QC votes down county purchase

After a fairly heated debate that included an impassioned outburst from a member of the gallery, the Drew County Quorum Court voted not to purchase the University Center Arena in its regular meeting Monday night.
In the absence of an ill Drew County Judge Robert Akin, Justice of the Peace Tommy Gray was unaminously chosen to lead the meeting. County Attorney Cliff Gibson suggested to the court it wait until October for Akin to be present but a vote to table the matter failed.
The question before the QC was to purchase the area, located south of the University of Arkansas at Monticello, as a replacement facility for the existing county shop. The price of the building and grounds was set at $450,000—at which many JPs balked. Price wasn’t the only factor in some court members’ hesitancy but it was a huge one.
Gibson informed the court that, should a vote be taken Monday, it didn’t mean the matter could not be revisited at some point in the future. To decline purchase at this time would be just that, Gibson told the court—at this time.
“We’ve talked and talked and talked about this,” JP Patty Mitchell said during the court’s discussion of the purchase, “and I hate it the judge couldn’t be here—I wish he was. In all honesty, though, I don’t think there’s anything he could say that would change my opinion. It’s not a good fit for the county.”
The justices agreed they had all heard from their constituents that purchasing the property “was not a good idea,” JP Frank Appleberry said. He went on to say, “if that’s their (the owners of the center) final offer, I agree with everyone on the court but if it’s not, it possibly deserves some reconsideration.”
A majority of the justices noted their constituents not only thought the price of the building was too high but that the facility was inadequate for the purpose the county wants to use it. The location was also a concern for some.
“This is not the end,” Gray said of the QC’s search. “There are other places out there that have been brought to our attention—even a year ago (when the QC began discussions on this particular purchase).”
Repairs needed to be done on the building were also a big sticking point with some members of the QC.
“I can see a lot of things wrong with it,” JP Chris Barnett said. “I just can’t see us having the talents to rebuild a structure like that. We would have to hire people and I keep hearing about, ‘We can fix this flooding area’ but we can’t keep the water out of the office. I’m not convinced; I think there’s other facilities out there. I think everybody on this board agrees that we do need a new facility, but I don’t think this is it.”
Following a lengthy dialogue among themselves, the court opened the floor for public debate. Only one member of the gallery had anything to say.
“Irregardless of whether y’all but the building or not, it’s for sale,” said Dr. Joe Miles, a local dentist who is part of the arena’s ownership group. “You’re representing the people of Drew County and when you text among yourselves and say I don’t know what I’m talking about, I take that personally.
“I’ve dealt quite a bit with agriculture, imminent domain and the Corps of Engineers. Why don’t you stand up before the public and say those things? Our judge was represented as a dumb*** and I was represented as if I didn’t know what I was talking about. Don’t tell me in a text I receive that I’m a dumb*** or that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m a very intelligent person—whether you agree or disagree, I couldn’t care less.
“I’m not here to be popular. I’m here to give you an opportunity. If you don’t want the University Center, I don’t care.”
With that, Miles left the building. When the dust settled, cooler heads prevailed and Gray called for a vote. The vote was 8-1 not to purchase the building.
In other matters, the court:
• Heard and approved the monthly financial report from County Treasurer Charles Searcy;
• Heard the monthly Drew Memorial Health System report from DMHS Chief Financial Officer Melanie Colwell, in the absence of Chief Executive Officer Scott Barrilleaux; and
• Heard a presentation about the county flood plain from Michael Borengasser, the state climatologist with the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission.

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