Posted on July 25, 2019
This is the second of a two-part story on Monday night's forum. The first story ran in Wednesday's edition of the News-Times
By Caitlan Butler
Most questions Tuesday night were directed to Sheriff Ricky Roberts. Several attendees commented positively on his progressive jail policies.
“I appreciate what you said earlier, in your opening remarks … just to see you address the mental health aspect of it, because we have a lot of people out there suffering from years and years of mental health [issues], and then they put themselves in a situation and society is quick to turn a blind eye to them, lock them up, get rid of them, [say] ‘not our problem,’” one attendee said. “I appreciate you taking that perspective, because it will go far with those that really need it and are really trying to find their way back.”
Roberts said he is working with the SHARE Foundation to implement some of the programs he mentioned, like the GED, substance abuse and domestic violence classes, with hopes to secure funding through one of their grants.
One attendee asked how many of the jail’s inmates Roberts estimated were there for drug-related offenses.
“Are we ever going to win the ‘War on Drugs?’ I’ve been fighting it for 30 years,” Roberts said. “I’d say 90 percent of the people that are incarcerated in our jail today have something to do with drugs — drug habits, selling it, even some of the homicides that we’re working are drug-related. So yeah, it’s a big part of our community, but not just our community — it’s all over the United States. It’s everywhere.”
Attendees were also curious about how economic development affected the officials’ jobs. Union County Judge Mike Loftin said economic development means more jobs, leading to a higher population and thus a bigger tax base.
Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer also noted that the Chamber and South Arkansas Community College have been working to improve the area’s workforce readiness through advanced, industry-specific training available at SouthArk and job fairs for Union County students, where they are able to meet local industry representatives and learn about local job opportunities.
“And for the job creation, South-Ark Community College is a gem for our community,” Loftin said. “Most of you already know, they are doing some industry-specific training out there, working with local industries to put together classes for industry-specific jobs they have, so that’s helping with our trained workforce.”
One attendee asked about entertainment and activities for young people living here. She said without a bowling alley, skating rink or any other specifically youth-targeted activities available locally, it becomes easier for children to get involved in less positive activities.
Bill Luther chimed in, saying the Chamber is currently reaching out to entertainment providers who may be able to bring activities for the region’s youth to town. He also talked about how new businesses make the decision to come here. Along with population, businesses will typically look for a traffic count of at least 20,000 cars passing per day in locations they are considering. Only one place in El Dorado has such a traffic count — the entrance to Wal-Mart. The traffic count specification is also why the south side of El Dorado has fewer restaurants, he said.
Another attendee noted that the Census will be held next year and asked how the county officials and mayor are preparing for it. All the officials stressed the importance of the Census, saying it can affect state and federal funding, as well as our representation in Congress.
“I do know that there were people in the last Census that said ‘I didn’t get anything in the mail, nobody called me; I know I didn’t get counted.’ Several people came to me and said that,” Loftin said. “They say El Dorado dropped to 18,000 and the county dropped to 40,000 from 44,000. … We need to make sure everyone gets counted this next year.”
The mayor and other officials stayed after the town hall to meet with their constituents and answer additional questions. Smith-Creer was not able to be reached yesterday evening to talk about whether additional town hall meetings will be held this year.
Caitlan Butler can be reached at 870-862-6611 or email@example.com.