Inmates painting private property

County inmates are helping to paint downtown Des Arc. Some are asking if that is OK. (Photo courtesy: Anonymous)

DES ARC, Ark. (KATV) – It is festival season in Arkansas, and that includes Prairie County where the folks in Des Arc are getting ready for Steamboat Days next weekend.

A main street makeover project is underway that looks good to some but suspicious to others.

When the buildings getting the face-lift are owned by the mayor and young men dressed partially in orange are doing the work, it does raise eyebrows and questions.

County inmates Aaron and Alonzo both had planned on staying in Prairie County for only as long as it took them to pass through on Interstate 40. But after bad decisions, bad luck or both, they have been here for months.

And this week both are helping improve the look of downtown Des Arc.

It's the idea of local business owner Redonna Hendry.

"We want to take people and get them to have pride in this little town,” says Hendry. “So maybe some more will paint. You know I can't paint the whole town."

The town of less than 2,000 is preparing to host the annual Steamboat Days festival, and the Main Street beautification project started with two buildings owned by Des Arc Mayor James Garth.

"I didn't even know it was the mayor's building when I started painting it,” says Hendry. “I just found that out this morning when I started getting all the phone calls."

Seven-On-Your-Side got calls, too, and emails with pictures attached with questions asking if it is proper to use inmate labor on a project that benefits a private property owner.

"I didn't have anything to do with it,” says Mayor Garth. “I didn't give permission for it. I heard that it was going to happen and I didn't turn it down but I didn't give permission for it, no."

"But you don't mind?"

"I don't mind. No," says the mayor.

"I mean, it looks a lot better."

"Absolutely," agrees Mayor Garth.

The sheriff says using Aaron and Alonzo to help beautify Main Street is permissible. So does the Arkansas Sheriff's Association.

"You know there are always some Negative Nellies in a town, you know?” says Hendry. “They just don't want change or they are afraid that somebody is getting something that they didn't get, you know? And it was just me. They can't blame it on nobody but me."

And both Aaron and Alonzo enjoyed being a part of the project. They said it created much more pride and satisfaction than picking up litter.

Mayor Garth says Des Arc pays the county $500 each month so that county inmates can be used for city improvement projects, including painting.

Air date: May 24th, 2018

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