JONESBORO — Can the Arkansas Constitution stop a county judge from seeking a municipal elected office?
A blogger thinks so, but a candidate and the Municipal League’s director say that’s not the case.
Matt Campbell, on his blog Blue Hog Report, wrote on Sunday that the state Constitution prohibits a county judge from running for a civic seat.
But his opinion isn’t stopping Craighead County Judge Marvin Day from seeking the Jonesboro mayor’s seat.
“I was aware of this issue before I announced,” Day said on Monday. “Attorneys assured me that it would not hold up in court.”
Day said he has been in contact with Municipal League Executive Director Mark Hayes, who said he should continue his campaign for mayor.
“It is absolutely his right to run for office,” Hayes said Monday. “He can’t be prohibited from seeking office, that is blatantly unconstitutional.”
“It is hard to imagine we wouldn’t just let people decide what they want,” Day said. “What it comes down to is a First Amendment issue.”
A call to the Arkansas League of Counties was not returned by press time.
Day announced Thursday his intent to seek outgoing Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin’s job.
In a written statement, Perrin informed residents Wednesday that he wouldn’t seek re-election due to an undisclosed health issue.
Day said Perrin consulted with him July 21 about running for his office. Prior to that, he said he had no intention on running for mayor.
Day began his term as county judge in January 2019, after winning in an one-party race in May 2018.
Before becoming county judge, he was senior engineer for City Water and Light of Jonesboro.
Day previously served on Jonesboro Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, Land Use Advisory Committee, Stormwater Management Board, Master Street Committee and as a member of the Rotary Club of Jonesboro.
According to the Blue Hog Report article, a 2016 amendment prohibits county officials from pursuing civic offices during their elected term.
Article 7, Section 53, of Amendment 95 as states:
A person elected or appointed to any one of 10 county offices – including county judge – “shall not, during the term for which he or she has been elected, be appointed or elected to any civil office in this state.”
Campbell states in his blog that the phrase “during the term for which he or she has been elected” is, in Day’s case, Jan. 1, 2019, through Dec. 31, 2022.
“That would remain the ‘term for which he…has been elected’ even if he resigned as county judge, meaning that there is simply no scenario wherein Day, as the duly elected Craighead County Judge since Jan. 1, 2019, could run for any other civil office in 2020,” Campbell wrote.
The ballot title of the 2016 issue was “Proposing an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution concerning elected officials; providing for terms of office for certain county officials for four (4) years; providing that certain county officers shall not be appointed or elected to a civil office during their elected term; allowing a candidate for an office to be certified as elected without appearing on the ballot when he or she is the only candidate for the office at the election; and defining the term ‘infamous crime’ for the purpose of determining the eligibility of elected officials to hold office.”
A 2016 voter’s guide published by the University of Arkansas summed up the goal of constitutional change as being a way to “Prevent certain elected county officials from also being appointed or elected to a civil office.”
Hayes said the amendment was based on a similar prohibition of state legislators seeking to hold civic office while serving in the Legislature.
“There are problems with the language. When you look at it, you see even the title is incorrect, it’s not a complete sentence,” Hayes said.
Day said Monday he has no plans to discontinue his campaign for mayor based on the blog’s assertion.
Under this amendment, Day said neither he nor any other county officials can legally run for re-election in 2022, and some county officials should be removed from office.
Hayes said it is likely the controversy would have to be settled in court, if anyone ever decided to challenge the amendment’s language.
“It’s not a very well-writen document,” he said. Still, the amendment hasn’t been tested in the courts yet.
“At the end of the day we serve the people, and we do what they want,” Day said.