Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

TOP STORY >>Ex-mayor prepares to fight if charges are filed

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

Although the FBI will not confirm that former Cabot Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh is at the center of a public-corruption probe that has lasted almost two years, sources at city hall say an investigator has talked to several employees, including the current mayor, budget manager and city clerk.

Stumbaugh is expected to put up a vigorous fight if charges are filed.

The investigation started when the city hired USI-Arkansas to design a multi-million water project, which included upgrades to the system and a connection to Central Arkansas Water, which will supply the city with reliable lake water.
USI, the parent company of USI-Arkansas, was under investigation at that time for bribing public officials, and the president and vice president of the parent company have since been convicted in federal court. Sources say the investigation into Stumbaugh’s administration will not be closed until after Sohan P. Singh, president of USI, is sentenced, presumably because the severity of the sentence could depend upon how much information he gives the FBI about his company’s business practices.

Singh was scheduled for sentencingin March. Officials with USI Arkansas say they’re no loner with the parent company.
The FBI has seized the computers used by the former mayor and his public works director and several city documents, including bank statements for the general fund and the water department, which was not run by a commission until 2006, the last year Stumbaugh was in office.

Stumbaugh, who denies any wrongdoing, also is gathering information. City records show he made requests for documents under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act on April 13, April 18 and April 26. His requests include documents related to the selection process for hiring USI-Arkansas for both the water project and the sewer treatment plant.

He also has requested and received personnel information on the budget manager, who is now under the city clerk but was the finance director under the mayor when Stumbaugh was in office. And he has requested documents pertaining to the city’s current contract for garbage and yard wastes with IESI.IESI was awarded the contract the first time after Stumbaugh took office more that four years ago, but did not bid when it was time to renew the contract.
Stumbaugh, who was hired by IESI after he left office in December, told the council last July that all the bids were too high and he threw them out and re-bid the contract.

Jerry Lester with L&L Services, which had the contract before IESI, complained in July before the council approved the new contract that the bidding was unfair because IESI knew what the others bid and bid less. Stumbaugh said then that IESI did not receive proper notification that it was time to bid the contract again.

Since The Leader wrote in April about the FBI investigation, the IESI employees who ran the operation in Cabot have been fired, but W.J. Grammer, the general manager, said Tuesday that his termination had nothing to do with the FBI investigation.
Instead, Grammer said he was fired because he didn’t have authorization to re-hire a former employee who was needed to clean up the yard wastes that were collecting in April along Cabot streets.

Grammer said Mayor Eddie Joe Williams was pressuring him to clean up the mess and he didn’t have enough workers to get it done. Stumbaugh, who was hired for his public relations skills, pitched in, Grammer said, but he needed another driver and hired the only one available. His superiors were upset that he hired the driver without their approval and fired him.
Don Smith, the district manager for IESI, confirmed that Grammer was fired for re-hiring the driver.

“He tried to slip him in on us,” Smith said, adding that the company has a policy against re-hiring because employees who leave and come back several times cost the company too much.

Smith said Grammer also was fired because his work was unacceptable. Grammer has been replaced by Craig Kirchhoff, he said. Smith said since Kirchhoff took over the city is cleaner.

Smith said he knew nothing about the investigation until he read about it in the paper and no agents have contacted him. Stumbaugh was hired in an effort to obtain more municipal contracts, he said.