Thursday, November 18, 2010

TOP STORY >> Stumbaugh, Cypert trade jabs on debt

Leader staff writer

Stubby Stumbaugh is arguably the most colorful mayor to ever fill that office in Cabot. A former Little Rock police officer and television personality, he publicly called other city officials liars, and his working relationship with county and state officials was often strained.

He took office in 2003, and for most of the four years that followed, the council was split; council meetings were long and contentious; mayoral vetoes were not uncommon, and eventually a rift developed between Stumbaugh and the business community.

Stumbaugh, who left office after one term and ran unsuccessfully for Congress, is now in a runoff race for mayor against Bill Cypert, secretary and spokesman for the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission. With the election set for next Tuesday, Cypert says he is “taking the gloves off” and telling voters that Stumbaugh was a poor manager of the city’s money, an issue that wasn’t much discussed while Stumbaugh was in office.

Cabot doesn’t need four more years of Stumbaugh, Cypert said, and he feels obligated to tell why, pointing out that Cabot had the worst state audit ever.

Stumbaugh has challenged Cypert to prove that he wasn’t a good mayor.

To that end, Cypert asked for city documents under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, and he said during an interview Monday night that he has met Stumbaugh’s challenge.

Among the documents Cypert received was a memo from Clerk-Treasurer Marva Verkler, who said that at the end of 2006, when all the bills were paid, the city had $4,500 in the general fund. Then it was discovered that tax payments of $44,436.33 had not been posted, so the general fund was actually negative $39,882.64.

To keep checks from bouncing, the water and wastewater commission paid the city the full $248,745 public-safety fee that had been scheduled for four equal payments throughout the year.
After that, Eddie Joe Williams, the incoming mayor, asked for a running total of 2006 bills that needed to be paid in January 2007. Those records show that in addition to the overdraft, the city owed $891,731.
Many of the invoices were from the last quarter of the year, but included in that old debt were bills from an engineer who had not been paid for a full year for his work with the city’s planning commission. Those monthly bills totaled $16,348.
In addition to the $248,745 from Cabot WaterWorks, the city had revenue for January 2007 of $887,675. From that combined revenue, the city had to make payroll, and start paying on the old bills while new bills were coming in.
Contacted Tuesday, Stum-baugh called Cypert’s evidence that he was a bad manager, “half truths and lies.”
Some of the old debt was from the community center, which was an ongoing city project, Stumbaugh said. Those bills were frequently paid three months after they were received, he said.
Some of it was almost certainly because the city paid $500,000 for a special census in 2006 that has since brought in an additional $1.2 million in state turnback money, he said.

A document created in October by Williams, who was elected to the Arkansas Senate this month, says that when he took office in 2007, the city was more than $1 million in debt (including a $300,000 loan in 2006 for police cars), but by the end of this year, the city will have about $4 million in surplus operating funds.

“When I first took office, I was asked, ‘Do you want to pay our employees or pay our overdue debts because we can’t do both,’” Williams wrote.

His response was to collect all the money due to the city from Cabot WaterWorks and to cut the city’s workforce by 10. Those 10 positions were either duplicates of other positions or the work could be done by other employees, the mayor wrote.

“By controlling our spending, we finished the year (2007) with $1,347,283 in savings, and we paid off all $800,000 of our unpaid debts,” he wrote.

Stumbaugh said in an e-mail last week that Cypert and Alder-man Eddie Cook have told many lies about him. Cook came in third in the race for mayor and is now supporting Cypert.

“We have run a clean and positive campaign and focused on the future of Cabot. We will continue to do just that as we move forward to victory,” Stumbaugh said.

Stumbaugh’s e-mail included a resolution sponsored by Cook and Alderman Tom Armstrong (deceased) that praised him for his four-year term as mayor. His character, intelligence and governing skills were in constant evidence, the resolution said.

Why, he asked in a later phone interview, would Cook sponsor the resolution if Stumbaugh had been a bad mayor?

“The council had no idea about the poor financial condition of the city due to the finance director answering directly to the mayor,” Cook responded by email to Stumbaugh’s question.

“We had no functioning budget committee, and council meetings were long and heated to say the least.
“I was asked to sponsor the legislation. Out of respect for Mr. Stumbaugh, Tom Armstrong and myself sponsored the legislation to recognize not only Mr. Stumbaugh, but everyone who was leaving the council and had served as an elected official.

“As I leave office in January, I would hope that myself and the other council members who are leaving will be recognized for our service to this community as well,” he wrote.