JP says revised rules give Hyde too much authority

Posted: April 21, 2017 at 2:35 a.m.

Pulaski County Justice of the Peace Tyler Denton is challenging a detail in the Quorum Court's rule book that he believes gives County Judge Barry Hyde too much power over the county's legislative process.

Last month, Denton -- a Democrat representing the county's 2nd District in Little Rock -- sought an opinion from the state attorney general to clarify state laws related to county legislative procedures. Specifically, Denton asked whether it's the county judge or members of the Quorum Court who have the power to assign ordinances and resolutions to specific county committees.

His query followed a heated exchange between Denton and Hyde in January, as the Quorum Court approved its rules and procedures for this year and established its three committees.

The county judge decides what justices of the peace serve on the committees.

During discussions, Denton expressed his concern that the proposed rules and procedures would also allow the county judge to decide what legislation is routed through those committees.

Hyde, who also is a Democrat, and County Attorney Adam Fogleman said then that the updates in the rules and procedures for the Quorum Court were necessary to comply with state laws.

The new rule book, which ultimately passed 11-3, says the county judge "or his/her designee shall assign [ordinances and resolutions] to an appropriate committee or subcommittee of the quorum court for consideration."

The attorney general's opinion that Denton obtained says that "while the county judge is empowered to appoint the members of quorum court committees," assigning "proposed ordinances to specific committees falls within the quorum court's managerial and procedural authorities."

"It is therefore my opinion that the quorum court, and not the county judge, is properly tasked with assigning proposed ordinances to committees," Attorney General Leslie Rutledge wrote in response to Denton's inquiry, which was submitted to her office via state Rep. Mark Lowery, a Republican whose district includes a portion of Pulaski County.

After being provided a copy of Rutledge's opinion, Pulaski County spokesman Cozetta Jones said the opinion "is entirely consistent with the position taken by the county attorney's office."

Because the Quorum Court's rules and procedures grant assigning authority to the county judge and were approved by the Quorum Court, the body lawfully placed that power in the county judge's hands, according to a county statement.

"The Quorum Court has always had the authority to decide who should refer items to committee. The attorney general's opinion acknowledges this authority and does not consider the existence of the current [procedural] ordinance," Jones said.

With the attorney general's opinion in hand, Denton plans to propose an amendment to the Quorum Court's rules next month that would give justices of the peace the power to assign legislation to committees. Denton said the current procedural ordinance could be in violation of Amendment 55 of the Arkansas Constitution, which details the powers of county government.

"This county judge's office is eager to follow the state's opinion and law up until when those same opinions and laws negatively affect their reach and ability to micromanage the procedures and policy agenda of the Quorum Court," Denton said. "At which point, they ask us to play by a different set of rules."

Denton was first elected to the Pulaski County Quorum Court in 2013 and is serving his third term. Hyde was elected in 2015 and is in his second term.

Metro on 04/21/2017