Baxter joins other counties holding quorum court under newly enforced ADH rules

Meeting in a partially reconfigured courtroom Tuesday evening, the Baxter County Quorum Court quickly addressed its light agenda.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Baxter County Judge Mickey Pendergrass told the members he had measured the square footage of the courtroom and determined the number of people who could attend the session to meet the Arkansas Department of Health’s recently enforced pandemic guidelines.

While the members of the court have been spread out for several months to allow for social distancing, on Tuesday evening, the audience section of the courtroom had been marked off to meet the guidelines.

Judge Pendergrass said he had been advised state officials did not have a sufficient amount of time to review submitted plans for the state’s almost 500 cities plus its 75 counties. So, he said he conducted his own calculations under the state formula and submitted the numbers and has heard nothing further.

In contrast, in January, the Marion County Quorum Court held its first session following ADH guidelines.

At that time, Judge John Massey said officials had been notified by ADH 22 is the maximum number of people who would be allowed in the audience, as long as individuals are 6 feet apart. Husbands and wives may sit together and are counted as one by the ADH guidelines.

This number does not include the quorum court members and the county clerk.

Judge Massey says the temperatures of those attending the meeting would be checked, and a count of each person entering the courtroom will be made. Once the maximum number allowed by the ADH for attendance was met, the courtroom doors would be locked.

Meanwhile, the Harrison Daily Times is reporting Boone County Quorum Court standing committees were set to meet Tuesday night with one thing missing — the public.

County Judge Robert Hathaway’s office announced Friday that new restrictions on indoor gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic make it impossible for the public to attend in person.

However, the public could watch the meeting, as well as full quorum court meetings, on the Boone County Judge’s Office social media page.

A directive issued by ADH in early January states if more than 10 people attend a public gathering or venue a plan must be submitted to be reviewed and approved by the health department.

Judge Pendergrass told the Baxter County Quorum Court Tuesday evening a bill pending before the legislature would allow government meetings to be held remotely in the future, if a state of emergency has been issued at the state level.

The discussion about the enforcement of the meeting requirements came at the end of the session during announcements.

Judge Pendergrass took the opportunity to bring the justices up-to-speed on a number of legislative developments including

– H.B. 1213 aimed at addressing the public defender system with regard to the enforcement of qualifications for defendants utilizing the public-paid legal defense,

– H.B. 1269 sponsored by State Sen. Scott Flippo of Bull Shoals and Rep. John Payton of Wilburn regarding the use of golf carts on county roads and

– S.B. 20 clarifying quorum courts as the responsible body for making appointments to fill vacancies in county-level positions.

During the announcement portion of the meeting, Judge Pendergrass told the justices the veterans advisory board has been meeting on a regular monthly basis and to expect “great news” coming from this group. He then noted an expansion of the veterans wall on the courthouse grounds is expected.

In the brief session, the court gave its approval to

– the appointment of Jerry Flentge and the reappointment of Christine Lydon to the Henderson Fire Protection District Board of Commissioners,

– the reappointments of Pamela Syfrett, Jim Whittington and Ben Tate to the Buford Volunteer Fire Protection District Board of Commissioners and

– the reappointment of Rod Brackett to the Baxter County Planning Board.

Judge Pendergrass noted three other openings remain on the planning board, and he is seeking individuals to fill these positions.

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