Clerk Walker cleaning house

Published 12:01 am Saturday, December 22, 2007

NATCHEZ —Since unexpectedly taking over the office of the circuit clerk in November, Eddie Walker has been operating at a frantic pace.

Walker was elected to the office in August but stepped in early when Judge Joe Webster removed former clerk M.L. “Binkey” Vines.

In September of 2006 Vines was indicted by a grand jury on 13 counts of embezzlement; in November 2007 he was removed from office.

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One of Walker’s first orders of business was to replace the old staff that worked for Vines.

Walker said he started replacing employees in mid-November and finished in December.

After hiring a new staff, Walker then began work on an audit of the office.

Walker said in a September meeting between himself, his wife, then-State Auditor Phil Bryant and members of Bryant’s office he asked the state auditor to conduct an audit of Vines’ office before he took over.

“I wanted to know what I was getting into,” he said.

But to Walker’s surprise, Bryant refused an audit saying that there was no probable cause to conduct an audit.

“I was in shock when I heard that,” he said. “How could they say there was no probable cause?”

On Thursday afternoon director of the state auditor’s office Rodney Zeagler, who attended the September meeting, said he could not recall if Walker asked for an actual audit, but thought Walker simply wanted to discuss transfer of records between the two administrations.

However, after Zeagler said he was unsure if Walker even wanted an audit, he then said it would not be logistically possible.

“We just don’t have the staff to do an audit for everyone,” Zeagler said.

Walker said he wanted an audit to make a clear line between the Vines administration and his own.

While Walker moves forward learning the ropes of his new appointment, he is still struggling to find the time to review the records left behind by the previous administration, he said.

To establish a clean slate Walker, as is common practice, opened all new accounts for the office when he took over.

To keep the office operational, Walker contributed $15,000 of his own money to the office’s fee account.

While that might sound strange, Walker said it is not abnormal.

The office’s fee account covers office expenses and salaries.

Walker said he has not seen an record of the fee account from the previous administration.

And looking back on the fee account and other records kept by the previous administration will take more than just time.

Walker said the previous clerk’s bookkeeper William Kennon’s computer was wiped clean of all files other than regular programs before Walker took office.

“The data had been removed,” he said.

And while Walker continues to struggle with the normal challenges that come with starting any new job he said he has found a gold mine of advice in other county clerks.

“They have been extremely helpful,” he said.

Amite County’s Circuit Clerk Sharon Walsh, along with other clerks, has been advising Walker.

“He has a tough job,” she said.

Walsh said in a normal situation the outgoing clerk would help to train the new clerk and be around the office to answer questions.

“He does not have that benefit,” she said. “He can just take things one day at a time right now.”