Motion to read Scott’s ordinance fails 4-6
By Joel Phelps
Clark County justices of the peace spent nearly an hour Monday discussing a pair of ordinances relating to economic development.
The first was the third and final reading of Ordinance 2022-01, which approved guidelines governing the use of a voter-passed 1/2-cent sales tax. After its final reading, justices approved the ordinance in a 6-4 vote. Dissenting votes were from justices Andrea Angle, Gary “BJ” Johns, Albert Neal and Jenna Scott. Justice Tracy Rider was absent. Until this month’s meeting the ordinance had had Angle’s approval.
The second ordinance — drafted and sponsored by Scott, and tabled in December at the request of the county attorney — became the source of tension between justices. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Find Scott’s ordinance by scrolling to the bottom of the agenda attached below)
Prior to discussion, County Judge Troy Tucker asked Scott to explain the reason for her ordinance. Scott took issue with language that allows the Economic Development Corp. of Clark County to inform the court within 30 days of any changes to the guidelines governing how that 15-member, judge-appointed/court-approved panel uses the 1/2-cent sales tax for attracting businesses to the area.
“The voters were promised over and over again the quorum court would be responsible for accountability,” Scott said. “We just passed an ordinance where the EDCCC can change the rules and guidelines as long as they notify us in 30 days. I don’t think that puts us in charge.” Scott added that she has had difficulties in the past and recently with requests that fall under the Freedom of Information Act.
After some tension between Scott and Tucker, discussion put a halt to putting Scott’s ordinance up for a vote on its first reading. Scott’s ordinance included a cap on the EDCCC’s disbursement ability to $100,000. The EDCCC had pledged $2 million to lure Hostess Brands closer to Clark County’s orbit during preliminary negotiations.
Justice Ricky Arnold asked whether Scott’s ordinance would have allowed the EDCCC enough time to offer an incentives package to Hostess. Tucker said it wouldn’t have, but Scott argued her wording would have. “It would have to come before the quorum court prior to disbursement,” she said. “Those funds have not been disbursed yet. All they would do is say, ‘This is our proposed incentive we are offering — subject to approval by the quorum court.’”
Justice Tom Calhoon asked if Hostess would have committed under Scott’s ordinance. Wesley Kluck, chair of the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance, the organization contracted by the EDCCC to work privately with prospects, said Hostess wouldn’t have committed to Clark County without the EDCCC-proposed guidelines. “We had two days for them to make a decision to consider us,” Kluck said. “We were in competition with three or four other places.”
Tucker said even if tax dollars were removed from the equation a company wouldn’t negotiate with a public entity like a quorum court. “They have to speak to a corporation which has been founded to take care of these matters on behalf of the county,” Tucker said. Scott also took issue with the tight deadline given to the EDCCC to pledge incentive money, saying a public body could fall victim to scam if the prospect isn’t willing to wait on approval from a higher legislative body.
Directing a question at J.L. Griffin, acting CEO of the EDCCC, Calhoon asked if the state’s Economic Development Corporation would market Clark County as strongly with an ordinance like the one Scott drafted. Griffin said they wouldn’t, but admitted the sales tax is what made the difference in the case of Hostess.
There was more tense back-and-forth between Scott and Tucker, who ultimately asked Scott if she would be satisfied if the original ordinance had the 30-day modification clause struck from its language. “I think that’s a big first step,” Scott replied. “I think the FOI is also very important where it’s not related to any potential deal.”
Calhoon said he would have entertained the idea of sending Scott’s ordinance to the EDCCC for its guidance before the full court made any decision.
Justice Austin King asked how quorum court approval would have affected an agreement between the EDCCC and Hostess. “So far it’s our word,” Griffin replied, noting there has yet to be a memorandum of understanding signed. Answering King’s question, Griffin added the Alliance would have to be confident a company would meet local requirements prior to pledging any incentives. Hostess, he said, is currently working at the former Danfoss facility and added that company is a “done deal.”
Addressing Kluck and Griffin, Johns asked if current projects would be affected by the 30-day modification clause. Kluck said the wording could be taken out without affecting their operations. Johns said that verbiage was his issue with the previous ordinance: “It doesn’t say you’re going to come and [ask], ‘What do you think about this?’ It’s saying in 30 days, ‘Hey, here’s what we did.’”
Johns said his doubts on that language emerged at the court’s last meeting when he asked for an example of what the EDCCC might change but received no definite answer. “If there’s not an answer to something you might change, then why do you have it in there?”
In the end, a motion to hear the first reading of Scott’s ordinance failed 4-6, having garnered support from herself, Johns, Neal and Angle.
Categories: City and County