New Developments

By Chris Villines
AAC Executive Director

Ralph Waldo Emerson once penned, “The Earth laughs in flowers.” As we close the book on this winter, and turn toward the spring, it is a unique time to assess where we’ve been while looking ahead. And revel in the world’s laughter around us.

Not too distant in our rear-view mirror lies the COVID-19 pandemic. During my life, I never gave a second thought to the idea that our worst Hollywood nightmare could be the world we lived in, but that’s exactly what happened for a good two-year stretch. The world will never be the same, and our time and memories will be sorted to pre-, during and post-COVID lives.

I think we are in such a rush to leave behind those tumultuous times that a natural leaning toward the status quo is, at least for a while, the societal norm. Don’t be fooled. The world around us is moving faster than ever, and if you are standing still, you lose ground fast.

So, I applaud the vision for the future that our AAC Board of Directors has set, and I’ll fill you in on the details momentarily. But first I reflect on the irony that our 2020 AAC Annual Conference was themed “20/20 — A Perfect Vision of Arkansas Counties.” Well, that ship sunk pretty quickly.

As we’ve resumed our gait we’ve found some major opportunities before the Association. First, cyber security was a nebulous and faraway proposition. We all had firewalls but learned quickly through several events that this is our new front for defense. As a response, the AAC has hired a Network/Cyber Security Engineer — Jim Grinder. You will have a chance to meet Jim as we introduce him at upcoming association meetings.

Jim brings a wealth of security expertise with him and will work with you, your IT staff, and our vendors to proffer advice and help on training and security that we will all benefit from. We have an amazing cross-section of pragmatic intellect with you all, and communication connecting us all, sharing advice and learning from one another will be our defined goal with this position. With federal grant money made available at a statewide level, Jim will help maximize the utility of this revenue for the next few years.

Another opportunity is on the communications forefront. Some associations leading the charge in this arena are building out actual studios not dissimilar from local news sets. These are empowering those associations to share quickly and efficiently across multiple platforms. We are leaning into this technology and will soon have a facility you will be proud of.

Think preservation of training, like the bootcamps Mallory Floyd has been spearheading, available on video at any time for your office. Guest speakers like communications guru Mark Weaver. Jail trainings by JaNan Thomas and team. As a former collector, I remember the seasonal quiet of summer, and I would have loved to have additional training my employees could have gone through without leaving their desks. The slate is clean, I invite you all to dream with us about what kind of programming would best benefit you … and let us know.

Another opportunity has long-lain dormant next door to the Association. Three vacant lots, totaling approximately 1/2 of an acre, sat between us and the Arkansas Education Association (AEA). Our good neighbors to the west may very well have had plans at one time for that land, but it sat undisturbed year after year. In fact, Eddie Jones (who served on the AAC board for several years before becoming my predecessor), told me that for 30 years we’ve been wooing the AEA to listen to offers. Your AAC Board of Directors worked with me in a, shall we say, reinvigorated effort to purchase this property. After several meetings over several years, we have now bought the vacant lot to our immediate west, and it is available for our development.

It is needed. In the last few years, we have gone from representing 42 of our counties in risk management to all 75. We’ve also grown our worker’s compensation program to handle all 75 counties as well. All voluntarily, and all because we provide the best service at the best price — and I offer a big thank you to Debbie Norman and her team because of this. In the meanwhile, we also took in house the lions-share of our legal defense and now have a formidable law firm under our roof, replete with paralegals, assistants, and all the accouterments that go with it.

We’ve undergone a major growth phase, going from about 20 to approximately 40 employees over the last 15 years — and my how the service to our counties has increased.

The time has come to grow again. And I invite you to join me in thanking our AAC Board for their vision and conservative financial steps. For years they have been setting aside resources allocated for future capital expansion — and the time is now. We will be providing more details to you in the coming months — and we look forward to the ability to grow cyber security, communications, and education with designated meeting space as well.

One thing I try to remind our groups when they come through new-elect training is that for the roughly 1,400 county and district officials and for the 16,000 county employees across the state, our offices are your home. We look forward to making your home even more functional for you, and we always invite you to spend time with us in Little Rock. By virtue of being elected you are a part of something special.


April 8 is a few days away, but it marks the first time in over a century Arkansas has been in the path of totality of a solar eclipse. Some are calling it “Darkansas,” and I’ll have to buy that T-shirt. My prayers are with you all as we encounter hundreds of thousands of people not from here for what will prove to be a multi-day event. Thank you to all of you who have helped us as we’ve led in communicating potential county responses and activities. I believe our counties are mostly well prepared. Here’s hoping no problems lurk in the shadows.


Our 2024 annual conference is right around the corner. In coming days, you will receive a Save the Date postcard, including the annual theme. The conference this year is from Aug. 7-9 in Garland County, and we look forward to building another great event for you. I’ll leave you with one hint. Think stonewashed jeans.

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