A Canton Municipal Utilities commissioner apparently attempted to negotiate a sludge removal contract worth nearly $800,000 on behalf of a Flowood firm, according to an audio recording obtained by the Madison County Journal.

Commissioner John Noble discussed with CMU’s staff attorney and then-chairman Silbrina Wright the possibility of rescinding a contract awarded on Aug. 5 to Denali of Arkansas.

Throughout the nearly-40 minute conversation on Sunday, Aug. 7, Noble is asking about the legal ramifications of rescinding the Denali vote and what options were available to the CMU board.

“I really wish this would just go away, personally,” he said at one point. “I’m sorry this came up. I’m sorry I’m stuck in the middle and I’m up over my head.”

Noble, who is a part-time county employee, said he discussed the issue with former District 4 Supervisor Karl Banks, father of Claude Banks, one of the principles in UCI-LAA,  the Flowood-based company with the second lowest bid.

Another partner in UCI-LAA is Terry Lovelace, a contractor currently developing new sections of Lost Rabbit in Madison, which was involved in a $5.235 million taxpayer bailout in 2014 while Banks senior was president of the Board of Supervisors. The Mississippi Secretary of State lists Kenneth A. Primos III, an attorney at Butler-Snow, as the organizer of UCI-LAA and gives the law firm’s Ridgeland address.

Noble contends that UCI-LAA is upset because CMU entered into negotiations with both firms and that a second offer was not accepted because it came in after a Friday, July 29 deadline UCI claims was never mentioned.

Banks’ firm UCI-LAA initially lowered its bid from $918,500 to $889,000. A subsequent proffer in the amount of $781,400 was then made the Monday morning after Denali’s and the Friday deadline.

“Basically, their proposal is really better for us than Denali,” Noble says on the call. “They dropped their price and they’re willing to negotiate the sludge removal with the city if the city will take $10 a ton. It will give the city $75,000.”

CMU staff attorney LaToya Redd Thompson said the board can reopen negotiations, but it would have to be with both firms, though she cautioned Noble about doing so because it could appear as if they are trying to steer the contract to a particular vendor.

She tells Noble and Wright that CMU board members who vote could be held personally liable for any damages in the event of a lawsuit.

“If you reopen negotiations with Denali and UCI and you started out with a process where you created an evaluation committee…if you look at this from an objective basis I mean I would argue it’s over. You went through the process you said you were going to go through,” she said.

And she added, “You’re opening yourself up for liability.”

Noble responded, “Well, it just gets uglier then.”

At one point during the call, Noble tells the others that he met with Karl Banks and that he said he was willing to donate $50,000 to the city to pay for roads and they could lower their price to have the Canton landfill take the sludge.

“(They could) lower their price below what Denali was,” he said. “And that CMU would negotiate the price that CMU would pay for the sludge being taken by the wastewater since we are part of the city.

“I said, well if we do that then maybe CMU could come up with some money, that we deemed excess, to help offset some of the sludge,” he continued. “CMU would be responsible for any fees that the city would charge to take the sludge at the dump.”

Noble then said the conversation was that if they could get the city to agree to take $10 a ton that would bring in $75,000 to the city.

“If who can get the city to agree?” Thompson asked.

“Us,” Noble responded.

At one point, Noble then asked if he was breaking the law.

“Here’s my feeling, it’s a win-win,” he said. “The city would get $75,000 for taking the sludge. UCI gets the contract. It’s less money than Denali. If you tell me that’s illegal that’s all I need to know.”

Thompson said if they worked with the city that would be a reduction in services from the RFP and Denali would have to be afforded the same opportunity.

She said she was very concerned CMU could be hit with a lawsuit.

“They could take a law student and win with this one,” Noble said. “It’s almost on point (with a similar case).”

He later added, “You know Denali is gonna sue us if we back out of the deal. We set the parameters and they met it and we want to change the parameters after they met it.”

CMU awarded Denali the contract on Aug. 5, but as of Wednesday morning, had not executed a signed contract with the firm.

Wright, who supplied the audio recording to the Journal, was kicked off the CMU board by the Canton Mayor and Board of Aldermen not long after the recording. They claim she doesn’t live in the city, but Wright denies that and said she has provided proof.

On Tuesday, Mayor Arnel Bolden vetoed that decision to oust Wright, but it was overridden in a 5-2 vote.

Aldermen Les Penn, Eric Gilkey, Rodriguez Brown, Vickie McNeil, and Andrew Grant voted to override the veto. Alderwomen Olivia Harrell and Daphne Sims voted against.

Wright maintains that she lives inside Canton and that she was kicked off the board because she didn’t play ball with steering the sludge contract to UCI-LAA.

She said Noble was rewarded for his efforts with a term extension on five years, despite having one year left to serve.

Last week, Wright told the Journal corruption was afoot at CMU regarding the sludge removal contract.

She said between the time CMU awarded Denali the contract and Aug. 23 she was threatened with being removed from the board if she did not help steer the contract towards UCI.

On Aug. 23, the Canton board voted to replace her with Cleotha Williams.

Noble is also a part-time building inspector for Madison County and made over $112,000 last year. Attempts to contact him were unsuccessful.