Wednesday, April 04, 2007

TOP STORY >>Change orders may not get paid

IN SHORT: Cabot City Council budget committee tried to decide Monday night whether or not $100,000 spent on construction changes were properly handled.

Leader staff writer

The budget committee of the Cabot City Council spent more than an hour Monday night trying to determine whether almost $100,000 in change orders made during the construction of the new community center were legal or not.

In the end, they decided to have City Attorney Jim Taylor contact Taggart Foster Currence Gray Architects Inc., the architectural firm that designed the building and reportedly approved the changes and authorized payment, to see if documentation of any kind was available.

The only thing that seemed clear was that the council didn’t approve many if any of the changes and most were not written down but came as verbal orders from former Public Works Director Jim Towe, whom former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh put in charge of the project soon after construction began. Before Towe took over, Parks Director Carroll Astin was in charge.

Alderman Ed Long directed some barbed comments at Dale Walker, who worked under former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh as his finance director.

Long wanted to know whether Walker ever questioned the legality of paying for change orders without council approval when they were for more than the mayor’s maximum $10,000 spending limit on construction.
“Didn’t it smell a little funny?” Long asked.

Walker told the committee that he did as he was instructed and paid bills that Stumbaugh or Towe authorized.
“Once it was approved by the mayor and Jim Towe, I cut the check,” Walker said.

“A lot of people spend a lot of time in jail for that,” Long responded.

“Although Long later apologized for the comment, he told Walker he meant what he said and that Walker should have resigned if he was uncomfortable working for Stumbaugh.

Walker pointed out that state audits under his watch had been good.

He also said many city employees found it difficult to work for the former mayor. Long responded that they also should have resigned.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said he had nothing to do with the change orders and that he would not pay the bills without council approval.

The center was completed before he took office.

“This baby was born before Jan. 1,” Williams said. “We’re just trying to rock it.”
Alderman Ken Williams, a lawyer and a former city attorney, made it clear that he thought Mikel Kullander, the Little Rock contractor who managed the project, was not blameless for the quandary the city is in.

“If nobody’s got any written change orders, I think you owe this city a lot of money sir,” Alderman Williams said.
“And I do too,” Long said.

Kullander told the committee that even though the list of change orders the committee was looking at was for $97,673, much of that had already been paid because the changes were made early in the construction.But Mayor Williams said his limited research showed that at least $92,000 in change orders had been submitted for payment two consecutive months since he took office.

He refused to authorize payment because the bill was more than his spending limit and sent the matter to the budget committee for review.

With such a heady topic to discuss, the committee only touched on the amended 2006 budget that must be passed before the annual audit by the state.

According to that amended budget, the city spent $966,961 more than it budgeted last year. “This is it whether you like it or not,” said Alderman Eddie Cook, committee chairman.

Mayor Williams told the committee that he is holding expenses down and has cut the money spent on salaries from 86 percent of the budget to 76 percent.