Huttig ethics violation wraps with probable cause but no sanction

A three-month Arkansas Ethics Commission investigation into possible violations of state law by Huttig Mayor Tony Cole reached a conclusion late last month with probable cause found to substantiate the allegations but no sanction imposed for good cause.

According to an offer accepted by Cole on Nov. 29 and released to the News-Times today, Cole was found in violation of Arkansas Code Annotated 21-8-304(a) when he reportedly allowed James Davis, a city employee, to use city equipment to clean up the mayor’s personal residence, which burned down on June 23.

The statute in question states, “No public official or state employee shall use or attempt to use his or her official position to secure special privileges or exemptions for himself or herself or his or her spouse, child, parents, or other persons standing in the first degree of the relationship, or for those with whom he or she has a substantial financial relationship that are not available to others except as may be otherwise provided by law.”

No sanction was imposed on the mayor due to “good cause for the violation,” stated the Commission’s letter.

“It is noted that the City of Huttig did not have a written policy addressing city employees using city equipment on private property,” according to the letter. “A verbal policy has existed but there are disagreements concerning the standard practice followed.”

Such disagreements most recently arose during the October city council meeting when the mayor, aldermen and those in attendance discussed the city’s standard $35 deposit and $35 per hour rental fee for city equipment.

According to the original complaint, filed by Huttig citizen Tommy Knight on Sept. 10, Cole allegedly allowed Davis to do the work at his residence without paying the deposit and rental fees for the equipment.

To that end, the Commission found a violation existed, but could not find probable cause to Knight’s second allegation that Cole allowed Davis to “‘use[e] city equipment on several people’s private property, including bushhogging [sic]‘ and “front end loader work.’ [Cole has] not collected payment on behalf of the city for this; however, [Cole has] allowed Mr. Davis to ‘accept[] money from citizens for said work.’”

The Huttig City Council will convene at 6 p.m. tonight at city hall. See tomorrow’s News-Times for more.

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