The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has the latest on County Judge Joseph Wood‘s questionable practices in Washington County, where County Planning Director Jim Kimbrough has resigned:
Kimbrough’s resignation comes just as a Washington County Circuit Court judge is poised to rule on a lawsuit linked to how Wood handled hiring and firing department heads, including Kimbrough’s position, last year.
Wood hired Kimbrough after Wood was sworn in as the new county judge in January 2017. In December 2016, Wood terminated former Planning Director Juliet Richey and three other employees and replaced them with new hires. Kimbrough was hired to replace Richey.
A lawsuit brought by a former employee claims Wood didn’t follow county policy, and the money paid to the new employees should be returned to taxpayers, according to the class-action lawsuit. Kimbrough is among employees Wood hired listed in the lawsuit.
Wood, previously deputy secretary of state under Mark Martin, won the seat in 2016 after Republicans tapped him to be a replacement candidate in an emergency meeting of the county party committee a few months before the election. Former State Rep. Micah Neal of Springdale had been the Republican nominee but decided on June 30 not to seek the office. Neal claimed it was because he wanted to devote more time to business and family, but six months later pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges, admitting that received cash kickbacks from the Springdale Bible college Ecclesia College and another nonprofit (in a show of chutzpah, former Sen. Jon Woods, later charged as Neal’s alleged co-conspirator, was one of the candidates who vied against Wood to replace Neal).
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When Neal suddenly dropped out of the race, it left the Republican party scrambling. The law doesn’t allow the party to replace a candidate on the ballot that late in the process except in cases of death or incapacitating illness, or if the candidate moves out of the county or district. So Neal then changed his tune and announced that he was dropping out because he was moving out of Washington County, to Benton County (even though Neal continued to represent his legislative district, which is entirely in Washington County, and the family restaurant he owns is in Springdale). This was a laughable excuse at the time, which only became smellier once Neal pleaded guilty to receiving the kickbacks.
The Democratic Party sued to stop the last-minute shenanigans. The lawsuit was unsuccessful, and Wood won the seat in November. Once elected, he promptly began firing county employees to replace them with his own allies, prompting this latest lawsuit.
(Blue Hog Report has done a good job digging through the muck to show that Neal pretty clearly lied about his reasons for dropping out of the race to circumvent election law and hand the seat to his buddy Wood.)
By the way, you know who is a member of the board of directors of Ecclesia? You guessed it! Joseph Wood. Tangled web in northwest Arkansas…