Washington County Quorum Court mulls 'retroactive' exemption for former member

Posted: February 17, 2017 at 1:05 a.m.

The Washington County Courthouse, Tuesday, February 14, 2017 in downtown Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Justices of the peace failed Thursday to move forward a proposal meant to make sure former Justice of the Peace Sharon Lloyd is legally employed at the county.

"We need to obey the rules," said Justice of the Peace Bill Ussery, a Republican representing northeastern Springdale. "My goal was to put this behind us and move on down the road."

How they voted:

Washington County’s Quorum Court failed to move to a second reading an ordinance to exempt former Justice of the Peace Sharon Lloyd from the county’s Employee Handbook code barring elected officials from county employment for one year. Voting against it: Democrats Eva Madison, Sue Madison, Ann Harbison and Republicans Joel Maxwell and Lisa Ecke. Voting for it: Bill Ussery, Butch Pond, Tom Lundstrum, Joe Patterson, Harvey Bowman, Robert Dennis, all Republicans, and Democrat Daniel Balls. Roddy Lloyd, a Republican and Lloyd’s husband, and Joseph Kieklak, a Democrat, abstained. The measure needed 10 votes to pass to the second reading.

Source: Staff Report

Ussery put forward an proposal meant to " allow Sharon Lloyd to be employed by Washington County and thus create an exemption to Washington County Code," according to the proposal. Part of the county's Employee Handbook precludes elected officials from being hired for one year.

Lloyd, a Republican who represented western Springdale, was appointed to the Quorum Court in 2015. Her term ended Dec. 31. She was hired by Wood in January.

County Attorney Brian Lester said if the proposal passes, it means the Quorum Court gives Wood its blessing to hire and employ Lloyd as grants administrator.

Lloyd, if found in violation of the code, could be forced to repay her salary and benefits under another section of that code, said Justice of the Peace Daniel Balls, a Democrat representing northern Fayetteville.

The rules should be followed, Balls said.

"What's the point of having a handbook and rules if we aren't going to follow them?" Balls asked.

The proposal failed Thursday to gain enough support for a second reading and will be on next month's agenda.

Lester said, however, the Quorum Court doesn't have the power to hire and fire personnel -- that's up to the county judge under state law. Hiring Lloyd didn't violate state law or ethics rules, he said.

It's not certain hiring Lloyd violated the county's rule either, Lester said. There are areas where the handbook seems to conflict, he said.

A committee plans to review and change the Employee Handbook, Lester said.

However, the proposal Thursday would try to correct a mistake, said Justice of the Peace Eva Madison, a Democrat representing northeastern Fayetteville. An exemption for Lloyd should have been presented to the Quorum Court before Lloyd was hired, not afterward, she said.

"I don't know if we even have the power to retroactively handle the situation," Madison said.

Questions about Wood's hiring practice arose after Wood failed to rehire four longtime department heads in December. Wood filled those positions with political allies and didn't advertise the jobs.

Employees who received termination letters were: Juliet Richey, planning director; Renee Biby, grant administrator and public utilities coordinator; Steve Zega, county attorney; and Wayne Haines, veterans service officer.

Part of the Employee Handbook, which is approved by ordinance, lays out a hiring process that includes advertising and interviewing. The same ordinance gives Wood the authority not to rehire employees.

A grievance committee found in January that Wood violated law when Wood didn't rehire Zega and hired Lester.

Zega still didn't get back his job. He hasn't yet decided whether to sue the county, he said.

Justice of the Peace Ann Harbison, a Democrat representing southern Washington County, said Thursday she disagreed with how Wood handled firing Richey, who "was not a political hack." Richey's right of free speech may have been violated by her firing, Harbison said.

"This was a wrong," Harbison said about Richey's firing. "It was a wrong that cannot be corrected."

NW News on 02/17/2017