Quorum Court meeting ends in walk-out
Black justices clash with county judge over clerk’s office scandal
By THE TIMES NEWS STAFF
Black Justices of the Peace walked out of the July Quorum Court meeting after indicting their white counterparts in general, and County Judge Woody Wheeless in particular, of the Good Ol’ Boy way of conducting county business.
Justice Vickie Robertson spearheaded the verbal attack and packed up her brief case and led the Black contingent of JP’s out the door, forcing an early adjournment to the meeting.
The issue of polling centers, which Justice Robertson had opposed in the past, remained on the table until next month, while West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon, who had waited more than an hour to speak in favor of the polling centers to let any county resident vote at any polling place, did not get an opportunity to be heard.
The Black justices blasted
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the Quorum Court when Robertson, who chairs the Personnel Committee, delivered the personnel report. The entire quorum court had been invited to attend a personnel committee meeting to review a case off payroll irregularities in the office of County Clerk Paula Brown. The verbal salvos lasted nine minutes, effectively putting Wheeless on the defensive. Robertson compared and contrasted the treatment of white county employees and contractors differed from the treatment Brown had received with her payroll scandal, particularly, she said, compared to other cases of theft in recent county history.
“As a member of the personnel committee I have a question,” said Robertson. “Somebody told me that the charges against Rodney Davis (county code enforcement) had been dropped.”
It was news to Sheriff Mike Allen, who said he had learned about that just that morning. Davis had reported to the judge directly. He’d been caught stealing thousands on a credit card by the judge, who then fired Davis and turned over the information to the sheriff for prosecution. Davis made restitution and the prosecutor never brought the case to court according to the sheriff.
“Why would the state not prosecute when they have the evidence?” asked Justice Tyrone McWright.
“I checked with Michael Snell at the prosecutors office,” said Allen. “They said they were overwhelmed and he had paid the county back and they dismissed the charges. Snell said he would take the heat for that. He had 245 other cases to deal with. I said he was an acting deputy sheriff and should be held to a higher standard. He said with the important cases – like murder cases they can’t even get on the docket – they had to handle it that way. He said he would take responsibility for it.”
“So your office spends all these hours investigating what is going on and then can’t prosecute $4,000?” asked Robertson. “You know he paid it back after he got caught. Then we have the people stealing the gas (at the county shop) who couldn’t be prosecuted because we couldn’t determine how much was spent. We have the head of the department who was allowed to resign rather than be fired. We are not prosecuting anybody, but know we are going to spend all this time talking about Paula’s office but we let other people get away and can’t prosecute anybody? That’s still the Good Ol’ Boy Network we are talking about.
That is the frustration we feel. That is the frustration Cassy has, because depending upon who you are will depend on who gets prosecuted.” (said in reference to Lakeshore Mobile Home Community resident Cassy Bretherick and her appeals to the Quorum Court to address conditions in her community) Robertson then turned to Judge Wheeless.
“Now you are calling (prosecutor) Scott Ellington to investigate Paula’s office,” she said, “but you did not even know didn’t even know charge got dropped on a guy from your department.”
“I did not know – nobody notified me from the prosecutors office,” replied Wheeless.
“The charges were dismissed February 21 this year,” reported Justice Stacy Allen.
“This has to stop,” said Robertson. “Every meeting, we say ‘The Pledge of Allegiance’ – well y’all say it – ‘Liberty and Justice for all.’ What are we talking about?”
“I don’t have the authority to drop charges,” said Wheeless. “I am the one that sent him for prosecution.”
“You’re going to tell me you weren’t aware that it had been dropped?” asked Robertson. “I believe you knew. You can call me every other day and tell me what is going on in Paula’s office and Terry’s (Hawkins, circuit clerk) office but you don’t know what is going on in your own office? I don’t believe you did not. If we are going to be in an uproar about what is going on in one department, we need to monitor all of them. This has to stop. At what point do we prosecute and treat everybody on the same level? But if it a white male then they get away with with it.”
Robertson then took a more pointed line.
“I hate to put it along a racial line, for the white people that do not understand that the young people are protesting, this is a classic example of why they are protesting; because there are different rules,” she said. “There is one set of rules if you are young and Black. There is another set of rules for you if you are white. You have to admit there are two different sets of rules. There was no reason in the world why those charges should have been dismissed. We had the receipt showing where he took the money we had the receipt where he paid it back. It clearly showed he knew it was wrong, but then charges are dismissed. But when we have Blacks, they all get prosecuted. There is no rush. There is no case back log, no nothing. When they are Black they get prosecuted and when they are white they get dismissed. They go on with no record, they’re gone.”
Wheeless said he investigated and took appropriate action.
“I did my part,” said Wheeless. “I’m the one that started the investigation on the Road Department. I had two individuals arrested. Once it goes to the court system I don’t have authority over whether charges are dropped. I did my part.”
“Where is your outrage that the charges were dismissed?” replied Robertson. “Where was your outrage over the guys stealing the gas? Where was the outrage over the guys that they did not prosecute over stealing the gas. They had them on camera.”
“I inquired about that numerous times,” said Wheeless. “They could not determine how much fuel was taken.”
Justice McWright put his cap on the discourse.
“That goes back like I talked about, Judge,” said McWright. “What is right is right, what is wrong is wrong. It’s why they call us ‘Crookeded County.’ You campaigned that this would stop.”
“Once it goes out of my hands, I have no authority over it,” said Wheeless.
“You could have called Scott Ellington and told him his deputies weren’t doing the right job,” said Robertson. “If you put that call through to Scott, I think he would put that call through to his deputies. But, you didn’t even show that level of outrage. I’m really pissed off about Rodney.”
“It’s my fault what they did with Rodney?” asked Wheeless.
“Yes, it is, because it is the system’s fault and you are part of the system because you are not following through on it,” said Robertson. “I appreciate what you are showing us on the time clock but you spent so much time in everybody else’s office that something like that slips under your nose. That is your fault.”
With that all the Blacks on the Quorum Court walked out and the meeting adjourned due to lack of quorum.