Facebook group Pope County Majority informs county citizens about recent developments of a potential casino in Russellville, AR in the U.S. as of June 2019. 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, Arkansas voted on the recent casino amendment, or issue #4, it 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 the idea of a casino as well . Nonetheless, the plans for 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 that are elected to two-year terms. This is when Kelly Jett, a local citizen, took it upon herself to create the Facebook group Pope County Majority to advocate for a casino as well as encourage citizens to speak up and to be heard as well as inform them on recent issues. 
Background History and Context
Arkansas has voted to change their constitution to include gambling rights on multiple occasions; however previous attempts 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 . Once the issue was passed in November 2018, the state granted licenses for casinos in Garland, Crittenden, Jefferson, and Pope counties. A year later, Pope County is the only county that has yet to start construction and debate has struck among Pope County citizens whether or not they even want a casino.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
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 casino. The group sought support though Facebook  and a gofundme  account whose proceeds went to raising awareness through media about the benefits that come from a casino/resort as well as other group operating functions.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Jett’s Facebook group was open to the public which allowed any citizen to participate in discussion whether they agreed or disagreed on the issue of the casino. Jett would post online about in-person meetings and then also attending the Pope county Quorum Court meetings meaning that anyone from the group who wanted to attend could and they would now also have the knowledge required to participate in such meetings.
Methods and Tools Used
Jett used one of the best resources she knew how to use, Facebook. It is free to the public and just about everyone has one. And with the help of their phones, Jett offered Pope County citizens information about their local politics right where it was convenient for them, on their phone via online communication. Jett knew that if citizens simply understood current policies about the casino than they may be more active in the process. 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 informing citizens about the meetings (when, where, and why) and encouraging citizen engagement the 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, administrators of Pope County Majority also live-stream these 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. In order increase awareness about potential benefits of a casino, the group also started an account on gofundme , a crowdfunding site.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The vote for casinos in Arkansas occurred in November of 2018; the state voted in favor but Pope County voted against casinos. This was an issue for Pope County residents since the county was one of four approved locations for casino yet the county vote revealed they didn’t want casinos. The further legalities of the process have been handled in Pope County Quorum Court. After attending a Pope County Quorum Court meeting and feeling as if the voices of Pope County citizens had not been heard due to low citizen engagement  Jett formed the Facebook group . She and others sent invites to the open group to Pope County residences and those residences sent the invite to others; as of now the group is just shy of having seven thousand members in its first three months. Group members frequently post about ballot issues and registering to vote, and members have donated money for group promotion and other group necessities, and attended Pope County Quorum Court meetings to have their public presence known.
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 start construction but after the group improved citizen engagement at Quorum Court meetings the court choose 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, has 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 requires quorum court officials to gain permission from voters before endorsing a casino . Regardless, Pope County Majority had an active role in being a voice for citizens and vocalizing which casino they would like to see in their community. This increase of citizen engagement shows the group’s immediate impact on citizens' political awareness, empowerment and willingness to engage in political efforts, as well as, shaping community opinions, creating group unity or identity, and changing political leaders’ opinion of citizen engagement.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Despite the county originally voting no on issue #4 or voted against having casinos in November of 2018, the Pope County Majority was able to get the Quorum Court to make the endorsement for Legends Resort and Casino on August 13th . However, because this endorsement was not constitutional based on Arkansas law, another group of citizens, Citizens for a Better Pope County have filed a lawsuit against the court and creating further delay on any potential casino development for the county . Further developments in the story have yet to be made but what we can take away from this experience is that we must never forget that a group of active citizens can produce real change in communities, positive or negative. We must never underestimate the power of what a small group of committed citizens can accomplish.
The first version 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, and then edited. The views expressed in the entry are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.