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BREAKING: County Judge Robert Griffin not seeking sixth term

Robert Griffin announced Thursday morning that he will not seek a sixth term as Independence County Judge during the 2022 election season.

In a statement released by Griffin, the county judge said his battle against metastatic cancer for the past few years could possibly affect his longtime commitment to give a “100 percent full-time effort” to the office if he won a sixth term.

Griffin said in the statement that while his fire is there and there’s more to do, he fears he can’t make that commitment.

In the statement, which also doubled as a State of the County report, Griffin highlighted his many accomplishments over his five terms as county judge and expressed his gratitude for the help, input, and cooperation of county workers, elected county officials, and the Independence County Quorum Court.

The judge ended his statement and report with this:

“This is my report on the state of the county and my swan song for this segment of my journey. I thank each of you for the opportunity.”

June 17, 2021

Many know that I have been battling metastatic cancer for the past few years. With the upcoming election season, I had to make a determination of if I can give 100% full-time effort in another term. My fear is that while the fire is there and more to do awaits, I fear I can’t make that commitment. I will not be seeking a sixth term as county judge although other opportunities in another part-time capacity may await. I can’t say how much I appreciate the opportunity the voters have given me to serve. It has been too much an immeasurable honor to put into words.

I want to share some highlights to date under my administration. You must always keep in mind that any and all accomplishments require the help, input, and cooperation of our workers, countywide elected officials, and the Quorum Court. This is the state of the county today.

First and foremost, my responsibility is to manage a budget of over $29 million (2021 budget). This covers many departments and other elected officials but it is my responsibility to administer. In this regard, I entered office with the county owing $2,207,140 and at the end of 2022, we are on schedule to be debt-free. Getting us debt-free will be a major accomplishment. In addition, the ending county general fund balances and emergency/contingency funds have increased by $1,480,000. The finances of the county are in the best shape in decades.

I asked for and the QC implemented a new categorical budgeting system, where revenues are determined and allocated by the Treasurer and then each department makes a budget from available funding. While that might sound like “well of course”, it had not been that way. Prior to this change, each department made a wish list and the QC had to struggle to set budgets. Sometimes emergency funds had been put into the annual budget. That would be like individuals putting their life savings into their budget for the year. We now have streamlined budget meetings without the stress of prior years. In the process, we have increased funding for the Sheriff and Jail by over 34% in the past 10 years.

Our solid waste system was in severe difficulties when I entered office. A sitting justice of the peace told me we would have to increase the fee. We did not. Instead, we have upgraded our curbside trucks twice, first with better equipment and secondly moving to sidearm collection trucks. We provided county-owned carts at no cost to the residents. Use of the carts has almost eliminated trash being scattered by animals as well. We have expanded our service to include many cities by interlocal agreements. These improvements were over $2.7 million in cost without increasing the fees. At the same time, the year ending solid waste fund balance is almost doubled, all with the same fee from 2010.

I entered an agreement for placing fiber optics into each county building and that made fiber available for others near our buildings as well. This was done to decrease our phone and internet bills with a single provider while increasing capabilities using VOIP phone systems and gaining affordable high-speed internet.

We reached an agreement with the City of Batesville to take over the 911 Center and the result was we created a modern center with better and adjustable consoles. Then I had to manage a ransomware attack on the 911 Center that happened when Atlanta was attacked. By email, I gave the perps 10 minutes to let us go and did not pay a dime. We immediately went old school for a few days while we upgraded all servers and computers. Not a single 911 call went unanswered. The result was we created what ACIC said was in the top 5 in Arkansas for security for all 911 centers in the state.

On a sidenote of putting in the dispatch and 911 Center, we had to have room for evidence that was previously stored in the building. I created a concrete bunker attached to the Sheriff’s department that the Sheriff added security for a modern evidence facility that is ranked in the top 5 in the state as well and is eligible to be given a certified evidence storage facility status. Evidence is booked into the facility, logged on a computer, a barcode is created, and corresponds to a barcoded shelfing system for ease of finding evidence.

A modern library with many public computers accessing high-speed internet and Wi-Fi availability was created from funds that were gathering dust in accounts of the county. This had been a languishing issue for many years with the QC. The Library Board had the vision for this and my part was in appointments, facilitation, oversight, and assuring legal uses for the funding. I was in the building daily as construction work was done.

The City of Southside was created. I sat in my judicial capacity in that case. This was a community with an identity but without a lawful title before this petition was granted. A lot of growth has occurred in that area and is ongoing. I see a bright future as they continue forward.

Roads are a part of my responsibilities and a very important part of management. The road department has employees with experience into the hundreds of years of working dirt and rock to do the work. My job is finance and planning.

I have begun the processes of bringing surfaced roads to a higher standard than the original. My goal is to have an asphalt surface instead of chip seal as the end result on currently hard surfaced roads to give a 20-year smooth ride. We have already capped many chip seal roads, that have stable subgrades, with hot-mix asphalt. Otherwise, we create a stabilized base and begin with a chip seal surface progressing over time to hot-mix asphalt. Current funding is only sufficient to do proper maintenance for around half of our 450 miles of hard surfaced roads. Surfacing gravel roads is unlikely without participation from residents for funding. While every road has had attention, we are around halfway in total improvements.

Our pace of completed improvements is nearing 20 miles per year and without the alternative materials for stabilization we use, it would be far less. By contrast, undercutting roads a couple of feet and using all compacted limestone products would lower progress to around 4 miles per year due to the added cost. With 450 miles currently surfaced, that slower pace would require over 100 years to complete. Our current process is achieving far more and quicker.

Regarding roads, I have obtained a couple of million dollars for road damage reimbursements, a couple of million dollars of federal funds for emergency damage, more millions of federal grants for new bridges, hundreds of thousands from state grants for boat ramps and road improvements using marine fuel tax funds and also unpaved roads grants for which we presented our projects as an example for the county judges road seminar. It’s an honor to be the example of how to do things. I had my road foreman and another employee do the presentation because it is their experience and knowledge that make these things happen. There is more to be done but progress is obvious all across the county along with the need for more improvements.

I have had many honors in my tenure: I was called to witness for a U. S. House Committee in the U. S. Capitol, asked to serve on a panel for another U. S. House Committee, given testimony in numerous Arkansas Legislative Committees, appointed by the Governor as a special County Judge in another county, elected to serve on the executive board of the Association of Arkansas Counties, chosen as an officer in the WRPDD organization, elected Chair of the NADC committee, and other honors as well.

This is my report on the state of the county and my swan song for this segment of my journey. I thank each of you for the opportunity.

Robert T. Griffin, Independence County Judge

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