City & County

Clark County public defenders outgrow office space

By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian

The Clark County Public Defender’s Office is headquartered in a downstairs quadrant of this office space located across from the courthouse.

They need more space. This was the message delivered Monday to Clark County justices of the peace as the county’s public defender’s office argued their case in support of moving into a larger office in the middle of town.

Citing an influx in clients over the past decade, legal support specialist Renee Pritchard told members of the quorum court that the current office at 308 Clay St., in downtown Arkadelphia, is no longer sufficient for the public defender’s office. Plus, she said, there is no privacy for the two public defenders, Clint Mathis and Clinton DeWitt, to confer with clients at the same time.

District Judge Randy Hill owns the two-story office, renting the downstairs portion to the public defender’s office while the upstairs is currently vacant. In recent committee meetings at which Hill was present to make an unrelated request, he offered to let the upstairs office to the public defenders at no additional cost to their monthly rent. Some justices toured the upstairs offices to find a steep stairwell leading to two offices.

Because public defender Clint Mathis is recovering from a major back surgery and because some clients wouldn’t be able to take the stairs, Pritchard argued that opening the second floor wouldn’t be feasible for the defender’s office regardless of how the upstairs could be used.

The other option, located in a strip mall north of Southern Bancorp’s Pine Street branch, has more space, a public restroom and would allow enough privacy under one roof for both attorneys to meet with their respective clients. The office is in the Medical Arts Building, sandwiched between Dr. David Bell’s dental clinic and Seth Collins’ Edward Jones office. It’s owned by Wright & Seale Properties, a general partnership registered to Bill Wright of Arkadelphia.

Clark County will be leasing a portion of this strip mall on North 26th Street to house the public defender’s office.

The drawback for the public defender’s office is that the lease comes with higher rent — an additional $6,600 a year — but those funds, collected from court fees and the like, are separate from the county’s general operating coffers.

It was determined at the meeting that the county will enter into a lease agreement to rent the office space on 26th Street.

Court clerk gets promotion

Lynn Stephenson will become the chief deputy for the Clark County District Court’s office following a 9-1 vote from the court. The decision comes after the budget and personnel committees recently gave their tentative, respective approval of a $1,500 raise and title change.

Justice Albert Neal (D-Arkadelphia) cast the only dissenting vote. Neal pointed out that, years ago, the quorum court gave each elected official a chief deputy, and voiced concern that district court would be the sole office with two chief deputies; county Judge Troy Tucker was adamant that the office would only have one chief deputy, as Penny Ross is the chief clerk. Ross had asked the committees to give Stephenson the title and raise so that someone could be in charge of the office in her absence or Judge Randy Hill’s absence. Tucker said at Monday’s meeting that the state legislature determines the chief clerk’s title and salary.

Livestream service on go

Residents will soon be able to watch quorum court meetings on their devices as justices unanimously adopted an ordinance authorizing the court to offer a livestream service.

Justice Michael Ankton (D-Arkadelphia) was the original sponsor of the ordinance. Prior to its approval, Ankton said he had recently talked with Saline County officials who relayed that the court could spend as little as $50 on a tablet to record the meetings. Ankton suggested recruiting students from one of Arkadelphia’s two universities to man the camera. Ankton added it would be “a few months” before the service goes live.

EDCCC report

Shelley Short, CEO of the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance, provided justices with a mandatory quarterly update on activities of the tax-funded Economic Development Corp. of Clark County.

Highlighting her report was the $63,000 incentives package for McKenzie Farms Trucking & Excavating to expand its fence post and pallet operation at the former Anthony Higgs sawmill site. Another highlight was the recent completion of the water and wastewater extension from Arkadelphia to the 1,000-acre super site in Gum Springs.

The Alliance has hosted numerous meetings and receptions, as well as an education consortium that included a meeting of all local public school districts and universities. Work continues on an economic development video produced by Neon Cloud Productions.

Judge gets nod to apply for trail grant

Justices unanimously approved a resolution to authorize the county judge to apply for a $500,000 grant from the Arkansas Department of Transportation.

If awarded, ArDOT would fund 80% of a trail project connecting Arkadelphia’s trail system to DeGray Lake’s trails. The 80/20 matching grant would come from ArDOT’s Transportation Alternatives Program.

May is Foster Care Month

Pictured, from left, Sonia Vargas, Jillian Battaglia, Clark County Judge Troy Tucker and Tori Womack. | Joel Phelps/The Arkadelphian

Judge Tucker proclaimed May as Arkansas Foster Care Month. The court heard from Jillian Battaglia, director of The CALL of Clark County, regarding the program. There are fewer than 10 open foster homes and 35 foster children in Clark County.