February 11, 2015 Edition

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Court remains divided on jail,
county to rejoin Intermodal


Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

The Lawrence County Quorum Court meeting Monday night abruptly ended after arguments surrounding future planning for a new county jail caused hostility among the justices and jail committee members.

Jail committee Chair Lloyd Clark announced that they had been approached by nine architecture agencies after advertising for consultation. The committee narrowed it down to HMN Architects, Inc. to recommend to the court.

The firm, which worked on the Greene County Jail, would be able to draw up preliminary design plans for locations being considered, such as the former Black Rock School campus or the 6.2 acres in Walnut Ridge owned by the county. Clark said the firm would try to get the plans turned around within a month and the county would owe six percent of the project cost for the planning stages and could decide from there to remain with HMN or look at other options.

A motion was made and seconded to proceed with HMN. During discussion, Justice Jim Jones interjected saying he thought the court should wait and explore other possibilities in both location and choice of firm.

Jones requested more consideration of the old Higginbotham Funeral Service property and said Sheriff Jeff Yates has been having positive communication with the SouthBuild Team, who spoke with the court in October.

Yates confirmed that he has a meeting scheduled with SouthBuild today. Jail committee members said they had met with them several times and felt they wouldn't be flexible enough for what the county needed.

Due to the sheriff's role in keeping the jail, Jones said Yates should be the one to decide which firm the county goes with.

Clark said he felt like people were going behind the committee's back, and if that was the case, why even have a committee. Other committee members agreed with Clark and said it was disrespectful of the work the committee has done. Doug Wayland said the committee has been meeting multiple times a week, and Bonnie Ragsdale and Harold Willett said as far as locations go, they had looked at nearly 10 before narrowing it down to the two presented at the meeting.

However, the motion on hiring HMN was tabled and the court agreed to meet again on Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. to allow Yates to meet with SouthBuild. Jail committee member Dan Sloan spoke with Yates after the court was adjourned and said he will be attending the meeting and other committee members may as well.

Several of the committee members, including Clark threatened to resign during the meeting. County Judge Dale Freeman said that didn't need to happen. "You have done a good job," he said. He added that the court had made their decision to postpone any action and, while he believes the county does need to be moving forward on this quickly, he also added that the court has to be united on this project.

"The people are not going to approve this as long as we keep fighting," Freeman said.

Sloan informed the court that as far as the Higginbotham property is concerned, the county can have whichever firm they choose to hire look at it as well, but it would cost more to do so.

Tensions were still high when Jones made a motion to adjourn. Jail committee members agreed to remain on the committee at least until the next meeting.

In other business, justices discussed and voted to appropriate $10,000 to the Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facilities Authority to rejoin the board.

Freeman said he had been approached by several who said they believed it was a mistake to have left the Intermodal Authority and he wanted to bring it before the court. He added that three new people will be on the board to represent the county.

C.L. Clark said that if the county still has concerns about how Intermodal is handling economic growth in Lawrence County, the only way they can hope to change things is to have a presence on the board.

Walnut Ridge Mayor Charles Snapp also asked to address the court and said not only will Peco Foods bring in jobs, but the population is expected to grow, the schools will be bringing in more money from increased enrollment and several related businesses will or have already started due to the plant.

"I would respectfully request you support the Intermodal for at least one more year," Snapp said.

The appropriation was approved unanimously.

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