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County officials should be knowledgeable, wise

By Eddie A. Jones
AAC Consultant

If you’ve visited New York City and had a chance to stop by 30 Rockefeller Plaza, you probably noticed the words “wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times” over one of the main entrances. If you think that sounds familiar, maybe it’s because it is a verse from the King James Version of the Bible, Isaiah 33:6.

The main entrance of 30 Rockefeller Plaza was designed as a loggia of three arches: one at the center and two somewhat smaller on the sides. Lee Lawrie designed the sculptural group Wisdom, A Voice from the Clouds for the lintels of the three arches. Lawrie’s carved rendering of Wisdom is above the center arch, flanked by Sound on the left and Light on the right. The Wisdom frieze above the entrance is accompanied by the Biblical inscription “Wisdom and Knowledge shall be the stability of thy times.” It definitely makes for some very interesting art deco art.

This verse in Isaiah is evidently an address to King Hezekiah and asserts that his reign would be characterized by the prevalence of wisdom and knowledge. The stability of his reign denotes firmness, steadiness, constancy; and means that in his time, knowledge and the fear of the Lord would be settled on a firm foundation.

Hezekiah was the son of King Ahaz and the 13th successor of David as King of Judah at Jerusalem. Hezekiah reigned at a time when the Assyrian empire was consolidating its control of Palestine and Syria. His father Ahaz had placed Judah under Assyrian control.

The principal riches of King Hezekiah were his knowledge and wisdom. In his religious reforms, Hezekiah asserted Judah’s inherited Hebrew traditions and practices against imported cults of the Assyrian gods. He tried to achieve both political and religious independence for Judah. The book of 2 Kings provides the history of the virtuous reign of Hezekiah.

I personally believe that the Bible verse “Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times” is a great inscription to put over the door of every county official — or more importantly over/in your heart.

Knowledge and wisdom are elements of stability — a universal truth. What has ignorance and foolishness ever protected, built, or stabilized? Nothing. They are destroyers and exploiters.

It was my goal during my years as an elected county official to gain knowledge daily and learn to use that knowledge wisely. I continue on that journey. But it takes effort.

I’m no smarter than the next person, but I work at learning every day. Every county official should. There is so much to learn that you will never learn it all. But every time you learn something you’re a little bit closer.

I said all of that to say this: Let’s learn a little with a Q & A session.

Question — Why are counties not allowed to do business with credit unions?

Answer — The short answer is we aren’t allowed to use credit unions because of the “bank lobby.” Every few years, credit union supporters and advocates take their plea for fairness to the Capitol with a simple message: Allow local government to have a choice when it comes to their banking needs. Current law does not allow credit unions to accept deposits from local government entities; it only allows for local governments to bank with commercial, for-profit Arkansas banks.

Arkansas county officials cannot drive down the street to the local credit union and conduct county business with them because legislation that would allow local government that choice has been stopped time after time. The ability to do county business with a credit union could lead to receiving a better rate of return on tax dollars and the ability to keep county funds within their communities.

Further, credit unions are 100 percent member-owned and return all their profits to their members, and in turn, into the community. Banks, on the other hand, are management/board driven, shareholder owned, for-profit institutions that transfer their earnings back to their shareholders, which are more than likely outside of the community or the state — especially in today’s bank climate of large conglomerate buyouts.

In the past, opponents of a credit union bill have claimed that credit unions should not be allowed to serve local governments because they “do not pay taxes,” which is not only a grave misrepresentation of the facts, but a rather archaic and self-serving argument. To claim that only for-profit banks should be able to conduct business with local government is a clear attempt to maintain the monopoly banks have had on accepting public funds and limit another accessible and qualified institution’s ability to compete in the market.

Credit unions pay tangible personal property taxes, real property taxes and, as employers, all employment taxes, as would any other bank. They are exempt from paying federal income taxes due to their nonprofit structure and mission to serve their communities. Essentially, credit unions pay the same taxes as a Sub S corporation.

Credit unions, in previous attempts to be allowed to take public deposits, have not asked for any kind of preferential treatment when it comes to the public funds market. Credit unions have simply sought the opportunity to provide depository choice for public offices.

Credit unions offer higher savings rates and lower interest rates on loans. Since they’re not focused on making profits but on covering their operating costs instead, credit unions are able to offer better interest rates to their members.

Created by the U.S. Congress in 1970, the National Credit Union Administration is an independent federal agency that insures deposits at federally insured credit unions, protects the members who own credit unions and charters, and regulates federal credit unions.

Counties are grateful for the good relationships they have established with banks over the years and for the many good things that the banking industry has helped provide for our areas over the years. But there is really no good reason for counties not to be able to use a credit union. The only reason we can’t is due to turf protecting. I get it; I just don’t agree with it. But I know what the law currently says, and as long as it does counties must do business only with Arkansas banks.

Question — Can the Assessor, Collector, or Treasurer pay for major repairs, rent of an office building or the purchase of a building for office operations out of their office budgets funded by commissions or “off the top” taxes coming from the various tax entities of the county, or is that an expense of the general fund?

Answer — I contend that routine maintenance can be charged against the office as part of the operation — a part of the expenses for operating the office. So, if it was a small, routine plumbing or electrical repair, I say yes. However, if it is a complete redo or replacement of all plumbing or electrical, the answer is probably no.

Here is my basis for that answer. The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed in Penix v. Shaddox (1924) that it is the county’s duty to furnish offices to the several county officers. The court held that the expense of office space is the responsibility of the county, not the county officer occupying the space. And since the expense was not that of the county officer, it could not be recovered as an expense of his office from funds handled by him on behalf of various taxing units.

That same reasoning was used in a 1983 Arkansas Supreme Court case out of Pulaski County — Venhaus v. Board of Education. In that case County Judge Venhaus diverted funds from school taxes to the county general fund to pay a portion of the rental of office space occupied by the assessor and collector. The County Board of Education filed suit and won in Chancery Court. The county appealed but the Supreme Court affirmed the chancery court decision citing the 1924 Penix v. Shaddox case where it was ruled that the expense of office space is the responsibility of the county.

Then in 1995 an AG Opinion [AG Op. No. 95-209] was rendered when Sen. Stanley Russ of Conway asked if Faulkner County could assign a pro rata portion of the costs of constructing a new county building to the county treasurer as an expense of that office. The answer was no, saying that the court cases Venhaus and Penix were controlling on that question. The AG opined that the expense of providing office space is a county expense and not an expense of the office holder that can be recovered from taxing units.

Question — There are times when county employees are pulled for jury duty just like any other county citizen. Is a county liable for paying the normal juror fees to a county employee for serving as a juror or prospective juror?

Answer — Yes, a county employee should be paid the per diem compensation for serving as a juror just like any other person. Ark Code § 16-34-103(a)(1)(2) says, “Any person who receives official notice that he or she has been selected as a prospective juror or who is chosen as a juror is eligible to receive per diem compensation for service if: (1) The person actually appears at the location to which the juror or prospective juror was summoned; and (2) The person’s appearance is duly noted by the circuit clerk.”

The per diem compensation, as established by Ark Code § 16-34-103(b)(1)(2), is $50 per day for a person who is selected and seated to serve as a member of a jury. Those who are excused or otherwise not selected and seated as a member of the jury are provided per diem compensation of not less than $15 as established by ordinance of the county quorum court for each day that they are required to appear at the location to which they were summoned.

In addition to the per diem established for jurors and prospective jurors, Ark Code § 16-34-104 establishes an avenue for mileage reimbursement in the event and to the extent that a county quorum court adopts by ordinance a policy for reimbursement of mileage costs for jurors. The mileage reimbursement payment is allowed only to those whose primary place of residence is outside the city limits of the court that summoned them for duty and is paid from and to his or her home by the most direct and practicable route at the rate prescribed by the county.

The deduction of jury duty fees from the salary of a county employee is prohibited by state law. Ark Code § 21-5-104(a) says, “No state, county, or municipal employer in this state shall deduct from the usual compensation of any employee, all or any part of the fees or compensation received by the employee for appearing for grand or petit jury duty or serving on any grand or petit jury in any court in this state.”

In fact, a county employer who violates the provision of Ark Code § 21-5-104 is guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction can be fined up to $250, and the violation constitutes grounds for dismissal of the employer from his or her office or position of public employment. Don’t jeopardize your job over a few dollars.

Did you learn anything? Can you use it wisely?

Wisdom and knowledge have quite a bit in common. Both words are listed as synonyms for one another at Thesaurus.com. In some cases they may be used interchangeably, but there are some important differences.

The word “knowledge” is defined first as the “acquaintance with facts, truths or principles. Knowledge is typically gained through books, research, and delving into facts.

“Wisdom” is defined as “the state of being wise,” which means “having the power of discernment and judging properly as to what is true or right: possessing discernment, judgement, or discretion.” “Wisdom” is typically gained from experiences and acquired over time.

The primary difference between the two words is that “wisdom” involves a healthy dose of perspective and the ability to make sound judgments about a subject while “knowledge” is simply knowing. Anyone can become knowledgeable about a subject by reading, researching, and memorizing facts. It’s wisdom, however, that requires more understanding and the ability to determine which facts are relevant in certain situations. Wisdom takes knowledge and applies it with discernment based on experience, evaluation, and lessons learned.

A quote by an unknown author sums up the differences well: “Knowledge is knowing what to say. Wisdom is knowing when to say it.” To put it another way, there is this simple fruit salad philosophy: “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in the fruit salad.”

My advice to county officials would be, “Learn county law and use it wisely.” To use another Biblical admonition from the New Testament Book of James, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

“I should like to know what a man with knowledge does not have. And I should like to know what he has, who has not knowledge.”

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