Cities agree to end appeal on judge's ruling

Friday, June 4, 2004

The cities of Manila, Dell, Blytheville and Gosnell agreed at a Wednesday, May 19, meeting to pull an appeal from the Arkansas Court of Appeals. The petition was filed by the Municipal League Attorney on the request of the four municipalities.

"We were encouraged to pull the appeal by Municipal League Attorney Don Zimmerman," Manila Mayor Clifford Veach said. "We have complete confidence in Zimmerman's advice. The cities haven't lost anything by ending the appeal. We are still looking at our options."

The appeal concerned a jail fee issue which has been an ongoing debate between the four cities and Mississppi County since the Quorum Court passed an ordinance to charge cities $35 a day for housing municipal prisoners.

The appeal was filed on a decision by local Circuit Court Judge David Laser that said prisoners housed in the county jail but processed by municipalities are considered municipal prisoners.

Veach said Zimmerman explained that the decision by the Court of Appeals would be the same as a state law. If that decision was against the cities, there would be a chance that it could be harsher than agreements already in place between cities and counties in the state. Since it would be law, all other cities and counties in the state would be required to comply with the ruling which could result in bad feelings between Mississippi County and the rest of the state.

"Zimmerman pointed out to us that we are dealing with a judge-made law. It has the potential to be incorporated into a state-wide ruling. That's not the way laws are supposed to be made," Veach said. "Our cities haven't lost anything by ending the appeal on Judge Laser's ruling. We will probably go ahead with collecting signatures on a petition to get a vote on the ballot to repeal the sales tax."

Veach pointed out that the voters of the county passed a sales tax to fund the county jail. Veach said they will be looking at all options in this issue.

Blytheville City Attorney Mike Bearden said he had received notice that the appeal had been dismissed.

Bearden said he had been notified on Wednesday that Mississippi County had filed suit against Blytheville demanding payment of $276,745 in jail fees.

"I recommended to dismiss the appeal based on my information that the county would be willing to enter into negotiations with the cities. I was surprised by the suit," Bearden said.

Bearden said he had 20 days to answer the suit.

"If it comes to that and we lose, we still have the option to appeal," Bearden said. "I hope negations can start before it comes to that."

Manila City Attorney Wayne Wagner also commented that he hoped the County Government and City Government can get together and negotiate.

"What the County Government needs to realize is the people in Manila, Blytheville, Gosnell and Dell are also a part of Mississippi County. It has a tendency to be more of a political matter than legal matter. They need to realize that the money being spent on legal expenses could go a long way funding senior citizens needs," Wagner said.

"We thought when we passed the sales tax for the jail it would take care of the jail expenses. If it is called a tax or a fee, it amounts to the same thing and the money comes from the hard working people of Mississippi County."

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