When former city of China Mayor and Councilman John Walker read The Examiner article last week titled “Big Trouble in Little China” (Feb. 23-29 edition, page 10A), he was appalled at the implication his administration was responsible for any of the city’s financial woes.
In the Feb. 23 article, China Mayor Pro Tem Edwin Broussard said the city’s financial hardship stems partially from an inherited problem due to former City Council panels allowing fiscal responsibility to wane in the years prior to the current board taking over. But, Walker respectfully disagrees.
“When I resigned from there last year,” he said, “we had money.”
Furthermore, Walker said should the city find itself strapped for funds, citizens should look no further than the leaders currently on the China City Council and Mayor Margaret “Peggy” Harkrider.
“I would like to share a number of facts with you and your readers, which may shed new light on the fiasco they call an administration currently serving in China,” Walker said. “While there is much dodging of responsibility by the mayor and council in your article, what they and you fail to mention is that the mayor and some of the council members have been on the council for a number of years. Mayor Harkrider, for example, even served as Mayor Pro-Tem under both my administration and the administration prior to mine. If, in fact, there were financial issues so many years ago, why then were none of those addressed or even spoken of prior to now?”
Harkrider has been a staple on the China City Council, but this is her first run as mayor.
“When I left office,” Walker continued to explain, “our budget showed an $80,000 surplus. Every year, council agrees upon a budget and votes to accept it. Every single councilperson has access to that budget all year and reviews every expenditure on a monthly basis. If there were discrepancies in that budget or the expenditure reports, those discrepancies fall to one person and one person alone, the city secretary (Cindy Flores).”
Walker cited other discrepancies in Flores’ bookkeeping such as allegedly paying for all of her health insurance with city funds although 50 percent of the insurance premium should come from Flores. Although no official investigation into Walker’s allegations has been documented, when confronted Flores did not deny the allegations and former Mayor Butch Sanders confirmed Walker’s assertions. Walker added that he had fired Flores prior to his Feb. 2011 resignation from office. According to him, Harkrider (who was Mayor Pro-Tem at that time) overrode his executive decision because he was out of town on a family emergency at the time. Further problems Walker experienced with Flores, he said, were detailed in his resignation letter dated Feb. 24, 2011. However, most of the allegations were directed at current Mayor Peggy Harkrider.
Among the charges lodged against Harkrider in his resignation letter, Walker stated the current mayor was responsible for using “snipping and lies” to oust employees, and said she named many other city workers in “nefarious plots” against herself and Flores.
“But, that February is when all hell broke loose,” Walker said. “I got a call from a council member saying she was in fear of her life. I had enough. I didn’t have the will or the need to battle these people.”
Walker said he resigned the same day he received that call.
“The immature, middle-school, mean-girl tactics,” used by Harkrider and Flores were eventually too much to bear, he said. “Evil, it seems, has won the day.”Exactly one year after he penned his resignation, Walker spoke with The Examiner to stand behind those words, and to let the community of China know their city leaders might not be looking out for their best interests.
“If there are water and sewer issues, I would submit that – at least in part – they are due to the harassment of our former water and sewer operator (Ed Burrell) by both Mayor Harkrider and Ms. Flores. He was challenged at every turn and both his professional and personal life relentlessly and mercilessly attacked,” Walker said. Additionally, he said, “The list of frivolous and capricious expenditures continues.”
And while Walker said he has no plans of ever entering back into China politics, he is hopeful others in the community will get involved and take charge of their city before it is run into the ground.
“The responsibility for the city’s unnecessary water and sewer user fee hike and any possible property tax lies squarely on the shoulders of those in charge, and no amount of dodging and shirking will change that fact,” Walker concluded. “I just hope the citizens can see that.”
Harkrider defender her position in the city, and said past city leaders had an ax to grind.
“I’m not surprised at the mudslinging,” she said. “I know they are out to get me, but the things they say simply are not true.”
The city of China has regular meetings scheduled for the third Tuesday of the month, starting at 7 p.m., at the City Hall located at the corner of Broadway and Lee streets.
Jennifer Johnson can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 231, or by e-mail at jennifer [at] theexaminer [dot] com.