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Helena-West Helena mayor defends decision to fire district court employees

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HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. — Helena-West Helena's City Council is firing back at Mayor Kevin Smith after he fired all six district court employees on Friday.

The council passed a resolution that says district court employees are state employees, and the power to hire and fire them resides with the court's judge, not the mayor.

Council member Don Etherly is worried employees will take legal action. "They're certainly going to sue. It's a pretty easy case. I mean, I practice law for a living," he said.

But the state, in part, disagrees with the council. They say district court employees work for a county or city under the control of a judge. Either way, the mayor's not backing down, and claims the city's district judge is on board.

"He's supportive of it," Mayor Smith said. Smith, who took office in January 2019, wants to restructure the court because of an audit that was released in 2018. It was done by the state's Legislative Joint Auditing Committee. "In the case of our district court, it's had numerous problems systemically."

Among other things, the audit talks about missing money and employees working other jobs while they were still on the clock. The report holds the mayor's officer responsible.

"We really should have a higher standard for our highest justice department in our city," Smith said. He says temporary workers will staff the court until permanent hires are made.

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