Yes there’s a presidential primary tomorrow and dozens of judicial races to decide in Arkansas, but for passion it might be hard to top races for Quorum Court in Pope County.
The casino debate there has stirred the populace.
The Racing Commission might vote this week to clear a permit for the Cherokee Nation to open a casino in Pope County, but, even if it does, that won’t end legal disputes.
Meanwhile, local voters continue to argue about the secretive way that the Quorum Court reached a decision to favor the Cherokees and refused to enforce a voter-approved ordinance requiring a local option election on the casino (an unconstitutional ordinance, a court eventually ruled.)
The controversy is THE issue in races for the quorum court, the county governing body. See this op-ed published Sunday by The Courier, signed by five members of the Quorum Court — Ray Black, Reuben Brown, Philip Haney, Ernie Enchelmayer and Caleb Moore, all supporters of the deal in which the Cherokees promised nearly $40 million in spending on government and non-profit agencies if favored for the casino permit.
They are unhappy about campaign ads highlighting an investigator’s finding that county officials violated the Freedom of Information Act in casino deliberations. They dispute this and complain they weren’t interviewed. Opponents of the casino note that the investigator tried to reach Caleb Moore, who didn’t return calls. And the investigator also reported in his notes that the county attorney, Clay McCall, initially advised JP James Kusteren not to submit to an interview.
The fact is, as the investigator noted, business was done without public notice. And FOI law or no FOI law, the casino deal was cut without public debate, though finally in a legal public vote.
Interesting, too, will be campaign contributions to candidates, as yet not readily available.
The op-ed from the five JPs, by way of general response, said this:
We have taken the burden and responsibility of an issue that we didn’t want nor asked for, but we have done it to the best of our abilities while maintaining our character and integrity that the people in our districts expect from us. We all realize that this issue was thrust upon us by a statewide vote and that the previous county judge wrote a one-sentence letter that opened the door for a casino to be located in Pope County. We hope that the citizens of Pope County see through the false accusations and distorted truth. We are men that have nothing but love for this community and the people in it and any decision we have made was only out of trying to do our best for Pope County.
The election features 27 candidates vying for 11 contested seats on the 13-member Quorum Court. The five who signed the op-ed all face opponents who are casino opponents or critics of how the Quorum Court handled the matter.
Does it matter as to the future of the casino? The Quorum Court won’t take office until 2021. Legal challenges might be resolved by then, though a Mississippi casino company’s case that it has a valid permit application won’t be finally decided until the Arkansas Supreme Court rules. Future Quorum Court deliberations might be necessary.