Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

TOP STORY >> Council shaken by more charges

BY JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

IN SHORT: Stunned by lurid tales of sex and drugs involving its former police chief, the Lonoke City Council grilled the acting chief over alleged irregularities Monday.

Still shaken over the felony arrest of their former police chief and his wife on drug, theft and sex-related charges and their mayor for using inmate labor at his home, a former dispatcher for having sex with an inmate and now a legislative audit report pointing to irregularities in the jail commissary fund, some members of the Lonoke City Council asked acting Police Chief Sean O’Nale pointed questions about missing ticket and receipt books and those irregularities Monday night.

The town recently has been the butt of jokes on late- night television, and this week is featured in a National En-quirer article titled “Scandalville—Top cop and wife busted in sex and drug shame.” The article—mug shots and all—lumped Mayor Thomas Privett, accused of having inmate labor hang his Christmas lights and fix his air conditioner, with former Police Chief Jay Campbell and his wife Kelly on multiple felony charges.

But Monday night, the council was most concerned with the audit report that accused O’Nale with improperly withdrawing $1,760 from the commissary fund, and with missing ticket and receipt books.

O’Nale said that in order to maintain his integrity and confidence in the police department, he was giving the city deputy clerk a check for that amount until questions are answered.

“This is not a repayment,” he said, indicating that he didn’t owe the money. Because the irregularities are under investigation by the State Police, O’Nale said he couldn’t answer questions about that.

He did say the department had “nothing to hide. These are accounting issues.”

Councilman Pat Howell asked the chief hard questions about the missing police ticket books and receipts, which could have been the result of carelessness and bad procedures, or of someone skimming unrecorded money.

O’Nale said most of the problems in accountability had been corrected and others would be soon.

Abruptly in the middle of questioning, Howell moved that the council go into executive session to consider a personnel matter, which some speculated had to do with disciplining O’Nale, but when the public meeting reconvened about 30 minutes later, no action was taken and no further explanation was given about the purpose of the session. Pretrial motions will be heard Thursday in Lonoke Circuit Court on charges against former chief Jay Campbell, his wife Kelly and two-bail bondsmen.

No charges are currently pending regarding irregularities in the commissary funds or tickets or fine collection.
Alderman Dick Bransford read a statement answering those who have asked how the city council let things get so far out of hand.

“We had nothing but rumors and coffee-shop talk,” said Bransford of the allegations that eventually be-came charges against the police chief.

“We can’t act on this kind of in-formation, we’d be sued and in all kind of trouble. We have to get our ducks in a row (before acting.)”

He said councilmen first discovered that charges had been filed against the chief and the mayor from the news media—that no one in authority would tell them anything and that even state Rep. Lenville Evans (D-Lonoke) had been unable to learn anything from the State Police.

As for the funds missing from the jail commissary fund, Bransford said that he had served on the council for 20 years, through seven mayors and “I’ve never heard of a commissary account. How can we be held responsible?”

The council may be sensitive to all the alleged official wrongdoing, but it nonetheless approved the meetings of the newly formed Advertising and Promotion Com-mission and the selection of Shirlene Jones of Perry Motel as chairman.

In other action, the council approved spending $1,900 to fix each of two wells, and the purchase of a water-level recorder for $1,360.

The council approved the purchase of a tractor/loader for the parks department, and also money for a taller ladder for the ladder truck so it could evacuate the third floor if necessary of the new Holiday Inn Express. It also authorized the repair of a fire department pump truck, or else the installation of a new pump if necessary.

The council approved spending as much as $17,000 for new computers and a server for the community center, if purchased on state contract.