Two Arkansas politicians are accused of using their power positions to avoid paying their water bills. Helena West Helena alderman John Huff, Jr. and Christopher Franklin were arrested for abuse of office and prohibited acts by municipal officials.
The city is about 80 miles southwest of Memphis. The chief of police says the two councilmen received public utilities from the city water department and failed to pay their monthly bills.
The chief says both councilmen demanded and received special treatment, and if a normal citizen and had not paid their bill, their water would have likely been turned off.
“I know a lot of people are saying well this is just a water bill. But when you have elected officials who may be abusing their powers it’s something we want to look into,” says Police Chief Virgil Green. “We basically determined the two council members probably used their positions and influence to not pay their bills. There were some instances where they were paying, but not typical as an average citizen.”
One of the council members tells Local 24 he had paid his bill, and he believes he was targeted by the chief saying this is just retaliation.
(HELENA WEST HELENA POLICE RELEASE)
Two Helena West Helena Council Members are now facing several Class A misdemeanor charges after a very thorough investigation into allegations the two council members were not paying for water services to the West Helena water department. According to an agency press release from Virgil Green, Chief of Police with the Helena West Helena Police Department. Alderman John H. Huff Jr. and Alderman Christopher “Foe Foe” Franklin received public utilities services from the Helena West Helena Water Department and failed to pay their monthly water bill on time.
Chief Green stated both Alderman’s are facing two class A misdemeanor charges, Abuse of Office and Prohibited Actions by Municipal Officials. Green stated the investigation began several months ago in the later part of 2016 when information was provided to his office that two alderman’s were delinquent in paying their monthly water bills. Green further stated water records were obtained on both Huff and Franklin water bills. The investigation uncovered both Franklin and Huff have demanded and received special treatment from the West Helena Water Utility by failing to timely pay for water services received and when so failing, were not being penalized for that failure.
Chief Green noted records obtained shows both Alderman’s Huff and Franklin had tendered hot checks for water services and skipped payments for several months while continuing to receive uninterrupted water services. The average citizen or even these two alderman’s constituents they represent in there wards would have had his or her water services shut-off and meter removed from the residents.
Green stated it wasn’t the fact the two alderman’s didn’t have the means to pay for their water services, for what these city officials have treated as an ordinary course of business and a benefit of serving in public office. Both Huff and Franklin are paid aldermen’s from the City of Helena West Helena. Alderman’s are paid approximately $800.00 dollars a month plus receive free health insurance coverage just as any other city employees receive.
What makes this even more disturbing is these two elected officials are policy makers for the City of Helena West Helena, and they themselves are now facing allegations they have violated the same policies they were elected to uphold. While they both had the means to pay their water bills they chose to abuse their positions as alderman’s. We have city employees who are struggling paycheck to paycheck to pay the same water services these two have abused for months.
Chief Green stated at the Helena West Helena Police Department we have 911 dispatchers who have a very stressful position start out at $8.40 per hour, these woman and men are working 80 hrs. a pay period, where they average $672.00 dollars a pay period while these two alderman’s attend two council meetings a month for no more than two hours, and they are paid $800.00 dollars a month. That figure increases when you add in the fact the city pays for their health benefits. Green stated these two alderman’s also have full-time employment outside of their elected positions, Christopher “Foe Foe” Franklin is an employee with Walmart in Helena West Helena, and John H. Huff Jr. is employed with the Lee County Cooperative Clinic in Marianna, Arkansas. These two had more than the means to meet their financial obligations of paying their water bills to the city of Helena West Helena on time each month.
Chief Green, stated the reason he used the comparison between these two elected officials, these alderman’s are truly benefitting from being elected officials. Based upon the water records the information obtained during this investigation it shows a clear intent on their part not to pay for water services, something that all police personal, city employees and every citizen who lives in Helena West Helena must pay for their water services monthly. But these two have avoid paying their bills sometimes up to 48 days past due or longer. While the average water bill were no more than $70.00 dollars a month, for both Huff and Franklin, they just refused to pay their bills as any other citizen are required to.
Chief Green stated a probable cause affidavit was presented to a special judge who found the information presented in the affidavit met the elements according to Arkansas State Laws, that Huff and Franklin have violated the offenses of Abuse of Office and Prohibited Actions by Municipal Officials. Warrants of Arrest were issued for both Huff and Franklin, both have turned themselves in and were released without posting bonds. Green stated the charge of Prohibited Actions by Municipal Officials, if the two are found guilty would remove the two from their elected council positions indefinitely, where they could never hold another municipal elected position. John H. Huff Jr. who is also on probation from a previous misdemeanor conviction in District Court in Phillips County that involving an incident with a local radio station owner could be in violation of the terms and conditions of his probation.