During a Faulkner County Quorum Court meeting on July 31, resident Marvin Lessmann accused Justices of the Peace of discussing county business outside of public meetings.
If true, the JPs would be in violation of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.
Lessmann specifically accused JPs of discussing who to appoint to fill the vacancy of Tax Assessor, a position he admittedly sought and was not nominated for.
Lessmann acknowledged his accusations would be “nearly impossible to prove.”
The Log Cabin Democrat investigated Lessmann’s claim by obtaining the JPs’ phone and email records under FOIA.
The phone records show calls among the JPs, but they insisted the conversations were not improper.
“None of those calls have anything to do with business before the court,” JP Randy Higgins said, which summed up responses from other JPs as well.
Lessmann had also said some of the JPs felt pressured to vote a certain way.
The Log Cabin asked JP Jerry Boyer, who was first elected to the quorum court in 2016 and is one of the “new” JPs, if he felt pressured into his vote and he said: “Absolutely not.”
Lessmann suggested politics played a role in the appointment, saying he was “disappointed in both parties.”
JPs appointed Republican Damon Edwards, a former JP, in a 7-5 vote. Deputy County Attorney Whitney Doolittle, who received five votes, said she in nonpartisan.
Former Tax Assessor Jeff Stephens, who was nominated but received no votes, is a Democrat.
Some members of the audience at the July 31 meeting expressed disbelief over the appointment of Edwards, who seemed to have the least experience of the three candidates, with one woman even saying: “What a joke.”
JP Steve Goode said one of the reasons he voted for Edwards was because of his experience as a leader. Edwards had been a supervisor at Windstream Communications before getting laid off.
“The Assessor’s office is full of qualified people,” Goode said. “They just need a good leader. Damon has experience managing people and Whitney does not.”
Asked why he chose Edwards over Stephens, who served as assessor for 20 years, Goode said: “When you examine Jeff’s record, he grew county government during his tenure. I’m not about that.”