flake's ordinance was voted down 6-3 -- with Flake, Don McNeely, and Joe Mills voting in favor and Lamont Richie absent. Mumaugh said he would work with Closser to draft a new, more structured ordinance for consideration at next month's meeting.

In other business, JPs:

* Passed a 2012 budget "clean-up" ordinance transferring money within county departmental budgets. This sort of ordinance is considered at the beginning of each year, in order to ensure the budget is accurate before it is submitted to state auditors.

* Appropriated an additional $8,422.47 not contemplated in the 2012 budget to the County Assessor's Office.

* Established a new fund to accommodate revenue from the Secretary of State's Voting System Grant program. The original ordinance had contained an emergency clause and would have taken effect immediately upon passage. However, it was amended and the clause removed on the initiative of Flake.

* Established a new fund to accommodate Act 833 funds, received by the county from a state insurance tax and distributed to local fire departments to pay for training and equipment.

JPs will next meet at 10 a.m. on March 15 in the County Courthouse, located at 210 West Church Ave. in Berryville. For more information, call 870-423-2967.

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