The state Ethics Commission last week cleared three members of the Pope County Quorum Court who’d been named in ethics complaints for supporting a resolution in support of the Cherokee tribe’s proposal to build a casino in the county.
The complaint alleged potential personal connections with the project. But the Ethics Commission concluded
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- That JP Ernie Enchelmayer had done no wrong though the resolution included a promise by the Cherokees to give $10,000 to the River Valey Arts Center. His wife is a board member and unpaid volunteer there, which didn’t constitute a substantial financial connnection, the Ethics Commission said.
- That JP Caleb Moore had done no wrong in approving the Cherokee proposal, though it might exercise options for land it obtained through an agent for his father’rs real estate firm, for which he also works. The agent involved has done work for four of five casino applicants and has pledged his commission to charity. Moore’s father was an outspoken casino critic and helped finance the campaign for a local ordinance that required a vote before a casino application could go forward. That ordinance has been struck down in court.
- That the person originating the complaint, William J. Ogles of Jacksonville, could withdraw a complaint against Doug Skelton. Ogles had originally suggested, without offering proof, that Skelton had done legal work for one of the casino applicants.
Those targeted expressed satisfaction, as reported here in The Courier.
“Today’s hearing by the commissioners at the Arkansas Ethics Commission and their subsequent 4-0 vote confirms what we already knew: That our character and our integrity are intact,” Enchelmayer said. “I’m grateful for the thorough investigation that was conducted and that my name and my wife’s name have been cleared. Now that we have been cleared, it’s time to get back to the business of serving Pope County and our constituents.”
“This is the absolute vindication we sought,” Moore said. “We knew these allegations against us and, by extension, our families and businesses, were baseless but the best way to demonstrate our innocence was to let this process play out with the Ethics Commission. We are ready to move forward.”
“I think most people in our community knew the allegations of ethics violations were politically motivated,” Skelton said. “I want the people of Pope County to know that the Pope County Quorum Court is where the words ‘honesty,’ ‘integrity’ and ‘duty’ are given meaning by all members.”
Casino entanglements remain. Still unresolved is a Freedom of Information Act complaint that the Quorum Court met privately to consider the Cherokee proposal. Circuit Judge Tim Fox injected a new delay in Little Rock yesterday by telling a Mississippi casino operator to take its case over its qualification to win the permit back to Pope County or wait months for him to find a place on his docket to consider the case. The Racing Commission seems likely to be reluctant to act on pending applications for a permit in the face of this pending lawsuit. But commissioners might decide to move ahead. If they followed their rules and gave a permit to the Cherokees, the only qualified applicant under the rules requiring approval by current local officeholders, the Mississippi group could sue contending it didn’t receive fair consideration for its application approved by a county judge in office in 2018. But it would then likely find itself back in Judge Fox’s court.
The city of Russellville, not included directly in the Cherokee handouts to local governments (though a major beneficiary in payments to services it shares with others), appears to have backed off its rump effort to pick a favorite of its own. Negotiations appear to be underway between the county judge and Russellvile mayor. Should the city eventually annex land chosen for the casino (a site isn’t firm yet and includes a potential site in another small town) it would thus be eligible for a greater share of property tax and casino tax payments. Russellville aldermen are saying there’s no need to push forward with a recommendation for an alternate casino applicant in light of recent developments.
Finally, I learned yesterday that an ethics complaint had been filed by casino opponents against Circuit Judge Bill Pearson of Russellville who struck down the local referendum ordinance as unconstitutional. The complaint noted an endorsement of Pearson for judge the day after his ruling by County Judge Ben Cross. The endorsement was posted on the judge’s campaign Facebook page, then taken down after it was reported here. The judge’s supporters said the posting was their work, not that of the judge. The event raises questions about Pearson’s partiality, said a complaint by Harold Tate of Atkins to the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission.