By Ray King

After more than an hour of discussion Tuesday night, the Jefferson County Quorum Court approved a furlough program for employees as a way to save money because of declining revenues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the intent of the original ordinance was to include every department. Sixth Division Circuit Judge Earnest E. Brown Jr. opted instead for a shared work program similar to what the City of Pine Bluff approved Monday night. Brown said that during a meeting with elected officials and County Judge Gerald Robinson last week, Robinson said that if the department heads could show that a different program would save as much money as furloughs, he would be in favor of it.

According to Brown, he contacted the State Department of Workforce Services and submitted an application for the 16 employees of his court which was approved by the state. Brown said pay for his employees will be cut 25 percent under the program, which will last 24 weeks and can be extended.

Regarding furloughs, Brown said if that were to have happened, he would have gone by seniority, meaning that the four employees he would have selected would have been the newest employees, and would have been making less money that other employees who would have been retained.

Both Jefferson County Tax Collector Tony Washington and County Assessor Yvonne Humphrey opposed the furloughs with Washington saying he has sufficient funds on hand to cover the costs of the employees he would have had to furlough and Humphrey saying it was her busiest time of the year and she could not afford to lose an employee.

“I agree with the judge on some things and on others I don’t,” Humphrey said. “

Also expressing opposition was Sheriff Lafayette Woods Jr., who cited constitutional provisions outlining the duties and responsibilities of his office as a way to avoid furloughs.

“I take public safety seriously,” Robinson said. “All across the country cuts are made already and look at the juvenile detention center. The revenues are so low we were already looking at doing something.”

When it came time for the vote, the ordinance was amended to include Judge Brown but some members of the county’s legislative body wanted to go further and amended it further before it was approved.

“What was just passed was basically still what we want, the 30 percent, but all we’re doing is allowing some extra days for those that can come up with an additional plan but let me say this, on the call when we talked with elected officials it was asked if anyone had any other plans or any other ideas that we could get through this, no one offered any suggestions,” Robinson said. “Only one that did their homework was Judge Brown and now we come to court with the other elected officials and they were on the line and now  they want an extension so I’m going to give them that to see if they can come up with that plan for the 30 percent I’m all for it. I don’t think it can be done but I’m willing to do what is necessary because all I care about is moving Jefferson County forward.”

The other elected officials were given to May 11 to come up with their own plan and presenting it to Robinson.

If one member of the county’s legislative body had his way Tuesday, the vote would not have happened and been pushed back to next week. Justice Alfred Carroll argued initially that the regular meeting, which was to follow committee meetings, was not an official meeting since it was not on the schedule approved by the Quorum Court early this year.  When that failed, he tried a different tact later by calling for a vote to table the ordinance which also failed.