Programs address the risks you face in county government
By Chris Villines, AAC Executive Director
I saw something the other day that made me happy and sad at the same time. It was the newly coined word “Hotumn.” This probably was devised by somebody up North suffering through mid-80-degree late September heat and a dewpoint soaring around 55 degrees. Of course, I think we in the South should copyright and use profusely this new description of our normal transition into fall.
Over time, we simply get used to this tug of war between seasons, and since this is my 21st year in county government, I’m also used to the rite of passage that the beginning of school and our annual AAC Conference represents. Thinking back on our AAC Conference provides some wonderful memories of a great time in Garland County, and I want to thank our Hot Springs area hosts for making us feel at home. To me, having attended the last 21 conferences, it always mentally signals a shift into fall.
In this issue you will find a number of recap pages of our conference, and I want to thank an incredible AAC Board of Directors and staff for making it one of our most successful ones. There is always some room for improvement, and we will aim to continue to make it better year after year, but one shining light of this year’s conference was our Jail Track training.
For those of you in our Risk Management Program, you are aware of our growth in the legal department at the AAC. By adding four in-house attorneys over the last few years and commensurate support staff, we have created yet another nationally leading enterprise within this division. One of the most frustrating things we encounter as elected officials are lawsuits, frivolous or not. When you are sued, it becomes not only a legal issue, but also an issue of public opinion.
By adding a legal team with a focus on training and lawsuit response, we are offering the tools you need to not only win these lawsuits, but to prevent them in the first place — a goal that Risk Management Director Debbie Norman, the Risk Management Board of Directors and I have had for a number of years. The fruits of our labor are events like this Jail Track training at conference, something that we plan to continue and expand in the future.
To further enhance our training, all four of our risk management attorneys — Brandy McAllister, JaNan Thomas, Colin Jorgensen and Melissa Hollowell — have become certified CLEST instructors, giving our law enforcement valuable training hours toward their certification. The Jail Track training was not only CLEST certified, but it also provided CLE hours for lawyers toward their continuing education requirements.
This new world of risk prevention for us doesn’t confine itself to law enforcement though. Many of you have gained valuable employment knowledge from Brandy as she burns up the state roads to speak at your conferences or individually with your office-holders to help develop policies for your counties. I am excited about the fruits of this labor as we move into the future.
This transition within our office has made the Association of Arkansas Counties a formidable law firm, and the vision of our Board of Directors to make this happen has been laser beam focused and right on target. Your county board members who serve on the seven-member board are:
Jimmy Hart — Conway County Judge
John Montgomery — Baxter County Sheriff
Sherry Huskey — Randolph County Treasurer
Stacey Avey — Stone County Judge
David Lucas — Jackson County Sheriff
Brandon Ellison — Polk County Judge, and
Shane Jones — Pope County Sheriff
I mention this board because you have county friends on here steering the ship. They do a great job for you. Should you have any questions about the merits of our Risk Management Program, they can knowledgeably talk with you about the benefits, which are not limited to the newly created training programs. We lead the nation with programs like codification, Guardian inmate tracking and Justice Bridge, which is a nationally award-winning video link between courtrooms, jails and prisons.
The Justice Bridge program alone is saving counties hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in transport costs AND eliminating the risk of transports. The codification program is now online and allows you to view other counties’ ordinances when designing your own. And Guardian continues to improve with tracking abilities that will help us show you where the most risk exists in your jails.
You should all be proud of the AAC Risk Management Program. It has grown exponentially through the years and, unlike a non-county risk pool, you OWN this program while others RENT coverage. We look forward to continuing to grow this program and add new features for member counties into the future. What this board has done over the last few years is exciting and has shifted the paradigm not just in Arkansas, but nationally.
As we move ahead into our next season, please know we are working hard to continue improvements for you. If you have any questions, need any information or if you have ideas that could help the AAC help you, please let me know. It is an incredible honor to work for all of you, and each step forward gives us great satisfaction here at the Association of Arkansas Counties.