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PINE BLUFF -- The Jefferson County Quorum Court unanimously approved a countywide hiring freeze Monday that prevents the hiring of nonemergency employees by any county department through Dec. 31.

The emergency ordinance, which goes into effect immediately, was enacted in response to "anticipated 2018 and 2019 revenue shortfalls resulting from the ongoing County-wide economic crisis" and affects vacancies in all regular, temporary and acting positions of county employment.

Exceptions to the hiring freeze, according to the ordinance, are: the chief administrators of the circuit and district courts; commissioned law enforcement positions in the sheriff's office; custody and corrections officers in the sheriff's office; juvenile intake, probation and corrections officer positions; any position funded entirely by one or more grants, the use of which is restricted by law or contract; and temporary positions supporting the elections divisions of the county.

Other exemptions may be made by the Quorum Court if a given appointment is considered to be necessary for performance of a critical health or safety function, satisfaction of a legal mandate, efficient and cost-effective operation of the county, or substantially funded by a federal or state grant or other dedicated revenue source and is necessary to carry out a county obligation under a related grant or contract.

Any offer and acceptance of employment before the adoption of the ordinance is also exempted.

Ted Harden, a justice of the peace and chairman of the county finance committee, said the ordinance is intended to bolster a reduction in force ordinance approved by the Quorum Court in May that eliminated nine county jobs for a total projected savings of $368,129.71 in salary and benefits.

That ordinance sparked a lawsuit by Lafayette Woods, Sr., the circuit clerk for Jefferson County, against County Judge Gerald Robinson. Woods contends in the lawsuit, which is scheduled for a hearing on August 22 at 1:30 p.m. in Jefferson County Circuit Court, that cutbacks ordered by the county judge have made it impossible for Woods to fulfill his duties under the Arkansas Constitution.

"We had the cutbacks in staff that we made with the workforce reduction ordinance," Harden said. "This ordinance runs parallel with the workforce reduction. In other words, you reduce your staff but don't come back in and rehire, or over hire over what's been appropriated."

Last week, all county elected officials, the county judge's staff and all 13 justices of the peace were subpoenaed to appear at the hearing for Woods' lawsuit.

State Desk on 08/13/2019

Print Headline: Jefferson County freezes hiring amid 'economic crisis'

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