Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

TOP STORY >>Ex-mayor of Cabot empties out files

Leader staff writer

Eddie Joe Williams, the new mayor of Cabot, walked into a clean office Monday morning after receiving the keys to city hall from his predecessor the evening before. The filing cabinets were empty and the computer on the mayor’s desk had been purged. Williams said he soon learned that the working files were where they had always been, in the office of Operations Director Karen Davis, and that former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh probably had nothing in his computer that was critical to the operation of the city.

But Jim Towe, the public works director who was hired by Stumbaugh and resigned before Williams took over, also had dumped everything in his computer – word documents, Excel files and computer-aided drafting files. What the files contained is unclear, but Williams wanted them back and by 2:30 p.m. Tuesday Jay McMahan, the city’s information-technology specialist, had restored everything deemed necessary by Norma Naquin, who works in the office. Missing files are arguably the least of Williams’ problems as he takes over the job of running the second-fastest growing city in Arkansas.

Until Bill Cypert, secretary of the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission, presented him with a $240,000 check Tuesday morning, the city had only $100,000 in the bank and about $200,000 in bills. All but about $10,000 of the money from the commission, which was paid in lieu of property taxes, was money the commission is allowed by state law to voluntarily give the city for police and fire protection. Dale Walker, the city finance director, said some of the bills may be paid in installments, so the city will survive the lean month ahead.

But Williams said he already knows how he will make sure 2008 gets off to a better start. He intends to have his budget ready to present to the full council by the Jan. 15 council meeting. It will contain no money for new vehicles or other capital expenditures, no money for additional personnel and department heads will be required to cut 10 percent from their budgets. “I want to know the bottom line in your department has been reduced 10 percent. How you do that is up to you,” Williams said he told department heads during a Tuesday morning staff meeting that lasted almost two hours.
“They’re going to have to actually manage their budgets this year,” he said.

Williams said department heads have until Monday morning to bring their spending plans back to him, which will give him time to get the budget ready for the council meeting. This year’s projected revenue for the city is $7.3 million for the general fund and $1.1 million for the street fund. Of that combined $8.4 million in revenue, Williams said he intends to hold 4 percent, about $500,000 in reserve.

“We’ve been taking a hit from the state auditors for not having anything in reserve,” he said. Whether saving that money will require laying off workers is unclear. Williams said he believes the city has 157 employees now, compared to 152 four years ago, and that 152 included employees in water and wastewater, which now work for the independent commission that gave the city the money it will operate on for the first few weeks of this year. The budget, not the mayor, will determine whether all 157 get to stay, he said.

Williams said the new public works director will be Jerrell Maxwell, who ran the department before Towe took over and then worked for Towe as a building inspector. Since water and wastewater are no longer part of public works, Williams said he will probably pay Maxwell $45,000 instead of the $55,000 Towe was paid. He is combining Human Resources, headed by Peggy Moss, with the city attorney’s office.

Although Jimmy Taylor is the elected city attorney and therefore the head of the city attorney’s office, Williams says Moss would work with Taylor, not for him. The finance department, which was under the mayor, will be eliminated. Walker will work for Marva Verkler, the city clerk-treasurer. “My philosophy is if you watch the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves,” he said. “That’s what my dad taught me and that’s what we do at the Williams’ house. “I think we’ve got some good people to run the city, but I do think we have some challenges ahead,” he said.