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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas attorney general's office in Northwest Arkansas

LOWELL -- The Arkansas attorney general will open the first regional office for any of the state's constitutional officers today in Lowell.

Photo by Doug Thompson
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge speaks at the opening of the first regional office for any of the state's constitutional officers Friday, October 27, 2017 in Lowell. Rogers Chamber of Commerce President Raymond Burns looks on.

"There are 3 million people in this state and three quarters of a million of them live in Northwest Arkansas," Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Wednesday.

About half a million people live in Benton and Washington counties, but Arkansans as far as Harrison will find the regional office easier to reach than the main office in Little Rock, she said.

None of the other six constitutional offices have offices outside the state capital.

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The attorney general's office answers an increasing number of consumer protection, fraud and domestic abuse complaints in Northwest Arkansas because of the population growth, Rutledge said.

In addition, staff members working on cases in the region increasingly need a secure office to keep records and do interviews, she said. There are no plans to open additional offices elsewhere, she said. Rutledge is from Batesville and graduated from the University of Arkansas.

"A lot of times people want to talk directly to me, and, if they are in Northwest Arkansas, we have to look for an opportunity when I'm up there or passing through," Rutledge said. "Now I'll have an opportunity to schedule working days in Northwest Arkansas and meet with people while I'm there."

The office will open at 10 a.m. in Puppy Creek Plaza at 213 W. Monroe St. near the Benton-Washington county line and next door to the regional office of U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Rogers.

Rutledge and her staff chose the location partly because it's next door to Boozman's office. People often come to the attorney general's office with complaints better addressed by a federal elected official, she said. Likewise, people are often referred to the state attorney general by congressional staff after visiting a congressman's office, she said.

Two employees transferred from Little Rock and will be in the office full time, she said.

Rutledge said her office signed a 24-month lease for $1,385 a month. The money will come from savings on operations in Little Rock, not a budget increase, she said.

State attorneys general who have regional offices is not unusual, said spokeswoman Marjorie Tharp of the National Association of Attorneys General in Washington. Louisiana, Missouri and Texas have four or more offices. Tennessee, Mississippi and Oklahoma have one. Texas has more than 100, but the attorney general's office also handles issues such as child support enforcement, a spokesman for the office said.

Louisiana has five regional offices and found them to be cost-effective, said Ruth Wisher, press secretary for Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.

"By having satellite offices, our employees are more directly available to the constituents in their areas and able to build relationships with community members and professionals to learn how we can better meet their needs," she said. "It also saves taxpayer money to house our attorneys and investigators closer to the places they are required to be for work, as opposed to them having to travel."

The Lowell office will have one employee who speaks Spanish in addition to English, Rutledge said.

"One of the major reasons we wanted an office there is to help our outreach to communities, and to do that in Northwest Arkansas you have to have someone who is bilingual," she said.

"We want to have someone there who can tell people directly that, no, the IRS isn't going to call you directly or the local sheriff isn't coming to arrest you or some sweepstakes really isn't going to insist you pay something first before you can claim your prize," Rutledge said, citing three of the most common fraud phone calls people receive.

NW News on 10/27/2017

Print Headline: Rutledge opening Northwest Arkansas office

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