Home Breaking News Howard County judge reflects on first year, challenges ahead

Howard County judge reflects on first year, challenges ahead

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Howard County Judge Brent Pinkerton

By Don Hall

News-Leader staff

For those who live in rural areas of Howard County, good roads and reliable garbage collection are really important. That’s the responsibility of the county judge, working with the quorum court. 

In January 2023, Brent Pinkerton, a quorum court member for 26 years, became Howard County judge.

“The first year flew by,” Judge Pinkerton said with a smile. “I had a good idea of what the job involved, but the difference is that instead of a once-a-month meeting with the quorum court, it’s now a day-to-day thing. As a quorum court member, you don’t know 100% of what a county judge does.”

Pinkerton worked in local radio for more than 35 years and became interested in county government while reporting on quorum court meetings. 

“I got my special desire for working in county government by attending the quorum court,” he said. 

He was first elected as a quorum court member in 1997, the same year that Max Tackett was elected county judge. Tackett was followed by Kevin Smith. 

“I learned a lot from the two county judges I worked with,” said the new judge.

As judge, Pinkerton oversees the Roads Department and the Sanita-

tion Department. “That’s the main function of the county judge,” he explained. 

The Roads Department has 20 employees, and the Sanitation Department has five, whom Judge Pinkerton supervises. 

Both departments are funded by a 1-cent sales tax, and the county judge has to decide how to split up that funding each year and where in the county to do the work that tax-payers expect. 

In 2023, a larger-than-normal part of the budget went to pay for Sanitation Department equipment purchased in 2022. Still, road work had to be done, and most of it was done in the north part of the county.

“We spent most of our time this last year working in the north end because that’s where people had the biggest need,” Pinkerton explained. “There are seven gravel roads in the county that we completely rebuilt. Five of those were in the Umpire, Dierks and Athens areas. That’s where we started.”

The south end also received attention, mainly in maintenance and repair to the roads and bridges. 

“From a county government standpoint, the thing that caught me by surprise is how many bridges we have,” he said. “Every bridge in the county has to be inspected yearly by the Arkansas Department of Transportation.” When repairs are needed, it’s up to the county judge to be sure that the repairs are done.

In addition to gravel roads, there are paved roads in the county that need maintenance. Some are asphalt and some are chip and seal, which uses oil and pea gravel. 

Much less expensive than asphalt, chip and seal still costs $50,000 per mile. A good example of the repair work done with that method is on Oak Hill road, south of Dierks. “We wanted to see how it would work,” said the judge. It appears to be a success.

Natural disasters like tornadoes and floods also affect Howard County. “We were very blessed in 2023 in Howard County,” said Pinkerton. “We didn’t have any ice storms, we didn’t have any major snow storms, we didn’t have any significant disasters like tornadoes or floods.”

Most of the time, Judge Pinkerton can be found in his office in the courthouse, but some of the time he can be seen driving county roads in his truck, checking on road conditions so he’ll know how to prioritize repairs. “Everybody drives their own road,” he jokes, “But I’m the only one who goes sight-seeing.” 

“I try not to be in the office all of the time,” he said. “I try to be pro-active.” Still, if he’s not in the office, he welcomes your contact. “I pledged to be accessible to people. I get texts at 9 at night, and that’s ok.”

It’s easy to tell if the truck you see driving county roads is the judge’s. “I wanted a Howard County logo on the side of my vehicle,” he said. “When I get in that truck to come to work, there’s the emblem of Howard County, and it reminds me every day who I work for. There’s approximately 6,400 people who live in Howard County in unincorporated areas. I have 6,400 bosses.”

What sort of challenges does Howard County face? 

“Husqvarna,” he said emphatically. “I did not anticipate their announcement last year. That came out of nowhere. It shocked everybody. Every person, every business in Howard County will be affected in some way by their leaving.” 

Judge Pinkerton serves as an ex-officio member of the Developing Howard County board to bring new industry into Howard County and to assist existing industries and businesses.

One important part of getting businesses to come to Howard County is access to a quality airport. “Ninety-nine percent of Howard County doesn’t have anything to do with the airport,” said Pinkerton. 

Still, anyone who works for a company that’s based outside of Nashville has an indirect reliance on the airport. As a quorum court member and then as county judge, Pinkerton has been instrumental in major improvements at the Howard County airport, paid for primarily with grant money from the Arkansas Department of Aeronautics. More improvements are being planned.

What’s your goal? “I want things to be better for the people of Howard County. Max Tackett was judge for 12 years, Kevin Smith for 14 years, and I’m sure they said the same thing.”

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