SUNSET, Ark. — Small doesn’t even begin to describe the town of Sunset. Located 12 miles northwest of Memphis, it has fewer than 200 people and only four city employees.
“A town this small, it’s like running a small business,” said Erica Parker, the town’s newest recorder.
But for such a small operation, Parker said she was confronted with a maze of mismanagement and questionable spending when she began reviewing the city’s books after taking office Jan. 1.
“It just takes some common sense and a little know-how, and it’s just like common sense went out the window, and nobody knew how,” Parker said.
The town’s previous mayor, Eddie Craig III, characterized Parker’s claims as a personal vendetta. He said they attended high school together and Parker acknowledged she previously ran against him.
But Parker said that doesn’t change the fact that Craig paid himself and 10 of his family members a total of $86,744 in 2018. (Craig clarified that some of this includes their budgeted salaries and some are reimbursements).
Parker said the city is missing receipts for some of the reimbursable items, and in other cases, the amounts on the receipts didn’t match the amounts that were reimbursed.
In April 2018, a letter from the state’s Legislative Joint Auditing Committee shows Sunset was warned that it wasn’t in compliance with state auditing laws and that state turnback funds would be withheld.
Parker said the state followed through with its threat, and the city is now not receiving that funding.
“It is a good little portion of our budget each month,” she said of the turnback funds.
In March, records show that more than $23,260 was transferred from the city’s water fund and moved to the general fund.
The same day, a check was written from the general fund to the mayor reimbursing him for $5,600 for lawn equipment.
“A check for $5,600 and no receipt, but it’s reimbursement for lawn equipment that we don’t have,” Parker said.
In 2018, the city paid the mayor a total of $21,308. The mayor’s family members, including his girlfriend, parents and cousins, were paid a total of $65,436.
Craig declined WREG’s request for an interview, but we asked him about the payments during a phone call.
Craig said Sunset’s financial woes predate his time in office, which began in 2015. He also defended having his family members work for the city and be reimbursed.
In a subsequent email, the mayor wrote:
“Yes, I have family working for the city, but they were there before I took office. It was hard to find anyone that wanted to work for the City of Sunset with the reputation it had of paying vendors and contractors. The council approved, knew who was working and elected to give them bonuses every year.”
Craig also claimed Parker has an ax to grind, writing:
“She hung out at my house with my family while we were in high school with hopes of us dating.”
WREG was unable to locate Sunset’s previous town recorder, Margaret Stringfellow, who signed the reimbursement checks.
Parker said the state is giving Sunset a fresh start this year. If the books look good by April, she said the town will get its state funds back.