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City Council appoints former Dallas-area professional to planning commission, FB&T CEO to Airport Commission

by J.D. Bailey on 12/28/21

The Magnolia City Council on Monday voted to appoint two area residents to local city board commissioner spots. It also approved two local agreements with nonprofit organizations. The issues are listed in detail below:

PLANNING COMMISSION APPOINTMENT

Jana Duke, a former Dallas-area real estate and civil engineering professional, was unanimously appointed to the Magnolia Planning Commission on Monday. The new board commissioner said her husband’s family is from the area, and that much of her family now lives in Magnolia.

Duke noted that her former professional experience dealt with the exact subjects -- zoning and city building regulations -- that the local planning commission regularly handles.

“I know my way around city ordinances and maps of all kinds,” she said.

The new commissioner approached Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann to be a candidate for the planning commission as a way to use her professional experience to help the city.

“I spoke with her, and I was very quiet. She’s a very smart young lady,” said Vann. “I think she is going to bring a lot to the table.”

Duke will take one of the multiple vacancies on the Magnolia Planning Commission, according to Magnolia Building Inspector David Nelson.

“We had several drop off (the commission) at one time,” he said.

AIRPORT COMMISSION APPOINTMENT

Chris Gosnell was unanimously appointed to the Magnolia Municipal Airport Commission on Monday. Gosnell, who also serves as the President and CEO of Farmers Bank & Trust, is an aviation enthusiast, according to Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann, and is currently taking flying lessons.

“Chris is a good guy and he’s interested in the airport,” said Vann. “He’s getting his pilot’s license.”

Gosnell replaces James Stricker on the Airport Commission, according to the city official.

HOSPITAL LEASE

A building lease between Magnolia Regional Health System Inc. and the City of Magnolia was re-passed Monday by the Magnolia City Council. The lease was discussed and agreed upon in 2020, but, according to Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann, former city clerk issues prevented the agreement from ever being signed properly.

Monday’s measure was a technicality and does not affect the previously agreed-upon lease agreement. Magnolia Regional Health System Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation founded in May 2020, took the place of the former city-owned Magnolia Regional Medical Center as the hospital provider in the Magnolia area. A 30-year lease agreement was approved last year for Magnolia Regional Health System Inc. to occupy the hospital facility at 101 Hospital Drive in Magnolia.

COMMUNITY SERVICE DEAL

A grant agreement between Sponsor’s Non-Profit, Inc., a Magnolia-based charity group that heads community service hours and efforts for the local court systems, and the city of Magnolia was extended another year by the Magnolia City Council. The nonprofit group, which is headed by current Magnolia Alderman James Jefferson, began working with the city three years ago as a way to better implement community service regulations set by local district and circuit courts.
 
Since Jefferson is a sitting Magnolia city councilman, he refrained from voting on the matter Monday. His position within the city also bars his organization from agreeing to any measure that pays more than $2,500 per month without approval from the council.

The contract pays Sponsor’s Non-Profit Inc. $56 per workday, according to a measure passed by the Magnolia City Council in July.

“This is the same thing we’ve been doing for years,” said Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann. “We just have to get it re-upped every year.”

Don’t burn leaves in your yard after 2 p.m. or fire chief will be called, says Magnolia mayor

by J.D. Bailey on 12/28/21

With calls to the city offices piling up over yard burning violations, Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann on Monday stated that he has ‘no choice' but to enforce the local burning laws on the books from now on.

By city ordinance, any resident in Magnolia can only burn leaves or other yard clutter from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day. Once the burning window has expired, yard fires must be extinguished, and no new burns can occur until the next day.

“When the public calls, and they can’t enjoy their outside time because of the smoke, I’ve got say something,” he said this week while addressing the public.

The rules on the books were designed as common courtesy and anti-nuisance measures for the citizens of Magnolia, according to the mayor.

“There is a city ordinance,” Vann said. “And I have to uphold that ordinance.”

The best method to dispose of excess leaves, according to Vann, includes placing all yard waste into industrial garbage bags for local solid waste pickup, but he noted on Monday that he understands this method is not always possible. The city leader also asked that residents refrain from blowing their leaves and yard clippings into city roadways.

“We’d prefer you to black bag (the leaves) and put them out by the curb,” he said. “We’d prefer you to not blow them out in the street like you do.”

Anyone caught burning fires on their Magnolia property after the allotted eight-hour daily burn period will be visited by local emergency officials, according to the mayor.

“Please get your fires out by 2 p.m., or you will be seeing the fire chief,” Vann added.

The mayor did not disclose if any citations or fines are contained in the city law, but he wished it to be known that the rules cannot be ignored.

“I will instruct (Magnolia Fire Department) Chief Pinner next week to begin making the rounds,” he said.

COVID aid helps buy body scanner at Columbia County Detention Center; Facility copes with jailer shortage

by J.D. Bailey on 12/07/21

The Columbia County Detention Center received a major safety and security upgrade this week after a new piece of scanning equipment was purchased with a portion of the county’s federally-issued coronations relief funds. The new full-body scanning machine will not only help detect abnormal body temperatures of inmates to protect against the spread of the COVID-19 virus, but it will also help detect any security concerns by new or returning inmates into the jail population.

The purchase was approved Monday by the Columbia County Quorum Court. The machinery comes with a price tag of $174,000, according to the Dec. 6 county appropriation ordinance. The funds used to acquire the jail’s new safety and security equipment came via the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The federal legislation dispersed more than $350 billion in aid monies to cities, counties, states, and other institutions around the nation for coronavirus recovery efforts. Columbia County, according to the U.S. Treasury, has been earmarked to receive a total of just over $4.5 million. In total, governments and institutions in Arkansas will receive over $2.6 billion in aid.

The first half of the county’s relief aid was issued earlier this year by the federal government. In October, the Columbia County Quorum Court elected to use $1.5 million of that aid for retroactive premium pay bonuses to all county workers who were employed from March 2020 through the end of May 2021. The move fell under the federal spending rules for the aid, according to U.S. Treasury guidelines.

The second half of the federal coronavirus aid is set to be issued by May 2022. The monies, according to the American Rescue Plan Act, must be used by the end of 2024.

The new body scanning machine will serve as more than just a coronavirus symptom detection platform. It can also be used as a security measure for detainees and inmates entering or re-entering the jail population, according to Rick Waller, District 5 Justice of the Peace and chairman of the Quorum Court’s Jail Committee. 

“This not only is for COVID,” he said. “… If a trustee leaves and comes back, and if there is anything on them – a cell phone or anything else – it can detect it.” 

The new scanner, according to Columbia County Sheriff Mike Loe, will have similar capabilities to the machines used by TSA security agents at airports across the country. The scanner also can be mobilized to different areas of a building, according to JP Penny Cook. 

“If the jail falls down, we can move it,” she said. 

There was no word announced Monday when the new scanner would arrive, but the purchase was approved unanimously by the members of the Quorum Court. 

JAILER SHORTAGE

Although soon to be blessed with new safety and security equipment, the Columbia County Detention Center is still short on one thing -- employed jailers.
On Monday, Columbia County Sheriff Mike Loe stated that his office is missing three full-time jail staff members, and potential prospects are bleak.

“We can’t even get anyone to apply,” he said. “… We’re understaffed all the time.”

The jailer staff is typically made up of 14 detention center employees, but at the moment, the staff is sitting at only 12 jailers. To complicate matters, the job of the jailer does not take well to shortages in the staff. Since the detention center never closes, the job entails 24-hour duty for the staff. And with the jailer shortage, that means lots and lots of overtime and lots and lots of extra pay for workers.

The budget, though, is not the issue. According to JP Rick Waller, the funds are there to fully staff the jailer team, but there are no prospective workers on the horizon.

“We have the money to pay them in the jail fund,” he said, “but we just don’t have any applicants.”

Starting pay for a full-time jailer is currently $14.51 per hour. The turnover rate at the position is “pretty high,” according to the sheriff.

And that’s not all. With no applicants, the Loe does not know when the voids will be filled.

“We even sent two staffers to a job fair recently, and we didn’t get anything,” the county sheriff added. “...We just try to keep the wheels going as best we can.”

To make matters worse, according to Waller, one of the current jailers is scheduled for a medical procedure at the end of the month. The move is expected to sideline the employee for weeks and leave the jail staff even further depleted.

“We’ve got to try to come up with something to get some jailers,” he said. “No one wants to work right now.”

Sheriff Loe, however, has resorted to some creative ways to fill open vacancies at the jail. The county official has even gone beyond common gender designations for some positions of need.

“We even have hired a female for a male position,” he said. “We were that desperate.”

When asked by one justice of the peace if the employee was still in the job, Loe replied, “Yes, so far.”

To inquire about a job with the Columbia County Detention Center, call the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office at 870-234-5331.

The next 
Columbia County Hayride is 
February 19, 2022!