Quo­rum Court mulls ‘retroac­tive’ ex­emp­tion for for­mer mem­ber

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - SCAR­LET SIMS Scar­let Sims can be reached by email at ssims@nwadg.com or on Twit­ter @NWAS­car­lets.

FAYETTEVILLE — Jus­tices of the peace failed Thurs­day to move for­ward a pro­posal meant to make sure for­mer Jus­tice of the Peace Sharon Lloyd is legally em­ployed at the county.

“We need to obey the rules,” said Jus­tice of the Peace Bill Ussery, a Repub­li­can rep­re­sent­ing northeastern Spring­dale. “My goal was to put this be­hind us and move on down the road.”

Ussery put for­ward an pro­posal meant to “al­low Sharon Lloyd to be em­ployed by Wash­ing­ton County and thus cre­ate an ex­emp­tion to Wash­ing­ton County Code,” ac­cord­ing to the pro­posal. Part of the county’s Em­ployee Hand­book pre­cludes elected of­fi­cials from be­ing hired for one year.

Lloyd, a Repub­li­can who rep­re­sented west­ern Spring­dale, was ap­pointed to the Quo­rum Court in 2015. Her term ended Dec. 31. She was hired by Wood in Jan­uary.

County At­tor­ney Brian Lester said if the pro­posal passes, it means the Quo­rum Court gives Wood its bless­ing to hire and em­ploy Lloyd as grants ad­min­is­tra­tor.

Lloyd, if found in vi­o­la­tion of the code, could be forced to re­pay her salary and ben­e­fits un­der an­other sec­tion of that code, said Jus­tice of the Peace Daniel Balls, a Demo­crat rep­re­sent­ing north­ern Fayetteville.

The rules should be fol­lowed, Balls said.

“What’s the point of hav­ing a hand­book and rules if we aren’t go­ing to fol­low them?” Balls asked.

The pro­posal failed Thurs­day to gain enough sup­port for a sec­ond read­ing and will be on next month’s agenda.

Lester said, how­ever, the Quo­rum Court doesn’t have the power to hire and fire per­son­nel — that’s up to the county judge un­der state law. Hir­ing Lloyd didn’t vi­o­late state law or ethics rules, he said.

It’s not cer­tain hir­ing Lloyd vi­o­lated the county’s rule ei­ther, Lester said. There are ar­eas where the hand­book seems to con­flict, he said.

A com­mit­tee plans to re­view and change the Em­ployee Hand­book, Lester said.

How­ever, the pro­posal Thurs­day would try to cor­rect a mis­take, said Jus­tice of the Peace Eva Madi­son, a Demo­crat rep­re­sent­ing northeastern Fayetteville. An ex­emp­tion for Lloyd should have been pre­sented to the Quo­rum Court be­fore Lloyd was hired, not af­ter­ward, she said.

“I don’t know if we even have the power to retroac­tively han­dle the sit­u­a­tion,” Madi­son said.

Ques­tions about Wood’s hir­ing prac­tice arose after Wood failed to re­hire four long­time depart­ment heads in De­cem­ber. Wood filled those po­si­tions with po­lit­i­cal al­lies and didn’t ad­ver­tise the jobs.

Em­ploy­ees who re­ceived ter­mi­na­tion let­ters were: Juliet Richey, plan­ning di­rec­tor; Re­nee Biby, grant ad­min­is­tra­tor and pub­lic util­i­ties co­or­di­na­tor; Steve Zega, county at­tor­ney; and Wayne Haines, vet­er­ans ser­vice of­fi­cer.

Part of the Em­ployee Hand­book, which is ap­proved by or­di­nance, lays out a hir­ing process that in­cludes ad­ver­tis­ing and in­ter­view­ing. The same or­di­nance gives Wood the au­thor­ity not to re­hire em­ploy­ees.

A griev­ance com­mit­tee found in Jan­uary that Wood vi­o­lated law when Wood didn’t re­hire Zega and hired Lester.

Zega still didn’t get back his job. He hasn’t yet de­cided whether to sue the county, he said.

Jus­tice of the Peace Ann Har­bi­son, a Demo­crat rep­re­sent­ing south­ern Wash­ing­ton County, said Thurs­day she dis­agreed with how Wood han­dled fir­ing Richey, who “was not a po­lit­i­cal hack.” Richey’s right of free speech may have been vi­o­lated by her fir­ing, Har­bi­son said.

“This was a wrong,” Har­bi­son said about Richey’s fir­ing. “It was a wrong that can­not be cor­rected.”

Lloyd, if found in vi­o­la­tion of the code, could be forced to re­pay her salary and ben­e­fits un­der an­other sec­tion of that code, said Jus­tice of the Peace Daniel Balls, a Demo­crat rep­re­sent­ing north­ern Fayetteville.

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