(This is the first in a series of six articles about placement of books in the Saline County Library)
Gaining an understanding of the Saline County Quorum Court, its function, elected officials within and guidelines each follow is fundamental to the story surrounding the resolution passed during their April 17, 2023 meeting. The following description of a quorum court is taken from the Arkansas Counties Justices of the Peace 2022 Procedures Manual. A description is also available at the Saline County government website.
“The Legislative body of county government is called the Quorum Court and is composed of 9, 11, 13, or 15 members depending on the population of the county. These officers representing districts within the county meet each month, more often if necessary, to conduct county business and review ordinances and resolutions for passage. The county judge is the presiding officer over the Quorum Court without a vote, but with the power of veto. This veto can be overridden with a 3/5 vote of the total membership of the Quorum Court. (ACA 14-14-402, 14-14-904, and 14-14-912) As provided by Amendment No. 55 of the Arkansas Constitution, a county government acting through its Quorum Court may exercise local legislative authority not expressly prohibited by the Constitution or by law for the affairs of the county. Some limitations are: The Quorum Court cannot declare any act a felony (felonies are covered by the State Criminal Code); Quorum Court may exercise no authority unrelated to county affairs. (ACA 14-14-801) The Quorum Court may exercise the following powers, but are not limited to: A) the levy of taxes in manner prescribed by law; B) Appropriate public finds for the expenses of the county in a manner prescribed by ordinances; C) Preserve the peace and order and secure freedom from dangerous or noxious activities; provided, however, that no act may be declared a felony; D) for any public purpose, contract, or join with any other county, or with any political sub-division or with the United States; E) create, consolidate, separate, revise or abandon any elected office or offices except during the term thereof; provided ,however, that a majority of those voting on the question at a general election have approved said action; F) fix the number and compensation of deputies and county employees; G) fix the compensation of each county officer with a minimum and maximum to be determined by law; H) fill vacancies in elected county offices; I) provide for any service or performance of any function relating to county affairs; J) to exercise other powers, not inconsistent with law, necessary for effective administration of authorized services and functions. (ACA 14-14-801)”
The thirteen JPs and the districts they represent can be found by clicking this link.
In Saline County, Justices of the Peace also serve on two committees related to the duties they serve above. These committees are the Finance Committee, and the Public Works & Safety Committee. It is within these committees that resolutions and ordinances first develop before being presented in a Quorum Court meeting. All thirteen JPs comprise the membership of each committee.
We contacted Saline County Judge Matt Brumley and Saline County Attorney Will Gruber to describe the process of how an ordinance and/or a resolution starts and the difference between the two. Judge Brumley directed Gruber to answer.
CMG: Will you explain the difference between a resolution and an ordinance?
Gruber: “In a nutshell, a resolution is a statement of policy which expresses an opinion as to matters of county affairs, which do not compel executive action. Versus, generally speaking, an ordinance is a county law that sets out the processes and parameters for conduct and actions within the county.”
CMG: What process is followed prior to an ordinance and/or a resolution is placed on the agenda?
Gruber: “Generally, the County Judge or Justice of the Peace (JP) has an idea for an ordinance or resolution. The County Judge or JP discusses the idea with relevant county employees such as the County Attorney and/or Comptroller. The county employees research to determine if there are any legal, financial, or other concerns. The county employees collaborate with the JP and County Judge to avoid legal or financial risks and help ensure the ordinance or resolution accomplishes the goal sought. Once drafted, the ordinance or resolution is approved by the sponsoring JP and discussed with the County Judge to ensure that there are no procedural or administrative issues that could arise. If there are procedural or administrative concerns, those are addressed with the sponsor. At that point, if the relevant elected officials are comfortable, it would be placed on the agenda.”
CMG: How are resolutions/ordinances written? Is there a standard template that is followed?
Gruber: “Typically, it is drafted by the County Attorney with assistance from the Comptroller or other relevant county employee. There is no standard template.”
Specific to the resolution concerning library books that was passed on April 17, 2023, we asked the following question.
CMG: In your recollection, how did the whole process work for the April 17, 2023 resolution regarding access to books at the county libraries come about?
Gruber: “It worked as discussed in my answer to question two (2).”
The resolution, sponsored by JPs Chism and Whitley, passed by a voice vote of 11-2. JPs voting in favor of the resolution: Bisbee, Hatcher, Howell, Rue, Bellinger, Curtis, Albares, Engel, Whitley, Chism, Walters. JPs voting against the resolution: Keck, Billingsley.
As noted in the resolution, the impetus of the language in Act 372 recently passed by the Arkansas Legislature will bring changes to how libraries proceed with certain books. A copy of the new law can be found by clicking this link.
The first mention of an issue related to the Saline County Library is found in the minutes of the March 6, 2023, meeting of the Public Works & Safety Committee and Finance Committee. The meetings of these two committees are held back-to-back. At the end, comments from those residents of the county who ask to speak to the JPs are held. During this meeting, an individual spoke on “comments regarding the Saline County Library”. This same individual addressed the JPs during the March 30 meeting of the quorum court.
Next: We interview elected officials at the county level