Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Dirty Dealing In Benton County



News from county government in Benton County continues to be disturbing. Most of the controversy swirls around the actions of County Judge Dave Bisbee, a former State Senator.

Earlier this year Planning Department Manager Ashley Pope announced her resignation when Bisbee appointed one of his former primary opponents, Chris Glass, to a newly created post that would make Glass her supervisor. Glass had endorsed Bisbee in the run-off for the Republican nomination, a critical factor in Bisbee's eventual victory in that race. Accusations of Quid Pro Quo abounded. Bisbee tore up Pope’s letter of resignation in order to prevent members of the public from using the Freedom of Information act to discover its contents, but she went to the press with her story.

Then it happened again. Bisbee hired another one of his former primary opponents who endorsed him in the run-off election, Greg Hines, to run the county’s department of public safety. Again, one has to wonder if there was some connection between the endorsement and the county job.

In full disclosure, I supported the gentleman that Bisbee beat in the run-off, former JP Bill Adams. I am close to a lady who was one of his top campaign officials. She called me asking for advice after the primary election put Adams in a run-off with Bisbee. I advised her to have her candidate call the other defeated candidates and reach out to them. She told me a few days later that Bisbee has already sewn up their endorsements by offering them county jobs. At the time, I suspected that this was just sour grapes, but events have borne out her claims.

Then there was the ice-storm cleanup controversy. When the ice storm hit Bisbee rounded up every tree service the county did business with and sent them to work. Amazingly, the contracts under which they worked had a high per-tree rate and no volume discounts or caps. The contracts were written for situations where they had to take their whole crew out to cut down one tree, not the mass destruction of an ice storm clean up.

Come on. There have been ice storms in Benton County before. Couldn't they foresee such a situation? Didn't anybody read the contracts before they sent the crews out? Bisbee "renegotiated" the contracts after the fact. He told them that if the firms ever wanted to work for the county again they would give back the millions the contracts said they were owed. Most of the businesses caved and took the less than 33 pennies on the dollar which Bisbee offered.

One small service in Decatur, TNT Dirtworks, did not accept the after-the-work was done one-way “renegotiation”. They wanted the 1.4 million dollars they were owed under the contract. In response, Bisbee simply declared that he would refuse to pay the amounts stipulated by the county contracts for work performed.

Do I think the county overpaid for the work under the original contracts? Probably, though I was glad to have the work done in a hurry at the time. We may have overpaid, but our elected leaders contracted to pay that amount. In time, a court will make us pay up anyway, and we will pay many lawyer’s fees besides. But I am not saying we should pay up because we will lose in court, I’m saying we should pay because we gave our word that we would pay. Bisbee and company are turning what was a stupid but honest mistake into an even stupider mistake that lacks the redeeming quality of being an honest one.

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