Hempstead QC opens new year with new officials

By Rick Kennedy, managing editor
Amid the celebration of an early Wednesday morning swearing-in ceremony before a capacity crowd in the third floor courtroom at the Hempstead County Courthouse, three new Justices and a new Hempstead County Judge assumed their positions of authority with hopeful expectations of a new year and new terms.
Jerry Crane took the oath of office administered by Judge Randall Wright, officially becoming Hempstead County’s County Judge for the next four years. Among the group of 11 Justices, James Griffin of District 1, Troy Lerew of District 6, and Steve Atchley of District 7 all took their seats as first-time Justices.
With them, the other incumbent Justices were also sworn in including, District 3’s Doris Brown, District 4’s Ed Darling, District 5’s Olen Dorman, District 8’s David Clayton, District 9’s Jessie Henry, District 10’s Jay Lathrop, District 11’s Keith Steed, all of whom were returned unopposed.
District 2’s Cherry Stewart, an appointee from years ago, was also sworn in. Stewart was originally appointed in January 2017 to the vacancy after Billy Rook departed the district.
The traditional swearing-in ceremony also saw the rest of the incumbent County officers take their oath of office. The familiar names were all there, lining up as Wright introduced them: Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton in his equally familiar black cowboy hat, County Treasurer Judy Lee Flowers, County Circuit Clerk Gail Wolfenbarger, and Tax Assessor Kim Smith.
New Hempstead County Coroner David Peters was introduced and sworn in by Wright. Peters takes over an open seat when incumbent Ben Brazzel decided not to seek reelection.
Incumbent County Clerk Karen Mitchell Smith was also sworn in; among the incumbent officers present on Wednesday, Smith was the only one challenged in the 2018, winning a second term in an unusual rematch in the May 2019 primary with former deputy clerk Eva Morehead.
Crane and Smith, along with all the county officers, will have new four-year terms starting this year due to a statewide ballot measure in November 2016. Known back then as Issue 1, the “Arkansas Increase in Length of Term in Office for Some County Officials Amendment” was approved by state voters as a legislatively referred constitutional amendment. Issue 1 gave authorization to the state legislature to pass laws providing that no election needs to be held for an office if only one individual is running unopposed.
Wright also administered the traditional oath of office to several deputy courthouse officers as well as several members of county law enforcement personnel.

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