The Facebook group, Pope County Majority, informed county citizens about developments concerning a potential casino in Russellville, Arkansas, U.S. The group encourages citizen participation at Pope County Quorum Court meetings to discuss their comments and concerns.
Problems and Purpose
When the citizens of the U.S. state of Arkansas voted in 2018 on the ballot measure called Issue #4, they allowed the state to alter its state constitution so that four additional casinos could be added to Arkansas’ economy . When the state voted yes, Pope County, where Russellville is located, voted no on the issue, and the Russellville mayor greatly objected to the idea of a casino as well . Nonetheless, the plans for casino construction were in debate as the county held quorum court meetings and saw little citizen participation among the meetings. Quorum Court is a legislative body of a given county and has fifteen members who are elected to two-year terms. In response, Kelly Jett, a local citizen, took it upon herself to create the Facebook group called "Pope County Majority" to advocate for a casino as well as encourage citizens to speak up and inform themselves about recent issues. 
Background History and Context
Arkansas has held multiple elections on ballot measures that would change the state's constitution to include gambling rights; however, before 2018, all of these measures failed. The state voted against gambling three times by the end of 2000 and voted again in 2012 and 2016, but these attempts were disqualified because of confusing wording on the ballot . In 2018, however, one such measure passed: Issue #4. Once this issue was passed in November 2018, the state granted licenses for casinos in Garland, Crittenden, Jefferson, and Pope County. A year later, Pope County was the only county that had yet to start construction, and there was a debate among Pope County citizens about whether they wanted a casino in their community.
Organizing and Supporting
Kelly Jett organized citizens by creating an open Facebook group which spread through Pope County nearly overnight. She made it clear that the group would be in favor of a casino and its intent was to educate citizens about the recent status of Pope County policy regarding the development of such a casino. The group sought support though Facebook  to raise awareness about the benefits that could come from a casino/resort as well as Pope County related topics.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Jett’s Facebook group was open to the public; this allowed any citizen to participate in discussions, regardless of whether they agreed or disagreed with Jett on the issue of the casino. Jett would post online about in-person meetings and about attending the Pope County Quorum Court meetings. Anyone from the Facebook group who wanted to attend quorum-court could, and participating in the Facebook group and that group's in-person meetings gave those participants the knowledge required to participate in the quorum-court meetings.
Methods and Tools Used
Jett used one of the best resources she knew how to use, Facebook, a popular social-media site. It is free to the public. Given the increased engagement with the quorum court, the administrators of the Pope County Majority Facebook group also live-stream the meetings, allowing any member to watch and be engaged . Live-streaming is useful tool as it creates a more appropriate representation of the meetings than some news or community outlets.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The vote for casinos in Arkansas occurred in November of 2018; the state voted in favor, but a majority of Pope County citizens who voted in the election voted against casinos. This was an issue for Pope County residents since the county was one of four approved locations for casinos, yet the county vote revealed that most county citizens didn’t want casinos. The further legal aspects of the process have been handled in Pope County Quorum Court. After attending a Pope County Quorum Court meeting and feeling as though the voices of Pope County citizens had not been heard due to low citizen engagement , in June 2019 Jett formed the Pope County Majority Facebook group . She and others sent invitations to the open group to Pope County residents, and those residents sent the invitation to others; the group gained more than 7,000 members in its first year.
With the help of their phones, computers, and other devices, Jett offered Pope County citizens information about their local politics where it was convenient for them, via online communication, to encourage citizens to become active in the process by informing them of current policies about the casino. Group members frequently post about ballot issues and voter registration. Members have attended Pope County Quorum Court meetings to have their public presence known.
To promote further understanding of current policies, Jett offered to host in-person meetings where people could come and engage in a more formal manner, face-to-face. Jett and many other citizens were tired of feeling unseen or unheard by local officials at quorum-court meetings, so they encouraged more citizens to also attend those meetings. Since Jett began using her Facebook group to inform citizens about the quorum-court meetings (when, where, and why) and to encourage citizen engagement, some quorum-court meetings have been so full that citizens frequently are forced to listen from hallways. Due to the high volume of participants in and outside of the courtroom, the administrators of the Pope County Majority Facebook group also live-stream the quorum-court meetings, allowing any member to watch and be engaged . Live-streaming is also a useful tool for looking back on the meetings, as it creates a more appropriate representation of the meetings than some news or community outlets.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The group was able to rally citizens to come to Pope County Quorum Court meetings and effectively turn up the heat on local Russellville officials to finally move forward with casino plans. When the Group was first formed, Pope County had failed to select a casino under the provisions of the new amendment, but after the group improved citizen engagement at quorum-court meetings, the court chose to endorse Legends Resort and Casino on August 13, 2019 .
However, a recent development has taken place. Because the Quorum Court is a governing body, another group of engaged citizens, Citizens for a Better Pope County, filed a lawsuit against the court and against the Racing Commission because the endorsement was a direct violation of a 2018 county ordinance. The 2018 county ordinance required quorum court officials to gain permission from voters before endorsing a casino . (This ordinance, 2018-O-42, has since been repealed and, the next day, found unconstitutional by a circuit court judge.) Regardless, Pope County Majority had an active role in being a voice for citizens and vocalizing that they wanted the county judge to write a letter or the quorum court to pass a resolution of support for a casino. This increase in citizen engagement shows the group's immediate impact on citizens' political awareness, empowerment, and willingness to engage in political efforts. The endorsement also shows how the Pope County Majority Facebook group has shaped community opinions, created group unity or identity, and changed political leaders’ opinions of citizen engagement.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Despite the county originally voting against having casinos in November of 2018 by voting "no" on Issue #4, the Pope County Majority Facebook group was able to get the Quorum Court to make an endorsement of Legends Resort and Casino on August 13, 2019 . However, because this endorsement violated a county ordinance, another group of citizens, Citizens for a Better Pope County, filed a lawsuit against the court, which they lost a few months later when the court declared the ordinance unconstitutional . What an observer can take away from this initiative is the impact a group of active citizens can have in terms of producing real change in communities, positive or negative.
 Hardy, B. (2018, November 15). Arkansas becomes casino country. Arkansas Times. https://arktimes.com/news/cover-stories/2018/11/15/arkansas-becomes-casino-country-2
 Lippman, D. (2019, July 29). Pope County sees rise in residents who support a casino. THV11. https://www.thv11.com/article/news/pope-county-sees-rise-in-residents-who-support-a-casino/91-a0f7c2e2-6f83-4d90-8a16-2e493e3e10f1
 Roberts, D. (2019, October 22). County review of casino law fails. Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette. https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2019/oct/22/county-review-of-casino-law-fails-20191/
 Pope County Majority. https://www.facebook.com/groups/popecountymajority/
The original submission of this case entry was written by Marlie Ball, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. The views expressed in the current version are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.