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KEB working with court program to help clean the city

Posted on February 25, 2019

By Tia Lyons
Staff Writer

Keep El Dorado Beautiful is working with 35th Judicial District Court to bolster its mission of coordinating a sustained, communitywide effort to help keep El Dorado clean.

Janis Van Hook, president of KEB, said the group is applying for a state certification to take advantage of a court program in which defendants who are convicted of misdemeanor offenses can choose community service to work off fines and court costs.

“These are people who are not in jail. People who owe fines will be able to work them off because some of them can’t afford to pay fines,” Van Hook said during a recent KEB meeting.

The group had been advised to seek nonprofit status in order to participate in the program, but the KEB has since learned that it can move forward with the effort by applying for a state certification as a community/alternative service provider.

Van Hook said the group is working with local attorney Carla Gibson, of the 13th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, to complete the paperwork for the certification.

Barker has said that he is eager to get the local program off the ground and has expressed frustration with the litter that he sees along city streets.

“Right now, I want to get something going for this city,” he said.

Barker previously told KEB members that the availability of local community/alternative service providers that work with district court defendants has dwindled over the years.

The judge also said the district court program, which is handled by the district court administrator, can track the number of hours defendants work to pay off fines and the amount they owe to make sure the hours are properly recorded by the court.

Defendants earn $10 an hour and the amount is credited to the balance of their fines, Barker said.

The judge and KEB members have agreed to seek assistance from the city of El Dorado to provide transportation, including a vehicle and driver, and management of the program, including supervision of the participants and scheduling daily work assignments and areas to clean.

“We’re going to see if we can get a van and a driver for eight hours a day, five days a week. We need to make sure they work for eight hours. I think it’s going to make a tremendous difference in our litter problem,” Van Hook said.

KEB member Janelle Williams asked if the program would help with cleaning and clearing vacant lots throughout the city.

Van Hook and El Dorado City Council Member Dianne Hammond, also a member of KEB, noted that many of the lots are privately owned and the city council would have to mull over the matter.

Van Hook reminded Williams that the city stopped clearing vacant lots years ago after former Mayor Frank Hash said there had been damage to city equipment by objects that were hidden by overgrown vegetation.

KEB member Pat Smith inquired about insurance for participants in the court program, and Van Hook said district court has a waiver of liability for defendants who opt for community service to pay off fines.

Van Hook said KEB will continue to pursue its 501(c)3, nonprofit status to aid in efforts to solicit support from the local business community.

To move further in the process, Hammond said two KEB members would have to be listed as responsible parties and the group voted for Van Hook and KEB Jean Hadley, pending Hadley’s acceptance of the responsibility. Hadley was unable to attend the Feb. 18 meeting.

KEB is also working with city officials on quarterly, community cleanups to be held in each ward in 2019.

For the second consecutive year, Clean Harbors has donated money to KEB to offer cash incentives for groups who participate in the cleanups. In 2018, KEB called on city council members to coordinate cleanups in their respective wards to host one cleanup in each ward per quarter.

As in 2018, Ward 3 will take the first quarter, having scheduled its community cleanup for March 30.

KEB is also continuing to build a relationship with the El Dorado School District to encourage young people to help keep the city clean by raising awareness about litter, recycling and the beautification of the community.

The group is organizing a student art contest and planning its annual Earth Day project with Northwest Elementary School/Environmental Studies Academy.

Board members said plans are under way for “Plant the Town Purple,” in which KEB distributes low-maintenance, purple plants to students.

Students are encouraged to take the plants home and ask their family members to plant them in their yards to help beautify the city with a splash of El Dorado High School Wildcat purple to commemorate Earth Day, which is April 22.

This year, KEB will also distribute litter bags to elementary and middle school students for Earth Day. The bags will bear the KEB logo, and like the purple plants, students will take them home and encourage their families to use them, particularly in their vehicles.

Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or