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BENTONVILLE -- Joel Jones is leaving the Benton County Quorum Court, and one of his November opponents wonders why he decided to run for re-election in the first place.

Jones, a Republican, will forgo a fifth term to represent District 7 because he has moved out of the district that includes eastern Bella Vista and the area southeast toward Bentonville. Jones and his family moved to another part of Bentonville last month. The move was for personal reasons, he said.

Justices of the peace

Justices of the peace serve two-year terms and are paid $230 for each Quorum Court and Committee of the Whole meeting and $144 for each meeting of a committee of which they are a member.

Source: Staff report

His decision means the seat surely will remain with the Republicans when an appointment is made by Gov. Asa Hutchinson next year. The appointee would fill the spot for two years and not be eligible to run again, said George Spence, county attorney.

Jones, 36, is a senior product manager for Movista, a mobile workforce management firm.

Jones told the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in a report published Oct. 10 he was considering a move out of District 7.

He rolled to re-election Nov. 6, defeating Matthew A. Kezhaya, a Democrat, and Joseph Bollinger, a Libertarian. Jones had 4,124 votes (63 percent). Kezhaya was second with 1,904 votes (29 percent), and Bollinger was third with 493 votes (8 percent).

Jones said he moved out of District 7 days after he won re-election. He said he had no intention to move out of the district once the re-election cycle started.

Kezhaya, a lawyer, said the residency issue for political candidates centers on intent. Kezhaya said he and Bollinger called for Jones to withdraw before the election. In the end, the voters spoke and Jones won two-thirds of the votes, Kezhaya said.

"I have no hard feelings about losing, but I have questions about how it all went down," Kezhaya said of Jones' residency at the time of the election.

Jones' fourth term will end Dec. 31. A vacancy will be declared, and the Quorum Court will have to approve it after Jones doesn't take the oath of office Jan. 1, Spence said. Hutchinson would then name a replacement. State law says Jones will serve on the court until his replacement is named, Spence said.

The situation is similar to when Justice of the Peace Frank Winscott, a Republican, won re-election in District 2 in 2012, but resigned after moving out of the district, Spence said. Then-Gov. Mike Beebe appointed Democrat Rey Hernandez to fill the spot. Hernandez is the last Democrat to serve on the Quorum Court.

Fifteen Republicans make up the Quorum Court. The court will stay that way next year as three new Republicans won seats in November.

Debra Hobbs will represent District 3. J.D. Hayes, the justice of the peace for District 3, was appointed to the position and wasn't eligible to run for the seat. District 3 is in southwestern Rogers.

Carrie Perrien Smith won in District 5. Mike Jeffcoat, who holds the seat, was appointed to fill an unexpired term and wasn't eligible to run for the position. District 5 includes parts of Rogers east of Interstate 49 and south of U.S. 62.

Dustin Todd won in District 11. Bob Bland, the incumbent, didn't seek re-election. District 11 covers most of the northwestern corner of Benton County, including Gravette and Decatur.

Democrats have work to do if they ever want to break the Republican stronghold in Benton County, Kezhaya said. Fundraising and communication with voters need to be better, he said. Democrats ran for six justice of the peace seats and came away empty-handed with the closest race being 13 percentage points.

"On average, most people here are inclined to vote Republican," said Kezhaya, who plans to run for justice of the peace again.

Jones said he hasn't given running for office again much thought, but he wants to stay involved with issues the Quorum Court faces. He has a keen interest in the proposed courthouse project as it makes its way to voters in March. Jones is a proponent of the downtown location and the one-eighth cent sales tax to build it. He took part in the third and final readings for the two ordinances when the Quorum Court met Nov. 29.

"I am glad we, as the Quorum Court, were able to put something forward," he said. "It was a big thing for me to be a part of."

Jones was recognized by fellow Justice of the Peace Joel Edwards for his work on the Quorum Court at the Finance Committee meeting Tuesday night.

"We are losing someone who truly understands county budgets," Edwards said of Jones. "You will be missed."

NW News on 12/09/2018

Print Headline: Benton County justice of the peace moving on

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