By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – North Lee County Water Association filed court documents Monday denying a whistleblower was fired two months ago for sharing an audit revealing broken laws and financial mismanagement.
Attorney Krissy C. Nobile filed the response in Lee County Circuit Court on behalf of the rural water association that provided 16 reasons why the lawsuit filed on behalf of former outside maintenance supervisor Sonny Noble should be dismissed. Nobile and North Lee Board of Directors attorney Bill Beasley practice with the firm Phelps Dunbar.
Water association manager Jim Banker fired Noble on April 11, the same day the Daily Journal published an article detailing the audit’s findings of noncompliance with U.S Department of Agriculture Rural Development loan requirements, unaccounted for funds of more than $14,000, and widespread financial mismanagement.
Noble made public North Lee’s fiscal year 2013 audit. While the private nonprofit cooperative’s leadership contended the document wasn’t public, that was disputed by federal and state officials. Noble said Banker told him he was being fired after six years for missing too much work.
North Lee’s response rejects accusations Noble lost his job because of the information he shared. In fact, the water association and Noble’s lawsuit agree on little beyond his previous employment with the company and that the Daily Journal published an article about North Lee’s audit the same day as the termination.
Nobile asked the court to reject any financial or other damages requested by Noble’s attorney, Shane McLaughlin, and argued for dismissal of the lawsuit “with prejudice in its entirety and that Plaintiff and his counsel take nothing of or from Defendants.”
Financial questions surrounding the water association surfaced while it was attempting to proceed with water system improvements funded through an $8.88 million federal loan. That effort was opposed by the city of Tupelo, currently in negotiations to convince the water association to cede territory its serves in areas the city annexed in 2012.
Noble gained notoriety in 2011 by whistleblowing on illegal activities at the water association, resulting in resignations from the entire nine-member board of directors and the previous manager pleading guilty to falsifying federal water quality reports.