Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

TOP STORY > >Crews helped judge’s kin

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman used county material, equipment and labor to chip seal a gas station parking lot that belonged to his family, he said Tuesday in response to an allegation by former Justice of the Peace Bill “Pete” Pedersen.

Troutman said his son Toby wrote the county a timely check for the work, which the judge said he’d have done for free in exchange for use of the property to store materials, load and unload trucks and other work related to road building.

Pedersen accused the judge of the improper use during the public comment section of Thursday night’s quorum court meeting.

Pedersen said the judge’s action was a violation of section 14-14-1202 of the Arkansas Counties Compliance Guide and constitutes a misdemeanor that could cost the judge up to $1,000 and his job as well.

Pedersen said the work was done at the station at the intersection of Hwy. 31 and Hwy. 38, owned by Troutman Oil, US Fuels and Toby, Charlie and Jody Troutman.

Jody Troutman, who is the judge’s daughter-in-law, is also a member of the Lonoke County Quorum Court.

Pedersen alleges that the company then sold the station at a nice profit.

“I took a bunch of pictures,” Pedersen said. He got there too late to see the trucks and work, but “there was still oil oozing out on the ground.”

At the quorum court meeting, Troutman said the county had chip sealed about 250 square feet at the station.

Chip sealing is one of the oldest methods and most successful of road surfacing, according to an industry Web site.

“It’s an illegal thing,” Pedersen insisted. “You cannot do that.”

He said staff at the Arkansas Association of Counties told him “you can’t do that.”

Troutman said it’s been accepted behavior among Lonoke County judges for many years.

Several calls to the Jeff Sikes, a lawyer for the Arkansas Association of Counties, went unreturned. Sikes is also Lonoke County’s lawyer.

“It sounds like a bunch of sour grapes to me,” Troutman said. “Some people always want to make things look sinister. My primary duty is to protect the interests of the county.”

He said it was a service to the county to let the Troutman property be used to as a road construction staging area.

“The county pays its debts,” he said. “This happened a year ago.”

“The county came out smelling like a rose,” the judge added.

“I sent an invoice, probably about $300. It’s simple — there’s nothing to hide.

“It could be in violation of some Arkansas statute,” Troutman said.

“There’s no money missing.”

On a similar matter, JP Lynn Weeks Clarke gave the judge an anonymous letter charging that two county employees have been using equipment on private property. Troutman said he would ask the sheriff’s office to investigate.

Jody Troutman deferred comment to her husband Toby, who had not returned a phone message by press time.