West side of the Benton County Courthouse May 25, 2016.
BENTONVILLE — Some residents on Thursday night expressed concern over a resolution to supporting county law enforcement.
The resolution sponsored by Justice of the Peace Debra Hobbs was added to the Quorum Court agenda at the beginning of the meeting in Circuit Judge Robin Green’s courtroom.
After discussion, the Quorum Court voted to table the item to next month’s Committee of the Whole meeting at the Benton County Fairgrounds auditorium.
Jon Comstock of Rogers said justices of the peace would be intimidating people by supporting the resolution. Comstock is a former Benton County Circuit Judge. The resolution sends the wrong message to the community because it only supports one side, he said.
Haley Emerick of Siloam Springs said the resolution misses the point of what is happening across the country and was a sign of white privilege. The resolution seemed to be based on specific set of news stories and wasn’t listening to public outcry and what the issues are, she said.
Protests, sometimes violent, have erupted across the nation in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes after he was detained.
Hobbs called the resolution very simple and straightforward before discussion began. All law enforcement can’t be “painted with the same brush,” she said.
Justices of the peace discussed some proposed wording changes before opting to table it. Hobbs said after the meeting she was OK with it being tabled and to the suggested changes.
The Quorum Court also approved the financing plan for a downtown courts expansion.
The justices of the peace gave the OK to finance all of the projected $3.1 million cost. The justices, at the Committee of the Whole meeting last week, agreed to use $1.55 million from reserve and to finance $1.55 million. The county has $13 million in reserve based on its budget, said Brenda Guenther, comptroller.
The cost would include $231,783 to repair the courthouse annex where Circuit Judge Brad Karren holds court, according to documents. The annex is across the street from the main courthouse.
A larger court expansion is no longer an option because of the financial hit expected from the covid-19 pandemic, County Judge Barry Moehring said.
A new courtroom is needed for Christine Horwart, who was elected in March and will be the county’s seventh circuit judge. She takes office Jan. 1. The Arkansas Legislature added the judgeship to assist with the increasing caseload.
The county would demolish the one-story section behind the courthouse once housing the coroner’s office under Moehring’s plan. The county would build a two-story addition on the site with a lobby area and restrooms on the first floor. Horwart’s courtroom and office area would be on the second floor.
Construction could take nine months, Moehring said.
First-floor plans show the existing entrance becoming an exit only. A new canopy would provide coverage during inclement weather. An entrance with a vestibule and a new security station with two metal detectors also would be added. Plans also show a large waiting area.
Second-floor plans show a new elevator and restrooms with a lobby connecting to the courtroom and the courthouse second-floor corridor. Horwart’s courtroom would be about 1,300 square feet with a jury box. A small bailiff’s office will be at the southeast corner of the courtroom.
Until the work is completed, Horwart’s first courtroom and chamber would be in a small area in the courthouse last used as a courtroom in 2012. The room doesn’t have a jury box and has a small gallery, Moehring said.
The Quorum Court also approved budget cuts. The budget amendment was for 5.8% budget cuts. The cuts were about $3.47 million of the beginning 2020 budget.