04 Oct Jon Cartu Declares Republican incumbent faces Democratic challenger in…
FAYETTEVILLE — Republican incumbent Lance Johnson faces Mac Mayfield, a Democrat, in the race for the District 1 seat on the Washington County Quorum Court.
District 1 covers the northwestern part of the county.
Justices of the peace serve two-year terms. The Washington County Quorum Court is made up of eight Republicans and seven Democrats.
Justices of the peace are paid $200 per diem on days they attend Quorum Court or committee meetings.
Election Day is Nov. 3. Early voting begins Oct. 19 and runs through Nov. 2. A voter may request an absentee ballot application by contacting the county clerk in the county where the voter is registered, according to the Arkansas Secretary of State website. Voters may download the application from the county websites.
The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette emailed the same questions to the candidates. Their responses are below. Candidates were limited to 200 words per answer.
Question: Why did you decide to run for justice of the peace and what makes you the best candidate for the position?
Johnson: I have a desire to serve and want to bring my conservative business approach to the county government. I am running for reelection because there is still a lot of work to be done. I believe the experience I have gained through 28 years of owning a small business, 50 years in construction management, and the five years of observing the Quorum Court prior to my running in 2018 are what make me the best candidate.
Mayfield: Early last year, I was alarmed at the prospect of spending $38 million to expand the county jail and began attending Quorum Court meetings. I realized just how important county government is to our quality of life, and that I could make a contribution. My career of 40 years in HVAC design and installation consisted of solving problems by optimizing between cost, efficiency and, most of all, practicality. These are the same challenges faced by the Quorum Court: be good stewards of our precious tax dollars; provide critical services and infrastructure for our citizens; always be realistic in those endeavors. I hope to bring those skills and my experience to the court to work for a stronger Washington County and proactively meet the many challenges facing us today. Committing to a budget process that is transparent and provides departmental oversight; taking advantage of technology to streamline processes and operations; maintaining and improving county roads as weather patterns change.
Question: What area of county government are you most interested in and what specific plans or goals do you have in that area?
Mayfield: My background is in operations. For 10 years, I managed the largest commercial HVAC service organization in Arkansas with 100 employees and 70 trucks. That experience taught me that the devil is in the details. Managing the county’s purse strings is the number 1 responsibility of the Quorum Court, and the budget is the tool by which that’s done. Our county government can do a better job as illustrated by the budget and finance committee meeting of Sept. 8. The JPs only had a couple of days to review the budget documents. The JPs rightfully objected to just checking the box and requested more time for a closer look. I will advocate for starting the budget process earlier in the year so that it is comprehensive and not rushed. Another interest of mine is the $8 million energy performance contract signed last summer. While several good things have been done through this alternative financing arrangement, the estimated savings were very aggressive and could leave taxpayers on the hook for making up future shortfalls. The county operations team will have to be on their toes to achieve the savings required to make this a good deal.
Johnson: My primary interest is in the budget and the budget process. We need to completely revamp the process. We need to start by reviewing and understanding the revenue side of the budget. We must then agree on a target for “unappropriated reserve” for the general fund. This process then gives us the amount we can budget for all services. My second interests are the jail and law enforcement. We need to continue to work on the jail overcrowding and the long term solution to the jail expansion.
Question: County Treasurer Bobby Hill is projecting a drop of about $1 million in Washington County’s share of the revenue from the county-wide 1% sales tax after the results of the 2020 census are in. How can the Quorum Court deal with that drop in revenue while maintaining services?
Johnson: Treasurer Hill has factored in the $1 million revenue drop in his total revenue projects for 2021. Mr. Hill’s total revenue projection appears to be adequate enough to fund all county services. The normal sales tax increase, along with the internet sales tax, should more than make up for the shortfall. As the covid pandemic subsides, the quorum court needs to closely watch the sales tax revenue.
Mayfield: Business as usual for the county is a thing of the past. Going forward, budgets, contracts and standard practices need to be examined from the ground up. The sheriff reported in September that his department had renegotiated the reimbursement rate for holding federal prisoners and increased it by about 25%. That’s commendable, but please note that the contract allowed for renegotiation two years ago. The cumulative impact on the county budget has been several hundred thousand dollars in forgone revenue. While the county judge signs contracts, the Quorum Court should actively be reviewing new and existing commitments to find opportunities for savings such as this. Other revenue sources are available from grants. We can meet the challenge of reduced revenue by prioritizing them differently than we have in the past. The county and our municipalities have been very successful in receiving aid to purchase military grade equipment for law enforcement. So good, in fact, that there is over $1 million in the bank dedicated for these purchases. My thinking is that we will be stronger and safer by utilizing this type of funding to maintain critical services and to invest in smart infrastructure as opportunity allows.
Question: The Quorum Court has been discussing an ongoing problem with crowding at the Washington County Detention Center. A study recently commissioned by the Quorum Court offers some recommendations on ways to address the problem. What do you think the county should do to better manage the population at the jail?
Mayfield: The county got some good advice from the National State Courts System judicial review. The study calls out the lack of pretrial services. Last year, when the jail population peaked at over 800 detainees, more than half were locked up because they couldn’t make bail. For the lack of a few hundred dollars people spend 60 to 90 days in jail awaiting trial. Utilizing diversion, citation and social support instead of incarceration can improve people’s lives and save taxpayer money, too. The first step recommended by NCSC is the formation of a Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee to bring all elements of law enforcement and the judicial system to the table to craft solutions. An important element of this recommendation is that professional consultation be utilized to facilitate the CJCC’s formation and first year’s operation.
Johnson: The National Center for State Courts study pointed out two things that must be addressed immediately. 1. We must form the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee. This group of key stakeholders working together has the ability to significantly reduce the jail population. 2. We must find a way to reduce or shorten the stays of the FTAs (failure to appears). The large bonds and prolonged stays of the FTAs is causing a burden on the jail. We must also work on a long term solution for the jail capacity issues. The NCSC recommends a regional solution that has been suggested by others. This will take the collaboration of several surrounding counties, but if it can be done anywhere, it can be done in Northwest Arkansas. The Quorum Court must closely consider the study’s conclusions as well as continue proactive programs like the jail ombudsman to keep people with their families and jobs rather than using jail as the automatic response when a person is charged with a crime. As the study states, jail is the most expensive option and should be reserved for people who are a real threat to others.
Lance Johnson (R) Incumbent
• Age: 74
• Residency: Lived in District 1 for 30 years
• Employment: Owns and operates Lance Johnson Building Co.
• Education: Bachelor of science in civil engineering, Tri-State College, Angola, Ind.
• Political Experience: Serving first term as District 1 justice of the peace
Mac Mayfield (D)
• Age: 66
• Residency: Lived in District 1 for 26 years
• Employment: Retired, Harrison Energy Partners controls Avanatisteam engineers and and operations manager
• Education: Bachelor of science in civil engineering, University of Missouri-Rolla
• Political Experience: None