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The basic idea of last week's last-minute Washington County proposal is fair enough: More proposed ordinances should be vetted by committees before showing up on the Quorum Court's agenda.

New Justice of the Peace Patrick Deakins of Springdale, who introduced the ordinance, said the measure was about transparency, giving justices of the peace more time to evaluate ordinances and ensuring the public has time to consider proposed changes.

Too many times in the two years he's attended Quorum Court meetings, Deakins said Friday, justices of the peace have had ordinances "dropped in their laps at the last minute."

"When we see something come right before us at meeting [time], and the public sees it at the same time, I don't believe that's transparency," new Justice of the Peace Andrea Jenkins said at the meeting.

The irony, lost on or ignored by the majority of the Quorum Court Thursday evening, was that Deakins dropped his proposal in their laps at the last minute. The further irony, for an ordinance designed to require most ordinances go through committees, is Deakins and a majority on the court also rejected a request to have Deakins' ordinance sent to a committee for review.

Instead, members of the county's legislative and budget-setting body voted twice (13-1 with Sue Madison opposing; 10-4 with Madison, Jenkins, Suki Highers and Butch Pond opposing) to suspend transparency-inspired rules requiring ordinances to be read at three separate meetings before adoption. The measure was adopted Thursday night instead.

Deakins said Friday it was important for just-appointed committees of the Quorum Court -- of which nine of 15 members are newly elected -- to start the year understanding rules by which the court will operate. He said new justices need time to get familiar with issues in committee before they're pressured to vote "yes" or "no" to adopt.

The irony creeps in again.

Sometimes, debate on the Quorum Court has been "monopolized by the same people," Deakins said Friday, but Robert's Rules of Order is designed to let the majority "move the football" while preventing a small minority from obstructing a consensus on the Quorum Court.

Again with some irony, Justice of the Peace Harvey Bowman said at Thursday's meeting he intends to introduce within a month or two a new change: Eliminate Robert's Rules of Order as the Quorum Court's playbook and substitute a custom set of rules to control how the Quorum Court does its work.

Support for the basic concept -- that the grunt work of drafting ordinances ought to happen in committee -- was universal. Questions centered on whether it overly restricts individual justices of the peace, each of whom were elected to serve their constituents.

Deakins appeared to recognize the concern. Before anyone asked, he said at the meeting he was "not trying to take away any of the power from any of the JPs on the Quorum Court."

But between his proposal, the short-cut way it was adopted and Bowman's plan, it's clear there's a move afoot to dramatically change the way the Quorum Court operates.

Deakins said the change reflected "no axe to grind with any member of the Quorum Court." I was curious because Eva Madison, a justice who is also an attorney, has rankled some members and the county judge with her persistent questioning on budget issues and legislation. She couldn't be at Thursday's meeting due to an out-of-town work responsibility.

It is intriguing, though, that a week before the move to strengthen the role of committees, County Judge Joseph Wood made his appointments to four standing committees. Besides the finance and budget committee, on which all 15 members serve, the only justice not appointed to any of the three other committees was Eva Madison.

In the end, the motion to adopt passed 11-3 (three Democrats, eight Republicans) with Sue Madison, Jenkins and Highers opposed.

One could argue, at least, the vote showed some bipartisanship.

Commentary on 01/20/2019

Print Headline: Quorum Court: Transparancy vital -- later

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