On Tuesday, Hancock County District 4 Supervisor candidate Lonnie Falgout announced his withdrawal from the election citing unfinished business related to his position on the Bay St Louis City Council representing City Ward 6. Per Mr. Falgout’s Press Release:
After many days of soul searching, praying and evaluating my candidacy for Hancock County District 4 supervisor, I shall remove my name for the position of Hancock County Supervisor District Four. My decision was based on one thing and one thing only. Bay St. Louis’ Ward 6!
Over two years ago I received a wonderful honor from the good folks of Ward 6 when they elected me as their Bay St. Louis city councilman. They asked me to work for them in obtaining, receiving and bettering the quality of life and services they were not receiving from the city of Bay St. Louis since annexation in 2006. After many miles traveled, meetings attended and just plain old talking, their claims are still most accurate today. Yes some improvements have been made and others started, but the betterment of Ward 6 as the ‘Gateway to Bay St. Louis’ is miles apart from where I want it to be and what these folks deserve.
To the wonderful people and businesses who have called me, welcomed me into their homes and businesses, plus trusted me in attempting to make Ward 6 and Bay St. Louis a better place to live, you deserve more. There’s much more to be done and I will continue to fulfill this trust you have placed in me for the next two years. We have a lot of work to do – together.
Falgout’s withdrawal from the race does not impact any of the primary elections scheduled for Tuesday as he had previously qualified as an independent in the race. On Tuesday, Scotty Adam will face Jeff “Poolman” Harding in the GOP primary. The winner of that race will face independent Anthony Pace and Democrat Maurice Singleton in the general election.
Way back in 2013 April Havens over at the Mississippi Press began telling County Attorney Paula (Sue Nations Stennett) Yancey’s story of her tie-up with the Mississippi Public Employees Retirement System on behalf of the Jackson County Sheriff’s office everyone should have known there was a major problem with the county’s compliance with certain laws and regulations, mainly because the early reports of the exact nature of the problem were largely incomprehensible and it is with the first incomprehensible report that I start circa March 15, 2013:
Jackson County is going up against the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement System in an effort to save thousands of hours in leave that employees have accrued over many years.
County attorney Paula Yancey was in Chancery Judge Charles Bordis’ courtroom this afternoon to ask him to stop a March 26 hearing before the PERS board in Jackson.
Attorney Amy St. Pé, who is representing the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, joined Yancey in court. Representing PERS were Alison O’Neal and Jane Mapp.
So there we have it folks, all the legal players are laid out neatly by Havens and for this we should be appreciative. But she loses me terming the legal dispute “a debate” because while courthouses may indeed occasionally house debates featuring master debaters what was going on with the attempted home cooking of Mississippi PERS in a Jackson County Courtroom was not a debating society prattling away discussing esoteric issues:
The debate cropped up near the end of 2011, Yancey said, when the county was copied on a letter sent from PERS to a retired sheriff’s department employee.
The employee had been retired for about 9 months when PERS said he was retired in error and asked him to repay money he had received, she said.
PERS then asked for a copy of the county’s personnel policy.
On May 31, 2012, the county received another letter from PERS “that made an administrative determination” and included an analysis and interpretation of the county’s leave policy, Yancey said.
The letter said that allowing current county employees to continue using leave would be considered a “prohibited donation,” she said, and asked the county to wipe the leave off its books.
Jackson County is arguing that PERS doesn’t have jurisdiction to interpret a county’s policy with total disregard for how the county interprets its own policy, nor does it have the power to dictate policy.
“They are so far outside their authority,” Yancey told the judge, noting that PERS doesn’t have a role in the process until an employee actually retires.
So are we getting this folks, those nasty PERS people have no business telling the County how much leave its employees may apply to the system in order to collect benefits. As a former auditor that knows a few things about Mississippi PERS I can assure everyone the system has some very clear rules about how much unused leave can be applied to creditable service but you’d never know that from that early 2013 story. You see the problem wasn’t with PERS at all, rather it was the County’s own leave policies that was too generous with PERS benefits, such not being the first time a local government tried using PERS in a way that is financially detrimental to the pension plan to the benefit of the local employees. Evidently Ms. Yancey and the County Controller, an Ex State Auditor’s office employee, did not get that memo as we fast forward a year to March 2014 and an update from County PR:
Jackson County supervisors today passed a resolution asking for the state Legislature, Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves to clarify the authority of the Public Employees’ Retirement System.
Specifically, the county — which has been at odds with PERS since 2012 on an issue of retirees’ accrued vacation and sick leave — is asking the legislators to clarify whether PERS has authority to interpret a local government’s personnel policies.
Since 2012, the county has been trying to save thousands of hours in leave that its employees have accrued over many years.
According to the resolution, PERS has retroactively revoked or reduced benefits and asked some retired employees — many of whom have been retired for more than a year and a half — to repay certain benefits.
An amendment passed by the House today on Senate Bill 2257 could help Jackson County in its fight against the Public Employees’ Retirement System to save benefits for many county retirees.
Earlier this week, Jackson County supervisors formally asked the Legislature to clarify PERS’s authority, which has been questioned by the county in court hearings.
The amendment, penned by Jackson County state Rep. Manly Barton, does just that.
The short amendment reads, “No administrative agency of this state shall interpret the personnel policies of local governmental entities. Local governmental entities are the initial interpreters of its personnel policies, and same shall only be reviewed by a court of this state situated within the jurisdiction of the local governmental entity whose policy is in question.”
The issue of policy interpretation came up in the county’s dealings with PERS, which began in 2012. The issue deals with accrued vacation and sick leave that PERS says is not creditable to certain retirees’ retirement.
Thousands of hours are at stake, and the retirement system has asked several county retirees to repay benefits. PERS argues that the county’s personnel policy was vague and did not comply with regulation, but the county argues it did comply and that PERS doesn’t have authority to interpret its policies.
“If we wrote the policy, then obviously we should be the ones to interpret our own policies first,” said Barton, a former Jackson County supervisor. “Then if there’s evidence that the personnel policy somehow does not conform to state law, then the state agency can take it to court. Rather than us proving we are right, they’ve got to prove we’re wrong.”
Barton was evidently drinking Ms. Yancey’s brand of kool-aid but his amendment was struck from the final bill that passed. Even worse Jackson County was losing in court.
Now it is at this point I’d like to remind everyone of a major catastrophe that was brewing right at the same time that Barton was pumping his anti-PERs amendment and that was Singing River Health System’s financial house of cards was also unraveling in March 2014. This is important because the County supervisors are very clear that no tax money will be used to bail out the SRHS pension plan that was secretly terminated by the Supervisor’s appointees on the SRHS Board of Trustees late last year. With such parameters defining pension problem solutions in Jackson County, how did the Sups solve the problem they had with Sheriff’s Department Employees that had over collected pension benefits based on bad county leave policies?
Jackson County Supervisor John McKay and his unwavering support of Bill Walker during the DMR Scandal was certainly enough to put him on Slabbed’s radar screen back in the day. Since then we’ve all gotten to see McKay in action once again in the Singing River Meltdown beginning with the demise of his appointed trustee, Morris Strickland. No one news story better encapsulates John McKay the elected official than the saga of the folks in Vancleave up on McGregor road that were McKayed by McKay and his political family during the construction of the new Ocean Springs High School. I can think of no better place to start telling this story than with Jackson County Spokeswoman April Havens in early December 2009:
A Kiln man who won a $3.1 million contract to supply dirt for the new Ocean Springs High School was granted permission by county supervisors Monday to construct two 10-acre catfish ponds on his Vancleave land despite local resistance.
Tommy Cobb bought the McGregor Road land in June 2008, he said, to use for hunting and catfish ponds.
In October, the Jackson County Planning Commission voted 6-1 to allow Cobb to construct his ponds and haul off the dirt, but resident Louis Fortenberry appealed that decision to the Board of Supervisors, which heard the appeal Monday.
Fortenberry claimed Cobb hadn’t received the proper permits for digging the ponds, among other problems.
Supervisors, however, said the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality confirmed that Cobb received his necessary permits for the ponds, which will be 8 feet deep.
And indeed Cobb did have Catfish Pond permits, which are far easier to obtain from MS DEQ than a permit to extract dirt as we continue:
Attorney Michael Watson said Cobb would not maintain a dirt pit, but rather haul the dirt to the new Oceans Springs High School site, for which his company, G&C Construction, won a contract.
G&C Construction won a $3.1 million contract to supply the high school with 260,000 cubic yards of dirt, he said.
To some, that plan might “look fishy,” Supervisor John McKay said, noting some are upset that Cobb was able to “lowball” the bid because he’d be using his own dirt.
“I haven’t liked the way this has been handled, but we allow other people to dig ponds,” McKay said before making the motion to deny the appeal.
“I think you have a legal right to do what you’re doing,” he said.
Watson said Cobb bought the land in 2008 with the intent to construct a hunting camp and the ponds.
“He’s been open and honest,” Watson said. “He’s had the same intentions from day one. I’m sure some folks are going to say he worked one over on the system, but it just worked out for him.”
According to Geoff Pender at the Clarion Ledger the FBI is looking at State Auditor Stacey Pickering’s use of campaign funds for personal expenses, the suggested criminal angle being that Pickering may have evaded paying income taxes when he converted his campaign cash to personal use. Following is the link:
There are two things that really stand out to me in the story the first being the FBI actually taking a look at Mr. Pickering based upon the on the record comments made to Pender by Tiffany Parrish, who worked on Pickering’s first campaign for State Auditor back in 2007. That said this does not mean the FBI is looking at anything regarding Pickering today. Since the FBI does not generally comment on its investigations how would anyone know otherwise for certain? All that said the Clarion Ledger running this story twelve days before the primary election strongly suggests otherwise.
Back during the heyday of the speculation surrounding Biloxi City Hall earlier this year that ended with the resignation of Mayor Holloway, certain civil suits were prominently mentioned in the rumor mill, the one involving Mr. Weeks being an example. If you are a voter in Harrison County I highly recommend the above as part of your pre-election due diligence.
I’d like to challenge the readers of this website to think about how much unconflicted journalism is worth. If the answer is nothing and you like the news you get from State Sponsored media outlets like the Mississippi Press or the Seacoast Echo then you will ultimately get exactly what you want and deserve.
Those that want to see Slabbed continue in its current form can mail their donations to:
Slabbed New Media, LLC
Post Office Box 788
Wiggins, MS 39577
The best way to thank me for what I do is with cash because that is the only thing that will keep Slabbed New Media LLC going. And while lending a voice to the voiceless brings its own non monetary rewards in the form of good karma, the well wishes and expressions of gratitude do not pay the bills.
On June 5, 2015 the Mississippi Ethics Commission cited the City of Bay St Louis for failure to comply with the Mississippi Public Record law set forth in authority section 25-61-1 et seq of the Mississippi Code (1972).
The City’s response to the Ethics complaint, lodged by Ron Thorpe of the Hancock County Alliance for Good Government claimed the City’s response to the Thorpe PRR was “proper complete and adequate”. However, the Mississippi Public Records statute is very clear that public records requests must be be produced seven days after receipt of the request for production or within fourteen days provided certain notification protocols are utilized. Bay St Louis City Clerk Katherine Smith failed to produce the records within the 14 day time frame, belatedly producing the requested records after Mr. Thorpe was compelled to file an ethics complaint on the matter.
Several members of the public have complained to Slabbed New Media regarding the City of Bay St Louis openly flouting compliance with the Mississippi Public records law as well as in public comments to the City Council. These compliance problems coincide with the exposure of the financial crisis that gripped the City in 2014, when it was forced to refinance its Water and Sewer Bonds or face default. Bay St Louis Mayor Les Fillingame had previously steadfastly maintained the City was solvent despite the imminent default, which was averted with the refinancing of the bonds at a cost to the taxpayers of over $150,000.
Finally, sources familiar with the operations of the State Auditor’s office indicate to Slabbed New Media that an investigation has been opened into certain of the City’s financial practices, including the issuance of $500,000 of debt without any apparent statutory authority that was used to pay past due bills owed to the Hancock County Utility Authority dating to the 2013 fiscal year.
Those wishing to see the final order should click below to obtain the two page pdf.