The Madison County Quorum Court will have at least two new justices of the peace after the Nov. 3 General Election as a pair of incumbents are not seeking re-election.

Democrat Sherri Cozad is running unopposed in District 3. She will replace Rick McLoud, who decided not to run for re-election for health reasons.

In District 6, Republican Wendy Pettz will face Democrat Travis Dotson on Nov. 3. The winner will replace Kenny Thomas, who moved from the district.

Quorum court members serve two-year terms, according to Madison County Clerk Tamitha Blocker.

Two incumbent JPs face opponents in the Nov. 3 election. In District 6, Republican Luke Dotson is challenging incumbent Democrat T.J. McCollough, while in District 9, Democrat Brandi McConnell Solorzano of Aurora is challenging incumbent Republican Matt Cleaver, who is seeking his second term on the court.

Incumbents running unopposed on Nov. 3 will be Democrat Jack E. Hudgins in District 1; Republican T.W. Dotson in District 2, Democrat Pattie Shinn in District 4, Republican Larry D. Garrett in District 7 and Democrat Devin Glenn in District 8.

Early voting will take place at the Madison County Courthouse. Week one will be Oct. 19-24 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Week two will be Oct. 26-31. The last day to Early Vote will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 2.

Fear of voting on Nov. 3 due to the Covid-19 Pandemic prompted state officials to allow voters to submit absentee ballots.

The deadline to request a mail-in ballot, by law, is one week before the Nov. 3 election. Blocker has urged voters to request an absentee ballot sooner rather than later.

Voters can request an absentee ballot at madisoncogov.com or by calling (479) 738-2747. A voter also can get registration and polling information at www.voterview.org.

Solorzano is seeking public office for the first time in challenging Cleaver, who replaced Chance Bryant on the court two years ago.

Solorzano is part owner of The Expelled and is a design assistant for Assemblage Wall Coverings.

Solorzano said she is running for office “because I feel like our quorum sits on their hands and says ‘well, there’s nothing we can do about that, so let’s move on.’ They do this without doing any actual research to see if these things can be done.”

Madison County Judge Frank Weaver earlier this year told the court that if Issue 1 on the Nov. 3 ballot is not approved by voters, it could cost the county more than $500,000 a year for roads and bridges.

The Arkansas Legislature in 2012 approved a half-cent sales tax, which generates about $90 million a year for roads. The tax is scheduled to sunset or go away in 2023 if it is not made permanent on Nov. 3.

The Arkansas Highway Department gets 70 percent of the tax revenue, with cities and counties getting the other 30 percent.

Weaver said the $500,000 that Madison County receives is for road construction, overlays and bridges. The City of Huntsville receives $54,677 in turnback money, with St. Paul getting $2,634 and Hindsville $1,422.

Weaver told the court, “If this sunsets in 2023 and is not passed again, it’s about $500,000 a year to road and bridge. There’ll have to be some cuts made or some money made up somewhere.”

Solorzano was asked where, if she wins a seat on the court, the lost money would be made up.

“Internal audits, of every line item in the county budget. More often than not, you can spot frivolous spending, and correct that,” she said. “Now, do I think there is $500K worth of frivolous spending? No, absolutely not, but I think combined with the audits, and having a judge that is willing to go to LR [Little Rock] and fight for our county, be it in legislative sessions or with grant writing, we might be able to curb some of those expenses.”

Madison County does not have regulations concerning tiny houses or cabins that often go up without water and sewer. Only the state Department of Health regulates sewer.

Solorzano said, “I ABSOLUTELY think this should be addressed by this court. This goes back to question number 1, another reason I am running. There is no reason to not have a hygienic property within our county. Raw sewage is a problem, governments made regulations to protect its people, as well as the environment. They are there for a reason.

Solorzano said she is “pro-tiny house,” if they “are maintained like a traditional home, and or located in a RV park with such amenities.”

Solorzano was asked about other issues facing the court.

“Use of county resources for personal gain, not taking advantage of programs and grants offered by the state, and how they handle budgeting. Just to name a few,” she said.

Cleaver said, “With a vacant position I felt it my due diligence to represent the largest district in Madison County to uphold, if not possibly better the court with new ideas while standing on the solid foundation laid by former JP Chance Bryant. One cannot sit in the stands and criticize if they are unwilling to get on the field.”

Cleaver also addressed Issue 1 on the Nov. 3 ballot.

“IF Amendment 1 does in fact not pass, the county budget would suffer, no doubt. The county currently receives two checks from this turnback on a monthly basis,” he said. “One check represents a bulk of the turnback which is placed into Road & Bridge. The other is placed into the General Fund. Since Road & Bridge has historically carried a surplus the supervisor of that fund, the County Judge, would have to manage the funds, or lack of, accordingly.” 

Cleaver, concerning tiny houses, said, “The County does not have the jurisdiction on tiny houses or cabins that going up without water or sewer. The same reach that is applied to someone building improvements on their property; i.e. a hay barn, shop building, wood shed, etc. Furthermore, when the court visited this subject earlier in the year it was constrained to enforcing regulations due to a lack of manpower in the sheriff’s office. At this time, although a tough subject, I feel 95% of the county should not suffer with zoning regulations to appease 5%. Let me reinstate, tough subject.”

Other issues facing the court include “Accountability. Management. Sustainability,” he said. “Madison County is still without a jail. This is a growing concern that through these trying times does not have any future plans or even Jail Committee meetings that I am aware of. The ever-growing costs of storing inmates in other counties is putting hardships on the budget that will only worsen.

“The sheriff’s office struggles with retention to other departments, and grant applications for deputy cost sharing are met with opposition. This county body must work in unison and hold each employee accountable for their office. Checks and balances are put in place to keep the County diligent in spending taxpayer dollars. We must abide by said checks and balances.”

Pettz, chairman of the Madison County Republican Party, said she wants to keep the District 6 position with the party.

“It’s previously been held by a Republican and I am involved in all kinds of county things, so it’s a great way to be involved. ... Since he’s [Thomas] moving out of the area, I chose to run for his position.”

Pettz was asked about the $500,000 shortfall to the county if Issue 1 is not approved by voters.

“This budget is very, very tight to begin with. I’m thinking that would be a very devastating thing for the county to lose that. Having not studied the budget completely, I don’t know if there’s is even a way to make up for that shortfall,” she said.

Pettz said other issues also will be before the court.

“I don’t see the jail issue going away anytime soon. I’m sure there’s a need for more personnel in certain areas, with the sheriff’s department and some other places that needs more personnel, and I’m sure that is going to be something people are going to continue to ask for to get their work done.”

Travis Dotson, owner of 4-D LLC, said he chose to run after speaking with Thomas about the open seat.

“Kenny Thomas  vacated his position, so I called and visited with him in regards to  running. He was very supportive and gave me insight to what on going concerns were.  The reason I do anything is for the love of county,” Dotson said.

“This county is second to none and has always been there for me so I feel it is a way to pay back.”

Dotson said Issue 1 is an important one for Madison County.

“First thing is I hope and pray that everyone votes for Amendment 1 – as with any political amendment there are pros and cons, however for our great county my opinion is the pros far outweigh the cons,” he said.

“I think if we potentially lose these funds it could become quite detrimental to  how we operate as our county has always in part relied upon these funds. However, should the Amendment not pass, I feel that it would be necessary to evaluate each entity within our county government.”

Dotson added, “The job of JP is not to simply pass budgets – it is to assist in decision making by quorum and offer ideas on how to save or spend money.”

Dotson also addressed the issue of tiny houses and the lack of regulation in the county when it comes to sewer and water.

“I think that the county has an absolute responsibility for the safety and welfare of each and every citizen of the county.  Serving currently on the city’s planning commission, I have seen first-hand, and been able to educate myself on why we require some of the simple regulations, such as set backs, zoning, water/sewer, road widths, etc.,” he said.

“These are just a few things that I feel the county should be looking at  in regards to tiny houses. Look it does not matter the square footage of a home, and I have no problem with tiny homes, however I feel we should and have the responsibility to assess and oversee permanent water, sewer/septic, accessibility for emergency services, etc. for tiny  homes, and any homes for that matter.”

Dotson added, “Reason being, it will negate any health issues or hazards that may arise from haphazardly throwing up something within our county that will potentially affect a neighbor.  (I will also add that I am referring to permanent dwelling and not cabins and such.)”

Dotson said other issues face the court, as well.

“I think the largest issue we are faced with in our county is the  support of our sheriff’s office, as well as our overloaded emergency services. Roads and bridges continue to deteriorate. Jail and lack there of, and the ability to cover every call that comes into the EMS and giving the Road and Bridge the equipment they need to operate,” he said. 

“Each have done a respectable and good job, however, each are overwhelmed and costs continue to rise. I feel that we should, since these are essential services; to each and everyone of us; look very closely and instead of blaming them for the problems - we have and must assist in helping them with these problems,” he said.

“We have great employees within the county, with lots of knowledge in their respective fields – yet we are quick to cast blame when something fails. We should lend an un-sensored ear and helping hand and delve into what the root of each problem – more than likely mostly financial – however, that is why we must think outside the box and keep an open mind when dealing with some county issues.”

Luke Dotson, who taught school for five years and is now a full-time cattle farmer, is looking to join his brother, T.W., on the court.

“I’m running for quorum court, because I am a life-long citizen of Madison County. I want to help keep Madison County a great place to live and great place for people to raise their kids,” he said.

“I am a strong conservative. I strongly disagree with the way the Democrat party has turned down the path supporting socialism, looting, violence, and constantly saying how bad America is. I’m proud to be an American, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Dotson said he hopes Issue 1 is supported by the voters.

“I do support the transportation tax. I think infrastructure improvement is always good,” he said.

“From my understanding that tax runs up in 2023 and this amendment vote would make it a permanent state tax. Madison County has a lot of improving to do as far as roads and bridges go. I don’t want to be taxed anymore than anyone else does, but nice and well-taken care of roads make it more safe for everyone to drive on. A well-groomed and well-made road is a safe road,” he said.

“As far as Madison County getting money from this tax, that is a good thing. But if this  amendment gets voted down, Madison County already has a county tax for highways and bridges, so this money is almost like extra money that just helps us that much more, but the county is prepared if we don’t receive this extra money from the state.”

T.W. Dotson often has spoken against tiny houses or cabins that often are installed in the county without proper sewer systems. He has said the natural beauty of Madison County, including its rivers, are being threatened.

Luke Dotson said, “As far as tiny houses and houses with no septic, I do think everyone should have a septic system. This is for environmental reasons as well as public health and safety,” he said.

“Drinking water is a necessity, and we should help protect and preserve this for future people.  Think about if someone sold 50 lots on a hill above a river and none of them had septic systems and there was a river below them that ran into Beaver Lake, then think about if 20 people sold 50 lots, eventually it would cause an impact on the environment. If something isn’t done about it now, eventually this sort of thing will happen.”

 

The Record reached out to all candidates for comments. The ones who responded were quoted in this story.