What started out as a routine ordinance Monday night requesting that the Jefferson County Quorum Court appropriate $35,000 to help cover the cost of elections resulted in County Judge Booker Clemons venting his frustration with the County Board of Election Commissioners.
Describing the act as “commissioners paying themselves,” Clemons has refused to pay commissioners Stuart Soffer and Mike Adam for work they said they did outside of regular meetings such as programming voting machines.
Clemons said he has received a number of emails on the subject of payments, “a lot of them nasty toward me. I request that they do what they’re supposed to do and use county personnel (to do the work).”
He was speaking of Julie Kendrick, who was hired as an election clerk and who Clemons said was “sent to Little Rock (to train) and is certified to do the work. Who billed me for the work? One of the commissioners.”
Clemons also said that one commissioner, whom he did not identify, “has been paid over $4,000, including $1,450 for meetings.”
Election commissioners receive compensation for attending meetings and on election day, with the money coming from the election commission budget.
Soffer, who was at the meeting but was not allowed to speak, was asked to respond to the complaints by Clemons, including the statement that there is no state law requiring or allowing compensation for election commissioners other than for meetings.
“I provided the county judge a copy of Attorney General Opinion 2016-40, which opined, “Counties may pay an election commissioner for performing necessary work that can not be performed at a meeting,” Soffer said in an email.
“The Arkansas Supreme Court has held that while AG opinions are not binding, they can be persuasive. That should be sufficient for a county judge.”
Late Monday night, Soffer mailed a Freedom of Information Act request to Clemons. Soffer is asking for the contract or document that outlines the pay, hours of work, days of work and duties of Joyce A. Campbell, the person Clemons hired as Jefferson County election coordinator.
Soffer also said this was the fourth time he had made this request and “continued denial of rights granted to me by statute is going to necessitate asking a circuit court to enforce those rights. I sincerely hope obtaining such recourse will not be necessary and respectfully urge you to comply with the law and provide the requested documents within the time frame required.”
During the meeting, Clemons said he had tried to get the election commissioners to come to his office to talk about the money they say they are owed but they have refused.
Soffer said that, according to state law, for more than one commissioner to meet with Clemons or anyone else in private would violate the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act “and he should know better. Chairman Adam has been trying to meet with the county judge for several weeks to resolve the expressed concerns but has been stonewalled.”
He went on to say that Clemons has been invited to a meeting of the commission at 5:30 p.m. Friday, adding that “We have nothing to hide, all necessary documents that sustain our actions and look forward to having an open and frank discussion.”
Justice of the Peace Dr. Conley Byrd said the requested appropriation was supposed to pay bills left over from the primary election.
Clemons was referred to Soffer’s purchase of toilet tissue for the election commission office. Soffer said he removed the tissue and donated it to the CASA women’s shelter.
Byrd said that the bills to vendors need to be paid and that the other issues Clemons has with the commission can be addressed later.
Clemons said before the primary election that Jefferson County employees using county vehicles went to other counties to pick up voting machines to replace those that were unusable because of hail damage to the election commission office, which resulted in the machines getting wet after several roof leaks developed.
Last week, the commission reported that the voting machines that were picked up from other counties were also damaged when the roof at the election commission building on Main Street in downtown Pine Bluff started leaking again.
Clemons said Monday night that he has asked for a report on the situation involving the status of the machines twice and only received it Monday.
Justice of the Peace Jimmy Fisher suggested that the appropriation ordinance be tabled until a solution could be found, but County Attorney Jackie Harris said the funds were a reimbursement from the state and needed to be appropriated to cover expenses.