BLADENBORO — A former town manager is under scrutiny by the State Bureau of Investigation after questions were raised about three years ago concerning $450,000 spent by the town of Bladenboro for wastewater treatment services to a company owned by the town manager.
Delane Jackson, who served as the town’s manager/administrator since 1998, is listed as the owner of a company named Cygnus, Inc., started in January 2005. According to paperwork, Cygnus was awarded a contract for wastewater treatment services to the town that same year.
Invoices made available by the town show that, for the next eight years, Cygnus was paid near one-half million dollars — including $4,700 a month for operation of wells and operation of spray irrigation.
But in 2013, with the election and swearing in of Rufus Duckworth as mayor of Bladenboro, all work being done by Cygnus ceased.
“It was such a whirlwind when I went in — I was new, we had new commissioners, we were trying to get a new fire department, a park and a farmer’smarket — and I didn’t have time to get started on this right away,” Duckworth said. “But after doing some digging, I could see there was something fishy.
“And I don’t know of anyone around town who ever saw a Cygnus employee or vehicle,” he added.
Duckworth said the town quickly found another company to do the same work Cygnus had been doing, but at a cost of just $1,000 per month.
Also in 2013, Jackson was asked to resign as town administrator, and he gave his resignation with the promise of a severance package that amounted to just over $50,000.
“That really bothered me,” Duckworth said. “Here we have someone who has, at the very least, mismanaged a lot of money for this town, and (the previous administration) gives him another $50,000.”
Duckworth said he originally brought his concerns to Glenn Emory with the Bladen County District Attorney’s Office, but was referred to State Auditor Beth Wood — who determined that what Duckworth had concerns about was more of a criminal case.
Since then, Duckworth said hours and hours of digging through the Internet have turned up numerous questionable areas about Cygnus — including the fact that Jackson is listed as the company’s president; his aunt, Mary Estelle Wiggins, is listed as the company secretary; and a former town clerk under Jackson, Lisa Kelly Porter, was listed as a company officer.
Also of concern to Duckworth is the fact that the home office for Cygnus was listed in Wilmington, then Ocean Isle Beach and then Lumberton over a nine-year period.
Jackson has been employed by the town of River Bend, just outside New Bern, as its town manager since September 2014.
Duckworth said he’s become frustrated with the slow pace of the investigation, which is now in the hands of the SBI, despite his constant phone calls to inquire about it.
I really started getting frustrated in 2015, and I told (District Attorney) Jon David that I was going to go public with it,” Duckworth said. “But I was promised it would all be done by the end of the year.
“Of course, it wasn’t,”he added. “But I guess I never did get a specific year, either.”
Since then, the frustration continued to rise, and Duckworth said the District Attorney’s Office won’t even talk with him.
“It’s been almost impossible to contact Jon David or get a return call,” he said.
In the end, it will be up to the District Attorney’sOffice to decide whether the investigation merits any charges against Jackson.
“Investigations go at their own pace, and I have an ethical obligation not to speak in the media during an investigation,” David said on Friday. “All I can say right now is that it’s ongoing.”
As of Thursday, the investigation had not yet gotten to the point of speaking with Jackson, but according to reports, Jackson has referred all questions to his attorney, Butch Pope of Whiteville. Attempts to reach Pope have been unsuccessful.
Jackson was no stranger to brushes with the law while in Bladenboro. On at least three occasions, he was charged with assault and communicating threats between 2012 and 2013. But in each of those instances, the charges were dropped.
If there is an area where Duckworth sees the town has some culpability, it’s with the fact that the administration at the time allowed Jackson to OK all invoices and sign all checks during the day-to-day operations.
“This is where you have a problem … when you have a manager who has free reign with no checks or balances,” Duckworth said. “And we had a town board at the time that wouldn’t do it’s job.
“It’s really very simple — what you don’t condemn, you condone,” he added.
Duckworth, who is up for re-election on Tuesday, said he thinks some people are hoping this investigation goes away if he loses.
“It won’t matter if I win or lose,” he said. “Either way I will push for this investigation to continue and come to a rightful conclusion because I love this town and I think the people have a right to know what took place — and hopefully be able to recoup some of that money.”
Duckworth also said, without going into any specifics, that “I really think this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.