, Corbin, KY

January 15, 2014

Radio company discussed by ethics board, Corbin, KY

CORBIN — By LeeAnn Cain / Staff Writer

The London City Ethics Board met Tuesday to discuss concerns about London Police Chief Stewart Walker’s ownership of London Radio Service, Inc.

Walker was present to speak on the issue and answer board members’ questions.

The debate over Walker’s ownership of the company was sparked by a news report that the city was buying its radio equipment from a company owned by the police chief without advertising for bids from other companies.

In a city council meeting in November, it was announced that an advertisement for proposals saw only one offer from London Radio Service. During the same meeting, London City Attorney Larry Bryson recommended the city review its proposals for such services at least every three years — a standard he said the state auditor’s office would probably prefer.

Bryson also said the city must disclose the owner of London Radio Service Inc. because Walker is employed by the city as its chief of police.

According to Bryson, there had been no formal complaints about Walker’s service to the city, but a question of ethics had been raised by the news reports. Bryson said the price paid by the city was fair and reasonable, and Walker replied that the price had been established by a state bid list. Walker said that other government agencies bought equipment from him, as his involvement with London Radio Services predated his employment with the city.

Bryson reminded the board they do have subpoena powers to call Walker for further statement.

London Mayor Troy Rudder said Walker’s price and service were the best for the city.

“That’s like a bid, isn’t it?” Rudder asked. “You choose a bid because of price and service.”

Bryson informed the ethics board that Rudder had placed some additional safeguards for financial oversight of London Radio Service. Bryson said he did not know of any claims that “something crooked” was going on.

Following the initial report, board members were allowed to question Walker about his company’s involvement with the city.

Chairperson Beth Wilson asked Walker how long he had been in business with London Radio Service, to which he replied he had been with them for 30 years. Walker went on to say he had begun working with the city of London in 1996, and Bryson noted this was well before his employment with the city. Walker said ever since he began his employment with the city, he had complied with financial disclosure requirements every year.

“I didn’t realize it’d be such an interest,” Walker said.

“Going through the records, everything seems in order,” Nicholson said. Walker replied that “the news” didn’t find any problems with his employment with the city.

“I don’t think this is an ethics issue,” Nicholson said. “Just a matter of perception.”  

Rudder then informed the board that the city’s auditor had spoken to state auditors and the city auditor had advised Walker and the city to consult the ethics board.

“I want Stewart [Walker] to make a statement on how it [London Radio Service] serves the city and how fast the turnaround is for repairs,” board member Donna House said.

Walker replied that London Radio Service was the only communication shop remaining in the area.

“I focus my service on local government,” Walker said. “I don’t go out and do a lot of advertisement. My business sells itself.”

Walker continued to explain he went “out of [his] way to ensure everything is done right” and ensure that the work done is “top-quality.” He said his company tried to repair damages to equipment as quickly as possible.

“Emergency services can’t afford to be down,” House said.

Walker said the city’s budget for radio equipment had been reduced since he had first begun working with them, and his company tried to keep equipment affordable.

“I can’t stock every piece and part but I try to fix problems as quickly as possible,” Walker said. He noted his company was available for repairs at all hours.

House said other departments such as Laurel County Search and Rescue and London Fire Department seemed satisfied with Walker’s services.

Rudder asked Walker who first began purchasing equipment from him in the city, and Walker replied it was the fire department.

After an executive session to discuss their opinion, the board said that Bryson would write up the opinion and it would become available after he had finished and providing they felt it fell in line with their position. If the board is satisfied with Bryson’s statement, they will sign it.

In other news:

—Board members Brian House and Harriett Hubbard were unable to attend the meeting.

—The London City Ethics Board elected Judy Nicholson as chairperson in a unanimous decision. According to Rudder, this was the first meeting of the ethics board since the 1990s. Rudder went on to say the board might need to meet once or twice a year.

Rudder noted that board members would have to submit a written opinion on these issues, and suggested they have Bryson write up the opinion to ensure it fell in line with legal matters.