County government in Arkansas
|Counties of Arkansas|
|Location||State of Arkansas|
|Populations||5,368 (Calhoun) – 382,748 (Pulaski)|
|Areas||526 square miles (1,360 km2) (Lafayette) – 1,039 square miles (2,690 km2) (Union)|
|Subdivisions||cities, towns, townships, unincorporated communities, census designated place|
County government in Arkansas is a political subdivision of the state established for a more convenient administration of justice and for purposes of providing services for the state by the Constitution of Arkansas and the Arkansas General Assembly through the Arkansas Code. In Arkansas, counties have no inherent authority, only power given to them by the state government. This means the county executive, the county judge, and legislative body, the quorum court (members of the quorum court hold the title justice of the peace, usually abbreviated JP), have limited power compared to other states.
The following positions are constitutional officers (elected officials) in the executive branch of Arkansas's counties:
- County judge
- County clerk
- County circuit clerk
- County assessor
- County collector
- County treasurer
- County coroner
- County sheriff
Arkansas has 75 counties, including 10 with dual county seats: Arkansas, Carroll Clay, Craighead, Franklin, Logan, Mississippi, Prairie, Sebastian, Yell. These dual county seats were established to allow for court business to proceed when travel across the county was difficult. Though they have two courthouses, the constitutional officers are not duplicated.
The quorum court is the legislative branch of the county government and controls all spending and revenue collection. Representatives are called justices of the peace and are elected from county districts every even-numbered year. The number of districts in a county vary from nine to fifteen, and district boundaries are drawn by the county election commission.
Presiding over quorum court meetings is the county judge, who serves as the chief operating officer of the county. The county judge is elected at-large and does not vote in quorum court business, although capable of vetoing quorum court decisions.
A constitutional amendment in 1974 radically reformed county government in Arkansas, though the county executive's titles are relics from the state's constitution. The reform, approved as Amendment 55 to the Arkansas Constitution of 1874, made sweeping changes to the structure of county government. County judges were transformed into county executives who worked with the quorum court to conduct county business, stripping the almost unfettered power they had accumulated since 1874. Quorum courts were reorganized to have between 9 and 15 JPs, based on county population. Several of the less populous counties have only nine members; only Pulaski County has a fifteen-member quorum court. The quorum court was given power to set the salaries of county officials (within a state prescribed pay range), fill vacant county offices by appointment, and pass ordinances. Amendment 55 requires every quorum court to meet at least monthly.
A main impact of this reform was reducing the number of JP positions to increase legislative efficiency, reducing from 2,800 in 1974 to 751 in 1976. The effects of this reduction was a trend toward more professionally accomplished, higher status elected officials. This shift from "amateur" toward "professional" elected officials is typical of the good governance reforms such as Amendment 55. It also led to a sharp reduction in women and minorities holding county office.
A further reform, known as the Arkansas Plan, was proposed by Governor David Pryor in 1976 to expand county control beyond Amendment 55. The plan met strong resistance, and was ultimately defeated.
Each county has a three-member county election commission in charge of drawing districts for county office elections and preparing and holding elections. Districts are redrawn after each decennial census.
- Teske, Steven (March 24, 2014). "Quorum Courts". Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the Central Arkansas Library System. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
- Goss, Kay C. (August 28, 2015). "Office of County Judge". Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the Central Arkansas Library System. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
- "Amendments" (2011), p. 170.
- "Amendments" (2011), p. 169.
- "Amendments" (2011), p. 171.
- Dunn, Charles DeWitt (February 1979). "Constitutional Reform and Political Marginals: A Research Note on County Government Reform In Arkansas". The Journal of Politics. The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Southern Political Science Association. 41 (1): 222–228. JSTOR 2129602.
- "Amendments" (2011), p. 169.
- "Amendments to the Constitution Of The State Of Arkansas Of 1874" (PDF). Arkansas Secretary of State. 2011. Retrieved July 4, 2017.