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story.lead_photo.caption Stephanie Orman (from left), John Skaggs and Jim Webb

BENTONVILLE -- Mayoral candidate Stephanie Orman claims Jim Webb, her opponent in the Dec. 4 runoff election, offered former candidate John Skaggs a job in return for an endorsement.

Orman and Skaggs said Webb offered Skaggs a job after the general election. Orman says she reported the matter to the FBI. A message left with the FBI wasn't returned before 5 p.m.

The numbers

Jim Webb, Stephanie Orman and John Skaggs were three of the five candidates in the Nov. 6 general election Bentonville mayoral race.

Webb received 5,595, or 43 percent, of the votes. Orman received 5,193, or 40 percent, of the votes. Skaggs received 1,777, or 14 percent, of the votes.

Webb and Orman will faceoff in a runoff election Dec. 4.

Source: Staff report

Webb said he's never offered Skaggs a job and Orman's allegation is an attempt to save her campaign.

Webb received 5,595, or 43 percent, of the votes in the general election. Orman received 5,193, or 40 percent, of the votes. Skaggs received 1,777, or 14 percent, of the votes. Former candidates Charlie Turner received 272, or 2 percent, of the votes, and Terry Shannon received 221, or 2 percent, of the votes.

Skaggs said Webb called him Nov. 7, the day after the general election, looking for an endorsement. Skaggs told Webb he would endorse Orman. Webb called again a few minutes later, Skaggs said, asking for an explanation about the endorsement and asked if Skaggs wanted a job.

"Because of the context, I inferred he was offering me a job with the city," Skaggs said. "I told him I wasn't interested."

Skaggs said Webb didn't say what type of job it was.

"I never offered John Skaggs a job for his endorsement," Webb said. "I said I was sorry to hear he was endorsing Ms. Orman and expressed I had hoped to work with him to tear down the dam."

The Lake Bella Vista dam has been declared failed and is a point of contention within the the community on whether to rebuild it or remove it.

Skaggs said an email he sent to Orman Nov. 8 read, "While talking to Jim yesterday, he offered me a job with the city, which I declined."

Orman replied with a federal statute regarding the potential illegality of offering a job in exchange for an endorsement and asked Skaggs' thoughts about it, he said.

Skaggs is a retired Benton County district judge.

He said he responded, telling her "the next step" would be to see if the federal statute would apply to Arkansas. Skaggs said he later sent her another email that included the Arkansas code regarding the issue.

Arkansas code 7-1-103 says, "It shall be unlawful for any person to appoint or offer to appoint anyone to any office or position of trust or for any person to influence, attempt to influence, or offer to influence the appointment, nomination, or election of any person to office in consideration of the support or assistance of the person for any candidate in any election in this state."

Violation of the statute is a misdemeanor.

Neither Skaggs nor Orman were willing to provide the email conversation to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Orman said she didn't ask Skaggs for the information.

"I was given the information, and I passed it along to what I believe to be the proper authorities," she said.

Orman wouldn't say who advised her to report the matter to authorities, and said she couldn't comment further because of the FBI's involvement.

She said she didn't bring the allegations to Nathan Smith, the Benton County prosecutor, because he has endorsed Webb.

"Maintaining public confidence in the integrity of matters referred to my office is one of the most serious responsibilities I have," Smith said in a statement. "To that end, I routinely seek a special prosecutor when I have a close personal or professional relationship with the subject of an investigation. If a complaint was made to my office in this instance, I would declare a conflict and seek an independent investigation. Since the FBI is already involved, it appears that an independent investigation has commenced."

Webb said he was upset Skaggs would call his character into question because he believed Webb meant something he didn't.

Webb said he's mentioned working with Skaggs about the dam removal several times, both publicly and privately.

Webb commented, "I look forward to working with you to ensure the dam is removed" to Skaggs on a thread on the Friends of Little Sugar Creek's Facebook page on Tuesday.

The Friends of Little Sugar Creek have advocated for years the dam be removed and a free-flowing creek be restored.

Webb and Skaggs said the dam was discussed during a lunch the two had together prior to the Nov. 6 election.

"There was nothing nefarious in my comments," Webb said. "This entire story is a fabrication driven by Ms. Orman who is desperate and will sink to any level to advance herself."

Mayor Bob McCaslin said the allegation is disturbing. He spoke highly of Skaggs' reputation and said Orman had limited places to report the allegations because of endorsements.

"This is something that I wouldn't have imagined," he said. "It's unusual in a municipal election."

Orman has frequently said McCaslin has endorsed her to replace him.

The runoff election between Orman and Webb is Dec. 4. Early voting begins Nov. 27.

NW News on 11/17/2018

Print Headline: Allegations fan controversy in mayoral race

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