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Baxter County Judge candidates talk Saddle Club, first 100 days in office

All Baxter County Judge candidates appeared together during a political forum for a second time on Monday May 9 at Rapp’s Barren Brewing Company.

The event was hosted by the Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce and Rapp’s Barren Brewing Company. Candidates mingled with a crowd of about 30 potential constituents and area leaders before sitting down for a formal question and answer panel, facilitated by KTLO’s Heather Loftis.

“All of these questions were submitted, I had nothing to do with these questions. I got to read them for the first time when I got here tonight,” said Loftis after greeting the candidates and explaining the ground rules.

Questions were submitted by the public through a Google form that the Chamber of Commerce sent out.

Brief introduction of the candidates

Kevin Litty
Current occupation: 29 years as a police officer at the City of Mountain Home
Current elected position: 6 years as Justice of the Peace District #10 – Baxter County Quorum Court

Eric Payne
Current occupation: 18 years self-employed in the excavation/construction industry

Brian Plumlee
Current elected position/occupation: 12 years as the City Clerk for the of City Mountain Home

Shannon Feliccia
Current occupation: County Road and Bridge Department
Past Military: 25 years

Eric Payne answers a question at Monday’s political forum for Baxter County Judge candidates. The forum was hosted by the Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce and Rapp’s Barren Brewing Company.

The first 100 days: roads, key people

“First 100 days– We would be working county roads and working with our volunteer fire departments to get them the resources they need,” said Plumlee.

Plumlee stated there are multiple roads that need attention.

According to Feliccia, there are nearly 700 miles of county roads, 325 miles of those are dirt roads.

“They need more attention. They’re deteriorating. And they’re in bad shape. We need to look at all the county roads, not only the dirt roads, so that’ll be the first hundred days,” said Feliccia.

Payne said he wants everyone to work together and get more bang for your buck to help the whole county.

“I probably spend– getting to know all the key people that makes it all happen and trying to get a plan together,” said Payne.

Litty said he assured all department heads prior to Monday’s political panel that their jobs were safe.

“I’m a firm believer in employee rights and taking care of our employees,” said Litty. “First hundred days is sit back and learn from every other department, what’s going on and where they need help.”

COVID bucks and grants

The quorum’s court decision to appropriate $275,000 of Coronavirus Relief grant funding to the Mountain Home Saddle Club has repeatedly come up on the campaign trail and Monday’s forum was no different.

“I do disagree with how those funds were allocated. I think there’s bigger needs at the county,” said Plumlee.

Feliccia agreed with the appropriation.

“They needed help, and we had the money. That Saddle Club brings a lot of revenue to this area,” said Feliccia.

“The money was sitting there and I could tell you– having not done what we done with it at this point, somebody else would have been asking for it later,” said Litty, defending his decision to vote in favor of the appropriation.

Judge Pendergrass told the Observer in a call that the county has no formal process for organizations to apply for a county Coronavirus Relief Fund grant nor was it well-known there was money available.

The Saddle Club’s original request of $350,000 was presented to the quorum court on April 5 in the form of a resolution to be committed to appropriate the funds later. The request was framed as an issue of noncompliance of COVID-19 social distancing guidelines regarding the club’s bathrooms and bleachers.

The vote on April 5 failed.

All pretenses of COVID-19 social-distancing compliance dropped in the May 3 quorum court meeting. It was not mentioned.

 “For me that’s a double-edged sword, I can see both sides of it,” said Payne.

After questions moved to the small crowd, Dani Pugsley, President of the Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce, inquired about financial support for the Chamber.

“You all mentioned tonight, economic growth, economic development, tourism. The Chamber, that is our sole responsibility,” said Pugsley.

The Chamber currently receives no funding from the city or the county.

“So to hear– I’m all for, like you said, giving back to the community, as for Saddle Club and the Fair Board– that’s $275,000. If you were elected county judge would you support giving money like that to the Chamber when that is our sole responsibility?” asked Pugsley.

None of the candidates took issue with granting public funds to the Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to talking with you, finding out what you need. Again, it would come down to, we can’t give money away unless we have money to give away,” said Feliccia.

“I’d be all for it, as long as everybody had representation, as far as the whole community. I think everybody has got a dog in the fight at the end of the day,” said Payne.

“I’m all about whatever we need to do to help the chamber. You guys do a great job,” said Plumlee.

“I have no problem with giving the Chamber some money, but the county’s main goal right now is to build a new health department,” said Litty.

When asked how much money is left in the grant fund there seemed to be confusion. Litty stated that there is several million left in the budget but ‘titled’ as different things.

Yet, during a call with the Observer, Judge Pendergrass stated there was $431,592 left in the Coronavirus Relief Fund and with the Saddle Club’s $275,000 deduction, that brings it down to $156,592.

The county was originally awarded $1,002,298.10 from the Department of Finance and Administration for the Coronavirus Relief Fund Grant.

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)

Only one of the candidates for Baxter County judge took out a PPP loan.

“It was offered to the farmers in our area. I applied for it, received it, and it was forgiven by the government,” said Litty.

Litty owns a cattle company on the side, in addition to being employed as a police officer for the City of Mountain Home.

Campaign threats

When asked if any candidate has received death threats or if any of their property has been damaged, Feliccia and Plumlee piped up.

“Signs are being stolen, and they’re being run over. I can name a couple of them where there’s tire marks going straight over my signs and everyone else’s is still standing,” said Feliccia.

“I’ve received some phone calls, and I’ll just leave it at that,” said Plumlee.

Brian Plumlee answers a question. From left to right: Kevin Litty, Eric Payne, Brian Plumlee, Shannon Feliccia. Photo by Alison Fulton / MHO.

The best for last

The last question, from Loftis herself, was for each candidate to identify their favorite Rapp’s Barren menu item.

Litty: Carne Asada Tacos

Payne: Bleu Cheese Cheeseburger

Plumlee: The Pretzel

Feliccia: Cream Soda

Early voting continues through May 23 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Election day is Tuesday, May 24.

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