The three Clarksdale Public Utilities employees currently suspended said they all hope to come back to work once their suspensions are completed.
The trio doesn’t believe there is any merit to the investigation currently being conducted, however they say there are personal agendas at play.
CPU General Manger Mark Johnson claims that Ward 1 city commissioner Bo Plunk told him only individuals originally from Clarksdale would be hired for his position going forward.
Chief Financial Officer Steve Reed made the same claim about CPU board member George Miller.
Both Plunk and Miller denied the allegations.
“No. 1, that ain’t true,” Plunk said. “No. 2, I do not hire. I do not fire at CPU and I don’t have a dog in this hunt.”
Miller said Reed’s claim was also untrue.
“About hometown people, I never made that comment. That’s for sure.”
Where it all began?
Johnson said the issues began shortly after he became general manager on June 19, 2017.
He claims it started with board attorney David Hunt and Jim Hemphill, from The Victor Group Inc. out of Starkville, and their desire to get rid of Reed.
Johnson said they wanted him to meet with Randy Scrivner, who is the CPU auditor from the firm of Watkins, Ward and Stafford, PLLC out of West Point.
“Basically, they were hoping that Randy Scrivner would discredit Steve. Randy said, ‘I’m not interested.’ He said, ‘That just doesn’t compute with my values. I’m not going to discredit Steve. I’m not here for that.’”
Johnson then claims that he received a note from Miller saying, ‘Let me help you find a way to replace Steve.’
Johnson said he replied, “‘George, I’m not playing it. If you want to bring this into executive session and bring this up and tell me all the deficiencies, you can.’”
Johnson believes the problem for Miller lies in that Reed came in at the same time as former CPU General Manager Ray Luhring, who would later resign.
Reed said he received a call from Scrivner soon after his meeting with Johnson, Hunt and Hemphill.
“He was upset and he said, ‘Steve, this is ridiculous what they’re trying to do to you.’ He said, ‘You are a consummate professional. I think you are very alerted at what you would do.’
“He said, “I want you to know David and Jim Hemphill put this together.’ I said, ‘Thank you for letting me know.’ He said, ‘They are after you.’ I said, ‘Thank you for letting me know.’”
Hunt, Hemphill and Miller declined to comment, saying it was a personnel matter.
Miller said he would see what happened with the investigation.
“Let it play out,” Miller said. “Let the chips fall where they may.”
In an attempt to show favoritism, Johnson talked about the hiring process of the director of communications and public relations before he came on board.
Johnson said Luhring resigned as general manager after he and Hemphill interviewed candidates for the position. He claimed a candidate from Helena-West Helena, Ark., was the first choice while a Clarksdale resident was the third option.
However, Johnson said the board did not want to hire the candidate from Helena-West Helena, preferred the hometown candidate and Luhring resigned after the fact.
Johnson said later when Hemphill was overseeing the operation, he hired that local candidate as a consultant for $5,000 a month.
Hemphill did not comment on the personnel matter.
Chris Campos, who is the third CPU employee currently suspended, now holds the position that the local candidate applied for.
The Federal Wiretapping Act dealing with recorded telephone conversations has been at the center of the investigation.
Johnson said Hunt and Hemphill, who both live in Starkville, rode in the same vehicle to and from Clarksdale for a special July 2 meeting and he alleged specifics of the investigations were discussed.
Hemphill said he and Hunt are in the same Sunday School class and both live in Starkville, but they have no business relationship.
Hemphill said, since Johnson has come on board, his only role with CPU was to oversee a search for a few positions.
“David and I are acquaintances,” Hemphill said. “We’re casual friends. I see him on Sunday.
“If anybody thinks that David and I had a business relationship, that’s absolutely wrong.”
No dog in this hunt
Johnson accused Miller of attempting to hold up a raise for Reed everyone else received. He also said, during an executive session, Miller said something he did not appreciate and he instructed him never to say it again.
“He said, ‘I’ll do what I want,’” Johnson said. “I said, ‘No, you won’t.’”
Miller did not respond.
“If it was in executive session, he has made an error by quoting anyone in executive session,” he said.
Plunk appointed Miller to the CPU board but did not have a stance on his performance.
“Let me put it to you this way,” Plunk said. “I do not tell them how to vote, what to do and how to act. And again, I do not have a dog in this hunt.
“I am neutral. I serve the citizens of Ward 1. I appoint people to five different boards of Clarksdale.”
One consistent element
Johnson said he would be able to work with Hunt in the future, but he would question anything he said.
“I’ve seen falsified minutes. I’ve seen bogus statements,” Johnson said. “I’ve requested information that won’t be produced, just reasonable information. And you’re telling me that an attorney doesn’t document everything he does? Please.”
“My response is that would be nothing but a continuation of his attitude early on,” Hunt replied.
Reed expressed similar concerns regarding Hunt.
“There’s one consistent element in all of the issues that’s happened,” he said. “Ever since Marvin (Carraway), every general manager and everything, there’s only been one consistent element associated with this board throughout all of these issues.”
“I am flattered at my control and influence,” Hunt replied.
Hunt also said, when Luhring stepped down as general manager, he told Hunt he had been a friend.
In spite of the recent issues, Reed and Campos were positive about their experiences at CPU.
Reed, who has been here since 2014, is a Rotary club member and also on the industrial foundation board.
“I’m very invested in this community. I really care about it. I care about the employees,” Reed said.
Campos said he’s disillusioned now because he enjoys his job so much.
“I feel like we’ve portrayed positive things, initiatives of CPU, access to all CPU things to customers. The thing is CPU cares about its customers and we want to do everything we can to be open, responsive, keeping utilities on, making bill payments as easy as possible and all of that,” Campos said.
“I feel like I’ve really enjoyed the almost 10 months or however long I’ve been there. My feeling is just disillusionment or confusion. It’s no anger or anything like that. I believe in what CPU as an organization is doing in this town and the role that it plays in the community.”