Pine Bluff Alderwoman Thelma Walker is under investigation by the Arkansas Ethics Commission for possibly violating election laws during her 2010 city council and 2012 mayoral campaigns.
Addressing an unnamed complainant in a Sept. 12 letter, a copy of which was provided to The Commercial, AEC Director Graham F. Sloan advised that Walker is being investigated on assorted allegations.
“I know who did this,” Walker told a Commercial reporter as she left her business — Pine Bluff Adult Day Care at 612 West Fifth Avenue — Friday afternoon. “It was Stu Soffer. His name was on there as the complainant on a copy of the letter that I got.”
Walker, the lone female on the Pine Bluff council, finished third among candidates in the November 2012 mayoral election.
Soffer, a White Hall resident, is the Republican Party representative on the Jefferson County Election Commission. He is also a member of the state election commission.
Reached by telephone, Soffer initially declined to confirm or deny that he was the complainant, but later acknowledged that he did file the complaint against Walker and also lodged the charges that generated an AEC investigation of Alderman Glen Brown on Aug. 21. A copy of a Sloan letter announcing Brown’s probe received by The Commercial also had the complainant’s identity omitted.
“I’m representing a number of Pine Bluff voters, both black and white, and I filed the complaints on behalf of several clients who do not wish for their names to be revealed,” Soffer said. “Those who approached me are among the many people concerned about Pine Bluff’s future.”
Listed in Sloan’s letter as “essential” accusations against Wallker are:
• Walker’s final campaign contribution and expenditure reports for the 2012 and 2010 elections and her 2010 pre-election contribution and expenditure report are not on file in the Jefferson County clerk’s office.
• In her 2012 statement of financial interest, Walker did not report her position as director of the adult day care. She also failed to list creditors, investments and bank accounts, and did not have a notary witness her signing of the document.
• She “used her position” as a council member “to obtain special privileges or exemptions” for her son — Stanley (incorrectly identified within the complaint as Albert) Walker — with his restaurant, Aisha’s Fish and Chicken at 1106 West 16th Avenue. Stanley Walker is in arrears on payment to the city of merchant-collected 2-percent hamburger tax revenues by several thousand dollars and was issued an occupation license by City Collector Albert Ridgell in July despite having made only small payments toward the debt.
• Thelma Walker, who is also a council representative on the city’s advertising and promotion commission, “used her position” to obtain special privileges or exemptions” for Ridgell, who “improperly issued” the business permit to Stanley Walker. The complainant charges that the favor toward Ridgell occurred as a result of Mayor Debe Hollingsworth’s July termination of Ridgell for “poor job performance.” Ridgell appealed his firing to the council, and Thelma Walker “did not recuse herself from voting” for his reinstatement, providing a decisive sixth vote on the July issue.
The letter also explained focal points of the coming investigation.
Walker downplayed the validity of Soffer’s complaint against her.
“I haven’t read the whole thing because I saw that it came from him and I knew what it was,” said Walker. “I don’t know what charges he’s making against me, but whatever they are, I know they’re ridiculous. They’re not true.
“You can say this,” she continued. “You can say that people can’t believe anything he says against me because he’s a racist. I don’t say much about that subject, but that’s what he is and people know it. And people know that I’m not because I don’t feel that way.”
Told of Walker’s charge, Soffer replied, “We are a nation of laws, and that makes us a republic. The fact that someone is beginning to ensure that those laws are enforced and wants to make examples of those who think they’re above the law is a good thing in my opinion.”
Soffer paused briefly before continuing.
“On referring to me as a racist, I would suggest that if Ms. Walker wants to see what a racist looks like, she should look into a mirror,” he said. “From everything I read in the newspaper, Ms. Walker is a classic example of someone who thinks she’s above the law, and I’ll illustrate that with the facts of her failure to recuse herself from the vote on Mr. Ridgell, and getting herself onto the advertising and promotion commission, which oversees the hamburger tax.
“She most certainly had a conflict with her son’s situation,” Soffer added. “If someone decides to go after her or anyone else who shows the same motivations, that’s fine with me. I don’t have a problem with it whether the person is white, black, Democrat, Republican or other.”
Walker said she doesn’t worry about Soffer or an investigation.
“I’m going to keep on doing my job as a council member,” she said. “People see me as giving leadership and they want me to continue being a leader. That’s what I’m about and that’s what I’m going to do. People know that I’m honest and I always do what’s right for this city.”
Asked Friday if he could provide a status on the Brown probe, Sloan said he can’t comment on any investigation as long as it’s ongoing. Sloan said AEC cases can remain open for up to five or six months.
Walker and/or Brown could face fines of $50 to $2,000 if the Ethics Commission determines that either violated state laws. They also could be charged with misdemeanor offenses by local Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter.
Soffer said additional investigations on other local elected officials could be forthcoming.