Here Comes the Judge!

April 1, 2011 | By More

Johnson County Judge, Mike Jacobs is low-key about his many accomplishments. “I don’t know if there’s much about me that would make a good story,” said Jacobs, a former U of A football linebacker, with the modesty of a good team player.

His crowded office tells a different story. Every nook and cranny holds a plaque or award he received since he took office 21 years ago, including a gold trophy that looks suspiciously like an Oscar. “Oh that,” says Jacob with a laugh, explaining the gold-plated trophy with a star on top is a ‘Top Recruiter of the year for National Association of Counties (NACo) 2007-2008 in the United States.’

Despite the accolades, Jacobs simply sees himself as a hard working Johnson County boy. Jacobs was born and raised in Hunt, a small rural community north of I-40 on Hwy 164. Jacobs’ father, James, owned a store when he met his wife and Jacob’s future mother, Pauline Allen. The day Pauline and James got married, the newlyweds went to work at the general store in Hunt and eventually raised five children.

Tall and robust at age 63, Jacobs credits the strong work ethic taught by his parents as his personal ticket to success. Hard work was expected. “My first job at the store was “casing eggs,” said Jacobs. Many people simply bartered their eggs for credit at the store. “That’s the way it was done in those days,” said Jacobs.

Up until the early 1960’s, many locals came to trade at the store by mule wagon, said Jacobs. Like many of their customers, Jacobs’ grandfather never owned a car, preferring two mules hitched up to a wagon to steel horse power, he said.

When Jacobs’ father died in 1997, Pauline continued to run the store single-handed until she was 90 years old; Pauline being at the same location for 75 years. Thick bologna and cheese sandwiches cut off the loaf were one of her specialties, according to patrons.

Jacobs attended Hartman schools until he transferred to Clarksville High School as a junior so he could play football. After graduating from Clarksville High School in 1965, he was given a football scholarship to play at the University of Arkansas where he graduated in 1969.

Soon after, he went to work for Exxon Oil Company in the marketing department where he stayed until 1977. Next, Jacobs ran the roller skating rink in Clarksville for 15 years, raised cattle and was a contractor for the cable company and other clients. “The technical term for what we did is digging ditches,” said Jacobs with typical modesty.

Jacobs also credits his business experience working with budgets and making payroll as critical to his success as Chief County Administrator for Johnson County. The County Judge’s job is mainly administrative, Jacobs explained.

Like most County Judges in Arkansas, Jacobs is not a lawyer. Yet, Jacobs has reached the pinnacle of Arkansas County success as President of the Association of Arkansas Counties for the past 12 years, and past President of the Arkansas County Judges Association. He has also been a board member of NACo, for the past 14 years, and past president of several other organizations including the West Central Planning and Development District, Western River Valley Regional Solid Waste Management District and the Johnson County Development Corp. Board.

About three months ago, Jacobs was one of six County Judges from across the United States, who went to Washington D.C. to testify before Congress on the Secure Rural Schools program.

“That was quite an experience. I was scared to death!! I had to keep my speech to 10 minutes, which is hard for me, but I’m glad I did it. The President had called for substantial cuts in the Secure Rural Schools program, but we got it reinstated,” said Jacobs with his ever-present smile.

Whatever Jacobs has accomplished, his favorite topic is Johnson County.

“The River Valley is going to be successful, no matter what.” Jacobs cited the availability of transportation and the County’s workforce as keys to the County’s success. “We have the Arkansas River, the railroad and I-40, and an excellent work force with a good work ethic.”

Jacob credits the Wal-Mart Distribution Center for cementing Johnson County’s growth and “putting Clarksville on the map.” He also praised the renovation of U of O (College of the Ozarks) for widening the county’s educational opportunities and the Tyson plant and other manufacturing firms for increasing available jobs.

“Johnson County’s growing ethnic ‘diversity’ has also fueled its growth in the manufacturing sector,” said Jacobs. “Hispanics are a great asset because of their work ethic. They work hard and they show up,” he said.

Although the nation still suffers the effects of the “Great Recession”, Johnson County continues to grow. “We never really did hit rock bottom here. I see nothing but more growth in the future.

That’s not saying Johnson County hasn’t had budget concerns over the past 20 years. “Our biggest change has been in finances. In January 1991, the County had a total funds of $490,000. For January 2011, our budget is $9.4 mil.”

“The county’s road budget is our biggest expense today. To double chip and seal a road in 1991 cost $30,000. Now it costs $175,000,” Jacobs explained. “The county road budget used to be $700,000, now its $3.2 mil with approximately $l million in grants and special projects.”

Johnson County had a 12% growth population since 2000, so maintaining the health and safety of this growing population is high on Jacobs’ priority list.

“We have greatly improved our health care facilities and the (county owned) Johnson County Regional Hospital has been approved as a Trauma Center level 3. A few years ago, we added an $11,000,000 expansion to our existing hospital,” said Jacobs.

The County has also upgraded its Emergency Disaster notification system. “We used to put up warning sirens at a new cost of $16,000 each, but those can only be heard for about 3 miles. In 2009, we installed a system that can directly target every person in the county who signs up through their phone or email. The cost of this system per year is less than the cost of one siren!” said Jacobs. This emergency call-out system called “Code Red” automatically contacts citizens in case of weather emergencies and can be tailored to notify only specific groups, like families of school children or school closings. All people have to do is sign up for this service to be activated. Call (479) 754- 6383 Office of Emergency Services.

Jacobs is also proud of Johnson’s County efforts to be “green,” citing the big Recycling Center off Ludwig Road and Hwy 21 in Clarksville. Nine counties now use this site to process paper, plastic and tin. The recycled material is then sent back to the manufacturer for reprocessing instead of landing up in Landfills. Jacobs also praised the Hanes Brand manufacturing facility in Clarksville for becoming 100% green.

Plans for the future of Johnson County? Jacobs says he would “love to pave every main road in Johnson County.”

“Happy motoring,” said Jacobs, giving his signature closing. “Johnson County is the last stop for me!”

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