Drew County Quorum Court tours courthouse, holds first meeting of year

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A new judge, new sheriff and a new court with a mix of old and new Justices of the Peace met Monday, Jan. 9, in the first Quorum Court meeting of the year in the Drew County Courthouse. Only one member of the court, District 2 Justice of the Peace Ben Higginbotham was absent from the meeting

Following a tour of the Courthouse, Drew County Judge Jessie Griffin called the first meeting to order with a prayer and the pledge of allegiance. A screen and projector were used to display the agenda, followed by the first ordinance on the agenda, allowing the public a view of what the court was discussing. Ordinance 2023-1, which was approved by all members of the court present with little discussion, appointed Cliff Gibson as County Attorney and included an emergency clause to go into effect immediately. 

The second item up for discussion was Ordinance 2023-2, an ordinance to establish the rules and procedures for regular and special sessions of the Drew County Quorum Court. Discussion of the ordinance commenced with Griffin explaining how he would run the meetings from now on with the ordinance being introduced, followed by discussions by members of the court, with Griffin also giving time for elected officials to speak if they wished. 

Gibson chimed in at this time, pointing the members to Article 14 of the Ordinance. According to Gibson, the rules and procedures outlined in the ordinance are not meant to be cumbersome but are instead designed to ensure meetings and County business will run efficiently and smoothly. Article 14 of the ordinance, which Gibson credited to Griffin, states that at any regular meeting, the court may revise or modify the stated rules, or adopt new rules by a majority vote of the full membership of the Court. 

“This provision is a safety valve as I call it,” he stated, before reading the article aloud to the Court.

Justice of the Peace Frank Appleberry, District 8, then brought up an issue with only three members of the court appointed to the budget committee, pointing out that in the past, all members of the court were part of the budget committee. Griffin, for his part, stated limiting the committees: budget/finance committee, personnel/policy grievance committee/Office of Emergency Management-911 and solid waste committee, to three members limited the power of the committees by not having enough members in the committees to pass ordinances out of the committee, instead all ordinances and resolutions would have to come before the Quorum Court in a regular or special call meeting. Appleberry stated that when it came to County finances, he believed all members should be present and part of the discussions and pointed out that when all members were present they could rely on one another when trying to remember budget details during discussions. Griffin also stated the committees would be able to dig deeper into the budgets and bring issues or discussions to the Court, pointing out in the past, budgets would stay the same year over year with only minor changes being made and while it is functional, it is not streamlined. 

“We have to have a budget committee that is actually going to look at every line on that budget and understand, that’s a process,” Griffin said before asking County Treasurer Charlie Searcy for his input.

Searcy stated he would like to have at least a quarterly meeting and that regardless of how many or what Justices were on the committee all members of the court were welcome to attend the budget meetings. He also stated the court may want to have the committee a few members for the quarterly meetings and then have the whole court present for end of the year budget meetings.

“It would be good to start having quarterly budget meetings for the different budgets and see what we can do,” Searcy told the Court. 

Pigott then asked clarifying questions to Searcy who told him that he would like to see the committee meet quarterly and pick out budgets to look at and find out where money is being spent and where it isn’t being spent so they end of the year budget meetings would be quicker and the budget would be streamlined. After further discussion, the court then took a vote on having a budget committee with a few members for quarterly meetings and all members being present for end of the year discussions or requiring all members in the budget meeting. Justices of the Peace Steve Pigot, District 5, Shelia Maxwell, District 4, and Zachary Hill, District 9, all voting no to Appleberry’s suggestion of all members making up the committee, while Appleberry; Orlando Jones, District 1; Roger Harris, District 3; Donna Usry, District 6; and Joe Williams, District 7 all voted yes to all members of the Court being on the committee. The five yes votes were a full member majority, making the full court members of the budget committee. During the discussion of committees Griffin told the Court the importance of having committee meetings, stating he hadn't found minutes for any committee meetings from last year if there had been any. 

Following the vote, the court passed the ordinance unanimously by all members present. 

Obtaining more credit cards for the Courthouse was the next item on the agenda with the court voting to acquire a total of seven cards, one for each elected official and a second card to fall underneath Griffin’s office. In order to maintain a $2000 limit for each official, the court also approved an increase of credit to $12,000 from $5,000. Previously, the officials had two cards, with a total credit line of $5,000, that was shared by all offices in the courthouse. The Ordinance passed with 9 yeas and 1 not present.

Searcy then briefed the court on the county finances pointing out that while the bottom line made it appear the County was doing better than last year that was deceiving based on ongoing projects and expenses for the County. He also told the court he would go over the budget and the process for the court. 

Following the Treasurer’s report, Appleberry brought up a concern with new Department of Energy regulations that went into effect Jan. 1. The new regulations require all HVAC units installed after Jan. 1, 2023, have a higher energy efficiency rating. The new regulations are affecting the price of new HVAC units, with some media outlets reporting over a 10 percent increase in the cost of the new equipment being installed. While the Appropriation Ordinance passed in 2022 has a contingency clause, where the court appropriated more money than the quote given to account for surprise costs, Griffin will be meeting with the contractor to see how or if the increases will affect the price on Friday, Jan. 13.

Next on the agenda was personnel, with Griffin requesting four slots for general laborers be opened for the road department and sanitation to share, two employees have already been hired, as well as requesting to change slots reserved for CDL holders to accommodate an employee move from the courthouse to the road department to serve as an assistant road coordinator and an employee at the landfill being moved to more accurately reflect his position. Griffin pointed out that the current road department administration employee has been having to take work home to be completed and an assistant was needed. He also stated he hired an employee for his office. Following this explanation, he admitted to the court that he had placed the employee moved from the courthouse to the road department in one of the CDL slots, as well as needing to increase the Journeyman slot to accommodate the pay the employee is already receiving at the landfill. Now he needed the Court to create slots to pay the general laborers and assistant road coordinator. Griffin admitted he made a mistake when he placed them in the CDL slots, not realizing the employee in those slots had to hold a CDL. He then asked the court to approve five new slots for the road department, four for general laborers, two who have already been hired, and a fifth slot for the assistant road coordinator. Collector Tonya Loveless then protested the pay of the assistant, stating the employee should not be paid what the executive assistants at the courthouse made. Griffin informed the Court, the employee was being paid what she was being paid at the courthouse. That she was given the option of staying in the courthouse but very graciously stated she would like to help at the road department but would be available for questions and to help the employee hired to assist Griffin in his office. In order to ensure all employees will get paid on time, the Court will meet Tuesday, Jan. 17 to pass an ordinance to create the five slots, to change the names on other slots from CDL to truck driver and to increase the Journeyman pay slot and to appropriate the funds for salaries. The Special meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at the Courthouse.

Griffin then talked to the court about meeting places for the court, explaining that he would like to see each meeting begin at a different County facility so all Justices could be familiar with the work performed in the County. Appleberry raised concerns about the public who regularly attend the meetings and making sure they were aware of where the court would be meeting. With many members expressing their desire to tour the facilities, it was decided the court would meet before regularly scheduled meetings to tour facilities and then convene at 6 p.m. in the Quorum Court meeting room as usual. 

Next was the possible purchase of the OEM-911 building from the City. Griffin stated the City of Monticello was looking to sale the building and that the County should look at purchasing the property to keep the OEM building. Griffin asked the Court for permission to negotiate with the City a price for the building and then will bring the proposal back to the court.

Trash pick-up fees were next up for discussion with Griffin requesting that a late fee be attached to trash bills that are not paid on time. Cheri Adcock, county assessor, both protested the late fees, insisting that if a late fee was attached to the bill, that people who were paying on time would be penalized because many people prefer to pay their bill in a bulk sum at the end of the year. Griffin pointed out one of the problems in the sanitation department was that so many did wait until the end of the year and the department needed the money to operate before the end of the year. 

“If they are paying annually, they should be paying annually forward,” said Searcy, “Not annually behind. There wouldn’t be a late fee for them if they are paying 12 months forward, not 12 months behind. If they are paying 12 months backward, they are late.”

After back-and-forth discussions about whether the late fee should be attached and when, it was decided an ordinance would be brought forth next month that would have the bill sent out quarterly with a late fee attached if the bill isn’t paid by the end of the quarter, for example, the quarterly bill sent out in January would be late if it wasn’t paid before April 1. 

Wilmar Mayor Toni Perry was also present at the meeting and requested the money allotted to Wilmar last year by the County stating she never got word on how to submit for the money but that Wilmar had several infrastructure projects that needed to be completed and would like to request the money. Perry stated she would be submitting any of the needed paperwork to the County. 

The next regularly scheduled meeting will be held Monday, February 13.

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