Burns Park, Calvin Muldrow, Cary Gaines, Clark McGlothin, Gary Mills, John Hall, Kenneth "Buck" Matthews, Leonard Spinelli, Martin Gipson, Mayor Pat Hays, North Little Rock City Council, Randy Morley, Sandy Becker, Steve Goss, The Times, Winston Bryant
Alderman Clark McGlothin got straight to the point with regard to financial issues surrounding the Sewer Committee during the May 24 meeting of the North Little Rock City Council.
McGlothin, a former Sewer Committee member, asked Internal Auditor Sandy Becker if there were any improprieties within the Waste Water Utility. Becker said the utility is not violating city or state law.
Critics of the utility’s travel and meal policies have called for the repeal of a recent sewer rate increase and the abolition of the committee. In fact, criticism of the policies has set a number of North Little Rock political figures against each other.
Becker sent a letter to the council stating he had reviewed the travel and training records for the utility’s calendar year 1992.
The letter states that reimbursement for civic club dues and meals was addressed in an Attorney General’s office opinion within the last 18 months. Becker indicated the meal reimbursement was discontinued in March 1992.
A formal travel policy establishing guidelines for travel and sets expenditure limits should be implemented, Becker said. The recommendation was also made in 1991 and 1992, he said.
“In the absence of defining state or city law, the responsibility for determining what is and what is not a reimbursable expense should be determined by the governing body of this utility,” Becker wrote.
A May 18 letter to the City Council from the ’93-94 Right to Vote Committee called for a repeal of the 13 percent sewer rate increase and abolishment of the Waste Water Committee to stop a “Free Lunch, Free Wheeling Traveling Program.”
Utility documents show Waste Water Utility Director Gary Mills paid his Rotary dues and meals from the department’s expense account. The documents also detail trips to Camden, Hot Springs, Fort Smith, Oklahoma City, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, New Orleans, New Mexico, Washington, D.C. and Toronto, Canada.
City Attorney Randy Morley said the council has no specific authority to abolish the Sewer Committee. However, he said it is “reasonable to assume” the council could abolish a committee it created.
The council would violate legal bond requirements for the utility if it abolishes the committee, Morley said. Regulations for a bond issue require the existence of a sewer committee.
Steve Goss, a Right to Vote committee member, noted other city officials aren’t reimbursed for their lunches. Committee member and former Alderman Ray Heck said he wants Mills to refund the money.
Mayor Pat Hays said in a May 18 interview that there is no movement toward abolishing the commission or repealing the increase, although he is concerned about the travel expenses and Rotary lunches paid by the expense account.
Hays said he would ask Becker to audit the Waste Water Utility’s 1992 expense. He also discussed the issue with Mills and Sewer Committee Chairman Kenneth “Buck” Matthews.
However, Matthews told Hays the Sewer Committee was paying Mills’ Rotary dues. Mills said after Attorney General Winston Bryant’s April 30, 1992 opinion concerning payment of dues with city funds, Mills quit the Rotary Club.
In the Right to Vote Committee’s letter to the council, there were originally two errors. The group had said Waste Water officials were in New York and Vancouver, British Columbia.
Matthews said in a May 21 interview that those errors and others show the credibility of the group. Trips on the expense accounts come from required training seminars, he said. Matthews said he believes it’s beneficial for commissioners to attend waste-water conventions in cities that can hold 14,000 to 16,000 people in exhibition halls.
The Waste Water Committee had given approval for Mills to buy his meals and pay dues for Rotary Club meetings with expense funds, Matthews said.
“We encouraged Gary and (Assistant director) Marc (Wilkins) to join any North Little Rock civic clubs or organizations. At those meetings, business people get to know who the sewer manager is,” Matthews said. “When Alderman Heck received the Attorney General’s opinion, Gary just quit going, though not at our request. I didn’t think he was abusing it myself.”
Other alleged misconduct included a catering service for the annual picnic, which Matthews said shows good will toward the employees.
Alderman Leonard Spinelli said at the May 24 City Council meeting that he was told a Right to Vote Committee member was threatened by a Waste Water Committee member, who allegedly said he “might be found floating down the river with a letter on his back saying he committed suicide.”
Spinelli said in a May 25 telephone interview that he gave the name of the man who was allegedly threatened to the Police Department. He said he did not give any name (of the accused) to the Police Department.
“I haven’t mentioned his name. I don’t intend to tell who allegedly made that threat,” Spinelli said. “I have an obligation if someone reports something to me to make it a public record.”
Matthews said in a May 25 interview that Goss called May 20 to “harass me.” Matthews said Goss said the two are still friends and there was nothing personal about the attempt to abolish the sewer committee.
“I told him we’re not friends and this is personal,” Matthews said. “I think Steve has had a stroke which has affected his brain. I told Steve, ‘When you jump off that bridge, you won’t have eight friends to carry your casket.'”
Matthews said there was no death threat toward anyone.
Goss said May 26 that he was the person the threat was made toward, but he has not had a discussion with the police as of yet. He had no comment on Matthews’ version of the story.
- The council delayed spending $103,675 for sewer improvements on Chiquito Road as the council begins to search for alternatives to funding the improvements without taking the funds from the General Fund. Alderman Martin Gipson said it would cost residents an additional $20,000 to connect to the main line. Alderman Murray Witcher said if residents did not connect within 90 days, they would be fined $100 per day until the situation was remedied.
Gipson said it is possible that the improvements could be financed with federal grants. Alderman Cary Gaines said the council should begin working together again so each ward would receive equal drainage monies.
- John Hall, Justice of the Peace of the Pulaski County Quorom Court, spoke against a proposed new hospitality house in Burns Park. Hall said the city would be in direct competition with restaurants, which are paying for construction of the hospitality house with the “Hamburger Tax.”
- The council approved a contract with the firefighter’s union, which will allow for a 1 percent increase in salaries at a cost to the city of $40,000.
- The council allocated $250,000 from Electric Department funds to help pay for the Industrial Park to be located off Interstate 440.
- The council amended the street fund to reflect a $200,000 increase. The monies came from a county millage increase, Hays said.