FAYETTEVILLE -- Longtime Justice of the Peace Butch Pond is being challenged by political newcomer Ash Lee Hicks for the District 15 seat on the Washington County Quorum Court.
Hicks was unopposed in the Democratic Party primary, and Pond had no challengers in the Republican Party primary.
The Quorum Court is the legislative body of county government and is composed of members called justices of the peace, who are elected to two-year terms. The 15-member Washington County Quorum Court currently has four Democrats and 11 Republicans.
District 15 covers parts of southeastern Washington County, including the easternmost parts of Fayetteville through Goshen, Elkins and south past Durham.
Early voting starts Monday. Election Day is Nov. 8.
Pond said he wants to continue serving the residents of District 15 and seeing the county provide the services they need, such as county roads, as the area grows.
"I keep seeing the need for someone to represent the people who live outside the cities," Pond said.
Hicks said she has seen a disturbing trend of increasing partisan politics in local government and hopes she can help bring the focus of county government back to the people.
"I've seen rude, disrespectful behavior among the justices of the peace and toward the public," she said. "I think we all can do better."
The candidates split on one of the biggest issues facing Washington County, the proposed expansion of the county's jail.
The Quorum Court in July approved setting a Nov. 8 special election on a proposal to issue up to $113.5 million in bonds for a jail expansion and up to $28.5 million in bonds for a Juvenile Justice Center expansion project. The bonds would be paid by a 0.25% sales tax increase that would expire when the bonds are paid.
Hicks doesn't favor the sales tax increase or the planned expansion as it's proposed.
"The county has that 2019 criminal justice system assessment, which is already paid for, and has not implemented any of the recommendations in the study," Hicks said. "We should at least try the alternatives before deciding to build a bigger jail. We do need some expansion for services in the jail. There's no GED program at the jail now. We should be building classrooms, not jail beds."
Pond said he has advocated for a jail expansion for more than six years and he favors the current proposal.
"There are people who need to be locked up," he said. "We still need to consider their value as human beings and provide the right kind of environment, with all the proper amount of space and services. These are people who need to be locked up, but it should be a place where they're treated humanely."
Pond said he understands the county needs to focus on basic services to meet the needs of a growing population.
"I'm still interested in road improvements," he said. "As the county grows, the need for better roads keeps growing."
Hicks said she wants more openness in county government and is concerned with increasing support for rural water and sewer projects.
"The recent drought really showed the need for better water service for all of the county," she said. "I am very interested in expanding the availability of water to the rural areas."
Each justice of the peace represents a district of roughly equal population. Redistricting for justice of the peace seats took place late last year.
Washington County justices of the peace are paid $200 for each Quorum Court and committee meeting they attend.
Justice of the Peace
Ash Lee Hicks (D)
Residency: Fayetteville for 10 years
Occupation: Registered nurse, nursing clinical instructor at Northwest Arkansas Community College
Education: Working on master’s degree in nursing at Post University in Connecticut
Political Experience: None
Butch Pond (R)
Residency: Rural Washington County for 38 years
Education: Fayetteville High School
Political Experience: Washington County Quorum Court since 2002