Concerns about the wording of ordinances, including possible federal implications, were the topic at the Tuesday night Faulkner County Quorum Court meeting.
Justices reviewed several ordinances moved to the court from committees for the first time, including a revision to Family Medical Leave Act policy and one on purchasing thresholds. The Bill or Rights ordinance submitted last month received its second reading and much discussion.
The Bill or Rights Ordinance, being up for its second reading, was the first of the group read under “Old Business.” Typically an ordinance has to receive three readings across three Quorum Court meetings, with the third reading being the meeting where it is voted upon to become law.
Justice John Allison III, the ordinance’s sponsor, stated as the ordinance was introduced “I think this is something we need to do here.”
Allison called out that the ordinance was “so we can have a militia” and that it was not regarding “individual rights.” The administration of President Joseph Biden was making a “direct assault” on these rights, such as expected proposals for an $800 firearms fee and mandatory psychological examinations for gun ownership, Allison said.
The so-called “Red Flag laws,” permitting policy confiscation, were an additional threat, Allison said.
Justice Gerald Boyer, after pointing out he was a gun owner, brought up concerns with the ordinance, including its requirement for county employees, specifically the line “Faulkner County officials and employees shall uphold the right of the citizens of this county to ‘keep and bear arms’ as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, Amendment 2, and the Arkansas Constitution, Article 2.”
While his oath of office as a Justice of the Peace requires him to support the constitution, the wording he cited, plus similar wording elsewhere in the ordinance would essentially stifle a county employee’s free speech under the First Amendment, Boyer said.
“I think we are confusing the Second Amendment for the Bill of Rights,” Boyer said. “We’re saying employees can’t express an opinion.”
Boyer, a member of the personnel committee, also pointed out that City Personnel Manual does not require an employee to take a position on the Bill of Rights, putting the ordinance in conflict with the manual.
This led to, after some debate and back and forth between Allison and Boyer and other justices, a proposal by Justice John. C. Pickett to move the ordinance back to the personnel committee where it could be reviewed against the current employee manual. The ordinance had originally been submitted to the court through the Courts and Public Safety Committee and had not been reviewed by the Personnel Committee. The vote was “no” by nine of the 13 justices, and remained before the court.
It will receive its third reading at the May Quorum Court meeting.
Additional debate took place in an ordinance proposing a change to the county’s Family Medical Leave Act. The ordinance added the change of leave to “12 weeks of unpaid leave per calendar year” as opposed to the current “12 weeks of unpaid leave per year.”
Justice Matt Brown, citing his experience as an attorney, expressed concern that under the terms “calendar year,” an employee could take leave for the final 12 weeks of one year, then the first 12 weeks of the next, for a total of 24 weeks.
During debate, justices were reminded that the leave is unpaid, its purpose being to maintain a job position while an employee is one medical leave under the Act. After an initial proposal to return the ordinance to the Personnel Committee was voted down, justices approved a change which would change the ordinance from “calendar year” to a “rolling back” year, where leave is granted based upon the previous 12 months leave taken in accordance with the act.
Two additional readings are required.
The ordinance has no impact on paid leave taken for medical emergency.
Justices also debated an ordinance, also in its first reading, which maintains a $20,000 ceiling on purchases requiring a bid, despite the state recently moving its ceiling to $35,000. The ordinance was sponsored by Justice Tyler Lachowsky.
Concern was from the value of $20,000 today, compared to $20,000 when the limit was first placed 15 years ago. Bidding could ultimately cost more for spot-purchase items, plus take additional times for department heads instead of buying something right away.
“We are hamstringing the ability to purchase something where department heads could go online,” Justice Boyer said. “Sometimes delay costs more.”
Several justices voiced support or concern on maintaining the current ceiling.
“You got a month to look it over,” Faulkner County Judge Jim Baker said as debate closed on the ordinance.
The court also passed a resolution supporting the revised Mitigation Plan, a routine matter. Funds transfers were also approved.
An ordinance for payment for an emergency plumbing repairs after a pipe freeze during the recent winter storm was, after debate, passed. A plumber was called for the repair due as the county maintainer was out of office when the break occurred. As the plumber was the husband of a county employee it required court approval for the roughly $200 of work. The justices asked for, and approved, additional wording making this a one-time approval for the plumber.
Baker announced at meeting’s end, to a question from the gallery, that the county would have a County Fair and Fair Parade this year.