UP FOR DEBATE: This is a proposed design of a casino the Cherokee Nation wants to build in Pope County. Must county voters get a say first? It’s the subject of legal and Quorum Court debates.

Larry Walker, a Russellville lawyer who’s been active in the group opposing a casino in Pope County, says County Judge Ben Cross is polling Quorum Court members about whether to continue considering repeal of a 2018 ordinance requiring a county vote before the Quorum Court may approve a casino permit application.

In the meanwhile, he’s again put the repeal proposal on the agenda for a special meeting Monday.

Walker contends Cross’ email amounts to a violation of the Freedom of Information Act as an effective straw vote on an agenda item.

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The subject has arisen twice at past Quorum Court meetings but sufficient votes weren’t mustered — two-thirds of the 13-member county government body — to vote on an ordinance repealing the local referendum requirement. That ordinance is subject of a lawsuit and the county is running up a legal bill as a defendant.

The Quorum Court has already approved a casino proposal from the Cherokee Nation and has said it isn’t interested in four other applicants. It moved ahead on approval of the Cherokee plan after being told it didn’t need to worry about the referendum ordinance because it was an unconstitutional local addition to the amendment approved by state voters in November. The amendment  legalized existing casinos at two racetracks and provided for new ones in Pope and Jefferson Counties.

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The Quorum Court will meet at 5 p.m. Monday.

Walker sent an image of an email Cross had sent recently to members of the Quorum Court. It asks if JPs want to continue addressing the issue at every meeting or let litigation take its course. A hearing in the lawsuit over the referendum ordinance is set Tuesday. Cross said continuing litigation would require an additional $30,000 appropriation to the legal fund because the county has already spent more than $17,000. If the vote ordinance is repealed, that should make the current lawsuit moot. It won’t clear up a separate lawsuit in which the county is not a defendant over whether a Mississippi casino operator had gained valid local approval of its plan in 2018 with support of the then-county judge. He’s no longer in office.

“I just need to know how to proceed,” Cross wrote JPs. He said he saw no purpose in having the same 10 people for and against a casino come to the podium and speak at every meeting.

Walker also sent me responses from two JPs: Philip Haney (not Joe Pearson as I originally wrote) said he favored having the issue on the agenda every month. Reuben Brown said he wasn’t sure he’d vote to spend any more money on litigation.

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