Leader Blues

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

TOP STORY > >Cabot hires new parks chief

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer

The director who pushed to build the new community center and make other improvements at the Cabot Parks Department has been replaced by his assistant.

Carroll Astin, hired as park director about 10 years ago, turned the job over Monday to Larry Tarrant, his second in command for six years.

Tarrant, who is now the interim director, says he hopes to fill the position permanently.

Tarrant said Monday afternoon that he had spent much of the day with Astin, who is staying on long enough to show him parts of the job that he isn’t familiar with.

Much of the day was spent reviewing papers and going over the park budget “looking at ways to save money,” he said.

The parks ran into financial difficulties in 2007 when operating the community center cost more than expected, and then a bookkeeper was arrested for embezzlement. But Mike Brannon, chairman of the parks and recreation commission, said Astin’s departure is voluntary.

“I don’t know that there was any reason except he thought it was time,” Brannon said of Astin’s resignation, reportedly to work for an insurance company.

“I’ve seen the parks before Carroll came and I see them now and there is a huge difference,” he said of Astin’s time as director.

“I hate to see Carroll go, but I know the parks will continue to serve Cabot and the surrounding area.”

In January, Sarah Michelle Rye, a former bookkeeper for the parks department, admitted to embezzling $8063.44 by writing herself duplicate paychecks over a two-year period.

Rye also received a substantial raise during that period. In 2005, 19 duplicate checks totaled $3,987.22. But in 2006, 12 duplicate checks totaled $4,076.22, an increase of $120 a paycheck.

Although the investigation that led to Rye’s arrest was initiated by the Cabot police after they learned about discrepancies in the audit, Lonoke County Prosecutor Lona McCastlain asked the State Police to take it over to avoid any conflict.

“Without an investigation, I don’t know if there is anything else,” McCastlain said. “If there is something else, city employees may have been witnesses.”

The status of that State Police investigation is unclear.

“I don’t even know if they’ve shown up yet,” Brannon said.

Although the parks commission met at least twice in executive session to discuss personnel after the arrest was made public, Brannon said Friday that after the State Police were called, he never discussed the matter again with Astin.

“But I know the little girl who was at the bottom of all this grew up with Carroll’s children,” Brannon said. “And that would shake anyone.”

He said he had received phone calls from some who think Tarrant should be hired permanently.

“I can’t say that because he’s been there the longest that he’s the frontrunner,” Brannon said.

Astin’s annual salary was $49,100, he said, but the commission has not discussed how much his replacement will be paid.