Media

Looking toward the future of our counties

By Chris Villines, AAC Executive Director

Bil Keane, creator of The Family Circus cartoons, was amazingly wonderful at perspective and seemed to often weave into his cartoons good life lessons. Also responsible for many great quotes, Bil penned, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.”

How fortunate and blessed we are to be here at this moment in time, and to be a part of government service that truly is the closest to those we serve. We are fortunate also to be a part of this year’s amazing celebration of 50 years at the Association of Arkansas Counties (AAC). This organization means so much, and we should all be encouraged by the strength our counties have because of the vision of our county forefathers in 1968.

Throughout this issue you will find information recapping this year’s conference, held in Benton County Aug. 8-10. It was a wonderful event that reflected countless hours of work by our AAC staff, leaders — both past and present, and the Board of Directors. I hope you were able to attend.

We stayed true to our conference theme, “Honoring our Past, Celebrating the Present, Envisioning our Future.” Eddie Jones narrated a video recapping how the AAC was founded and walking through the early years. I encourage you to both take a look at that video at www.arcounties.org AND to read Eddie’s article in this magazine. The honor was ours at this year’s conference, though, when we had the pleasure of hosting past AAC Presidents Judy Beth Hutcherson and Mike Jacobs at our head table along with past AAC Executive Directors Brenda Pruitt and Eddie Jones.

As for celebrating the present, speakers like Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Congressman Steve Womack, NACo Executive Director Matt Chase, Beatles expert Bill Stainton and a host of leaders in the opioid crisis all provided a great synopsis of where county government stands in the present. As for the celebratory aspect, everyone enjoyed the Beatles tribute band “Liverpool Legends.” Their performance was icing on the cake.

For the future, we all got a glimpse of things on the horizon. Ideas abound for the 2019 Arkansas legislative session, and the hood will be up on things like 9-1-1, homestead credits, and road funding. New legislators and statewide elected officials also will bring fresh ideas, and we will continue to forge great partnerships between state and local government.

Attending the AAC annual conference continues to be the most important tool in the toolbox of being the best county or district official you can be. And we encourage you to continue coming to this wonderful event. Next August we will be in Garland County, and we will be getting details out to you in early 2019 so you can begin making plans to unravel the mystery of our future. Hats off to all of you for great government service at home.

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Right before this magazine went to print, the Information Network of Arkansas (INA) hosted the 2018 Arkansas Digital Government Transformation Awards luncheon in Little Rock. This year the AAC and Arkansas Municipal League (ARML) partnered with INA to focus the event on local government transformation … and it turns out that was a great move for the awards program.

We will be sharing the winners with you through electronic media and future print issues, but suffice it to say that dozens of our county officials were recognized for outstanding work in various categories of using technology to further advance service to the public. What a great experience to come together and share the outstanding ideas all of you have taken from concept to implementation.

I am particularly proud of an award that reflects a new technological feature many of you are beginning to use. Two Governor’s Awards were given out —one city, one county — to recognize public servants who have used technology to make the greatest impact on Arkansans. The county award went to a team including Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery and AAC staffers Debbie Norman and Mark Harrell for the Justice Bridge. Justice Bridge is a video-based system that allows video communications between jails, circuit courts, some district courts and each of our 16 prisons.

Justice Bridge will save counties in the AAC Risk Management Program millions each year once we get to full implementation. We are already over 1/3 of the way there. By eliminating many prisoner transfers from state units to local circuit judges, we are shaving off costs and mitigating risk associated with these potentially dangerous and, in many cases, unneeded transports.

To our knowledge, this program is unique to Arkansas and nothing like it has been attempted in other areas of the country. AAC Risk Management member counties receive the phones in the jails and circuit courtrooms at no charge. If you have not yet received your phone please contact Mark Harrell in our office to begin scheduling installation.

Please join me in congratulating Sheriff Montgomery for his incredible vision for this program, and in AAC employees Debbie Norman and Mark Harrell for their leadership and implementation of this one-of-a-kind system.

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On June 24, our friend Don Zimmerman passed away following a brief bout with pancreatic cancer. The long-time ARML executive director was a leader among leaders in this state. He was the visionary and strategic leader for cities for over 40 years.

Join me in prayers for our municipal league family, and for Don’s family — especially his wife, Jan — as they move forward. I can never thank Don enough for his friendship and a partnership recently forged surrounding the state, county and city lawsuit against the opioid industry.

Our good friend Mark Hayes, long-time chief counsel at ARML has filled Don’s large shoes. We look forward to continuing the great county-city partnerships rooted in our great relationship with Don.

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