Look. I get it. I have voted in every presidential election since 1984, but I skipped a few mid-term elections here and there. And even in those presidential years, there were plenty of times I glanced down the ballot and saw a whole lot of names I’d never heard and thought it was probably best not to risk casting a vote for the “wrong” candidate.
We’re all busy, right? And who has time to pay attention to ALL those names and offices?
But you know what I’ve learned over the last few years? Those names you haven’t heard of are probably the ones that impact your daily life the most. And, unlike the presidential election that is decided by the electoral college, those local elections for state representative, city council and justice of the peace can be decided by the majority – even if the difference between candidates is as small as TWO VOTES! (seriously, TWO. I’ll let Kelly Krout explain.)
So, I’m running for Justice of the Peace, and one of the questions I hear a lot (actually, almost every time I introduce myself) is “What’s that? Are you a judge?”
Definitely not! In fact, the County Judge, who presides over the Quorum Court, isn’t even a judge in the way you think of a judge. The County Judge is an administrative position, like a Mayor, that presides over the Quorum Court. The Quorum Court is where the Justices of the Peace (JPs) do their work. It’s like a city council, but for the county.
According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, members of the Quorum Court “sit with and assist the County Judge in levying the county taxes, and in making appropriations for the expenses of the county.” And guess where the money comes from for those expenses? You guessed it – taxes
JPs in your county decide how to spend the sales tax you’re paying at the register when you make purchases, and also the fuel tax that is collected at the gas pump. They also make decisions about land use and the salaries and benefits of county employees and a number of other things you probably haven’t thought about. Any budget that is used to manage a department in the county is controlled by the Quorum Court and your JP. (You can see a map of JP districts here.)
But if you’re in the city, you only need to worry about city council candidates, right? Well, no. The city you live in is also located in a county. I’m a resident of Springdale, and my entire district is located within the city limits of Springdale, but as JP I would make decisions about county issues that could also affect my neighbors, because, as I said before, the Quorum Court manages the budget for every department in the county – everything from the animal shelter to the sheriff’s department to my local library to the road department. Here’s a list of the departments from A-E, and here’s F-Z.
So, if the County Judge and the Quorum Court are managing your money, do you know how it’s being spent? Are you paying attention to the goings on of your county’s Quorum Court? If you haven’t been, I suggest you start.
Washington County is entering budget season, and the first two meetings to address the budget for 2021 have been… well… educational. Three things I have been concerned about so far are alleged Freedom of Information Act violations, a suggestion that departmental budgets that haven’t changed much since last fiscal year could be approved without discussion, and the County Judge wants to include a 556% increase in his discretionary budget line. The increase would put $500,000 in his pocket with no oversight from the JPs (or you, the taxpayer). This, while Washington County is already facing a potential loss of revenue after this year’s census numbers are finalized of around $1,000,000.
Know who your JP candidates are and commit to voting down the ballot this year. Every vote counts in these races, and Washington County needs you.