Mayor launches claims against alderman

Published 8:15 pm Friday, September 9, 2016

BELHAVEN — Problems surrounding unpaid utility bills continue to boil up in Belhaven.

During the last billing cycle, Mayor Adam O’Neal sent a letter to utilities customers alleging Alderman Ricky Credle’s involvement in “the utility bill fiasco” that drew the attention of the Office of the State Auditor last year.

In February, the agency released a report on the Town of Belhaven, stating that almost $430,000 was left unpaid from 629 delinquent utility bills. The report stated that former town Manager Guinn Leverett failed to collect them, and former Finance Director Steve Noble incorrectly recorded account balances.

In O’Neal’s recent letter, he writes, “The utility bill fiasco was caused by a utility bill clerk doing friends favors by letting them pay less than their current bill due. The clerk was Ricky Credle, who is a town councilman.”

O’Neal continues: “Our finance director didn’t catch what was going on until the State Auditors exposed the issue. The town took the State Auditor’s advice on how to correct the issue and great progress has been made.”

Ricky Credle

Ricky Credle

Credle said the allegations against him are untrue, and he never did favors for friends or anyone else.

“I think things have gone so far that he’s really trying to find someone to blame,” he said of O’Neal. “The main thing is to clear my name for any wrongdoing.”

Credle worked as a clerk from August 2012 to May 2014, and performed tasks such as cash collection, billing, meter readings, debt setoff and setting up payment agreements.

The State Auditor’s report does not mention Credle’s name in its findings.

Credle said Noble had to draw up and approve any payment agreements for customers struggling to pay.

He also said his innocence is shown by the fact that the problems with delinquent utility bills had already begun before he took the position as a clerk. Credle referenced a utility accounts report from July 2, 2012, which states that out of 1,372 accounts, 733 had past due balances — 334 of which were more than 90 days overdue.

“It’s before I was there. It’s after I was there,” Credle said. “I treat everybody the same. … What benefit do I get from not getting them to pay their bills?”

O’Neal said he stands by the accusations made in the letter and declined to comment further on details related to them. He said he will address the issue at the Board of Aldermen meeting on Monday night.

“Your town administration is only concerned with the wellbeing of the town,” O’Neal stated in the letter. “We all must work to be more informed on town issues. If we don’t become involved, we will wake up one day with people only concerned for themselves controlling our town.”

As for the upcoming aldermen meeting, Credle said he has nothing to hide.

“I’m not going nowhere,” Credle said. “I haven’t done anything wrong.”