Guest Editorial: City of Bay St Louis Infrastructure Improvements Must be Legally Funded

At the May 11, meeting of the Bay St. Louis – Waveland School Board, Jason Chinche, the City Engineer for Bay St. Louis representing the Mayor made a funding request of the School Board of $50,000 in “start-up” money for an infrastructure project on the extension of Carroll Ave. north of Highway 90 for approximately 900 ft. of sidewalk for a total cost of some $200,000.

Before the conversation started between the Engineer and the Board, Superintendent Rebecca Ladner, spoke up and said that she could not be on record endorsing school district funds for this project because it is on city property, not school district property. Her statement apparently fell on deaf ears because the Board and their attorney agreed to investigate how the funding could be arranged. Mind you, this item was on the Action Agenda of the School Board meeting. Had the Superintendent not spoken up, the Board may have issued the funds right there.

In a conversation with the State Department of Education on May 12, the Finance Office told me that Superintendent Ladner was correct, and that school districts cannot donate money, only services and facilities. Both city governing bodies have been advised by the Hancock County Alliance for Good Government of this with Miss. Code and Attorney General’s Opinions provided by the State Department of Education. Unfortunately the Bay St. Louis Mayor and School Board Attorney are currently attempting an interlocal agreement between the two entities, the School Board and the City of Bay St. Louis, for this $50,000 in school district funds to be transferred to Bay St. Louis city accounts.

Since the Bay St. Louis Mayor and School Board attorney ( and some School Board members) decided to pay no attention to the Superintendent and the State Department of Education, the Alliance for Good Government approached the Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the State Auditor for opinions.

Their opinions, based on what they referred to as a similar case in New Albany, Miss. where the city requested funding from the local school board for an infrastructure project, is as follows:

“A municipality has the power to exercise full jurisdiction in the matter of streets, sidewalks, sewers, and parks; to open and lay out and construct the same; and to repair, maintain, pave, sprinkle, adorn and light the same. Miss. Code Ann. Section 21-37-3. Section 21-27-23 authorizes municipalities to establish and operate a water system. There is specific authority for a city to improve its infrastructure and therefore to enter into an interlocal agreement with another entity authorized to do the same. See MS AG Op., Shaw (August 14, 1998; MS AG Op., Meadows (August 20, 2004).

As discussed above, a School District does Not have authority to help pay for infrastructure improvements. A local government unit may Not do anything by way of an interlocal agreement that it would not otherwise have the authority to do. MS AG Op., Gardner (January 10, 1996). Therefore, the city may not enter into an interlocal agreement with a School District for the School District to help pay for infrastructure improvements. ( end of Attorney General’s Opinion–issued by Jim Hood, Attorney General of the state of Mississippi by Kathy S. Boteler, dated April 4, 2008.

OFFICE OF THE STATE AUDITOR:
“Based on the information provided and the opinion cited by the Attorney General’s Office, a school district does not have the authority to enter into an interlocal agreement requiring the district to help pay for infrastructure improvements. Greg Higginbotham–Technical Assistance–Miss. Office of the State Auditor.

This could not be clearer, and I would strongly encourage any and all public officials in the city of Bay St. Louis and on the Bay St. Louis-Waveland School Board to vote accordingly to protect our local education tax dollars and themselves.

The Hancock County Alliance for Good Government endorses all projects that afford safety for students and the general public, but insist that they be appropriately and legally funded.

In closing, I would remind the Mayor of Bay St. Louis that the citizens of Waveland also financially support the school district with their property taxes, and do not feel inclined to have our education taxes finance street improvements in Bay St. Louis. We want our school taxes spent according to the state law–on education.

Lana Noonan, Chairman
Hancock County Alliance for Good Government
Promoting Excellence in Education–Integrity in Spending–Openness in Governing

14 thoughts on “Guest Editorial: City of Bay St Louis Infrastructure Improvements Must be Legally Funded”

  1. In the 3 years Slabbed has been covering issues in Bay St Louis and Waveland, I have not seen an issue generate as much passion (and anger) as the cash strapped City of Bay St Louis’ proposed looting of the local school district for capital projects funding.

    School District Board of Trustees that vote affirmatively on an illegal expenditure can (and have been) made to pay such expenditures back personally. The only thing that prevents the attachment of personal legal liability to an illegal expenditure is a no vote.

    Finally, I’ll add the infantilized talking point (which I have heard from certain public officials) “that I was following (bad) legal advice” will make no difference in the end for those that vote affirmatively for an illegal expenditure.

  2. In their defense, Doug, some of them are following bad legal advice. Case in point, several years ago, the Bay St. Louis City Council was cited by the Ethics Commission for entering into Executive Session to discuss a private contractor. One Councilman actually asked, “can we do this since he is not our personnel, but a private contractor?” You guessed it, the City Attorney, Donald Rafferty said “yes.” The rest is history. A citizen entered a complaint with the Ethics Commission, and it was upheld. This is only one example. But, as you said it is no excuse for breaking the law.
    Another interesting angle to this situation of the city of Bay St. Louis tapping into School District funds allocated “exclusively” for education is this: 2 currently seated public officials on both sides of this issue, namely, Lonnie Falgout (ward 6 city councilman) and Maurice Singleton (school board trustee, appointed by the council) are both running for District 4 Board of Supervisor.
    I would imagine the County School Board and every educator in the county are watching this issue in the Bay pretty closely, or they should be. Will these two candidates, if elected to the Board of Supervisors, attempt to take money from the County School District to do road and bridge work in the county?!
    Do they understand the separation of allocated funds?
    The Alliance for Good Government plans to find out before the 1st Primary, not only from them but from the other candidates for Supervisor.
    The Bay St. Louis-Waveland School District Superintendent of Education, Rebecca Ladner understands it. I understand on good source that she now has her own personal legal counsel outside of Artigues, School Board attorney–smart move. A smarter move on her part, if the School Board votes to gives these education funds to Fillingame for sidewalks, would be for her to have one of the Board members sign the check. This is something her attorney may have already advised her to do.
    The Echo reported that Les claims a school board trustee actually called him offering the funds. You can bet it is one of Les’s appointees, because the board members from Waveland are elected and they surely don’t want to have to answer to the voters in Waveland for giving their school millage to Bay St. Louis for sidewalks.
    Should be some interesting meetings this week–both city councils and the school board on June 8.

  3. Thank You Alliance for Good Government and Doug for watching this.
    It will be very interesting to see how far the 2 attorneys go with this.
    Mr. Artigues and Mr. Rafferty should be able to read and understand the law… Ha Ha plus an opinion for Jackson.

    What do they say? Another Day in the Bay !!!!

  4. An update on who the School Board member is that Les claims “encouraged” him to come and speak to the School Board about using the School Board’s Reserve Fund to do infrastructure work in the Bay. The Sea Coast Echo of Wednesday, May 27 quotes the Mayor:
    “we were contacted by a school board member stating hey have money in a capital reserve fund to supplement matching requirements and he encouraged us to speak with the school board.”
    Well, there you have it. It is a “he.” That eliminates Waveland Representative, School Board President Dr. Sherry Ponder, because she certainly does not fit the description of a “he.” And the other Representative from Waveland, Mike Bell, spoke out against this at the meeting when Jason Chiniche, was speaking to the School Board. So, through the process of elimination, it can only be one of Les’ appointees, either Clevand Williams, Maurice Singleton, or Mike Benvenutti. And how dare any of them to “encourage” anyone to come help themselves to the Capital Reserve Fund at the School District that includes Waveland ad valorem taxes. Did Mr. Williams, Mr. Singleton, or Mr. Benvenutti have the common courtesy to advise Mayor Smith and the Board of Aldermen in Waveland they were inviting Mayor Fillingame to avail himself of the education taxes from Waveland? I doubt it because Mr. Fillingame had not even advised the Bay St. Louis Council that he had been invited by either Mr. Williams, Mrs. Singleton or Mr. Benvenutti to do so.
    And Mayor Fillingame was careful not to name the Trustee that made him the invitation. It was just “he.”
    You know, when your deeds cannot stand the light of day, that says a lot about what you are trying to do.
    We have it narrowed down to 3, and we will find out which one it is.

  5. Disposing of the rumor mill one day at a time in the Bay Mayor’s effort to loot the School District Reserve Account for his “sidewalk”???? Project.
    The latest I heard was that the Scho Board Attorney was saying that school districts are responsible for getting every child to school “door to door.” Knowing how the rumor mill is, I have no idea if the attorney actually said that.
    But, what I do know is what Leornard Swilley, director of the Office of Safe and Orderly Schools at the State Dept. Of Education told me this morning.
    “The only requirement from the State Dept. Of Education is to provide bus service to students who live more than a mile from the campus to which they have been assigned by the School District. Students who live within a mile of their assigned schools are on their own, and the State Dept. Of Education could never enforce school districts to get ALL students to school. They would have to cite hundreds of districts that are just not able to do that.”

  6. What School Board Member would think they had the right to solicit Les and give the Funds away?
    That member should resign their position as they do not have the right to make those statements on behalf of the Board. If I were President that member would be called down in Public and asked to resign.
    This makes you wonder what Les offered the Board Member in return to help him with the funds.
    Typical Les, always looking to take money from other sources to fund his budget? Wonder what his next project will be. There is Never a dull moment when Les is involved.

  7. What School Board Member would think they had the right to solicit Les and give the Funds away?
    That member should resign their position as they do not have the right to make those statements on behalf of the Board. If I were President that member would be called down in Public and asked to resign.
    This makes you wonder what Les offered the Board Member in return to help him with the funds.
    Typical Les, always looking to take money from other sources to fund his budget? Wonder what his next project will be. There is Never a dull moment when Les is involved.

  8. UPDATE——
    Sidewalk money grab scheme by Mayor Fillingame and one of his appointees on the School Board was coceived last December!!
    We’re getting closer…..,.,

      1. Slabbed’s crack statisticians have calculated the odds that a Writ of Mandamus will be filed, if the school board votes to give the city the money, at 98%.

        1. An ounce prevention of instead of a pound of trying to put the toothpaste back into the tube!*

          *Applies only the sidewalk, may other BSL Les Specials have already ripened to a stench apparently.

  9. Maybe that School Board Member gets contracts from the City?
    He should not be able to vote anyway, but both are probably too stupid to realize that and the attorneys don’t care for the law. All Les is looking for is a Vote.

  10. Was able to obtain some interesting info last night on the Bay St. Louis-Waveland financials. Recently the school district has come under public criticism for its capital reserve fund by some Bay St. Louis city officials. They seem to be of the opinion that the school district has too much money laying around and since they approve the millage requested by the school district, this is kitty they should be able to tap into!
    The school district’s insurance carrier was at their meeting last night and I had the opportunity to ask them how much assets is protected by the current $800,000 annual premium the taxpayers of Bay St. Louis and Waveland are paying. Well, they said somewhere around &85 million. So, my question is this–is $9 million in reserve too much laying around to protect $8mil? Someone with better business sense tell me where I am wrong.it also was announced at last night’s meeting by the business manager that the Superintendent is in conversation with Hancock’s Super. To consolidate a high school choral program since Hancock just built a new fine arts building. The Bay students would be bussed to Hancock like their Votech students are. The evidence is growing for having ONE good school district in this county of only 45,000 residents. The savings on administration alone would benefit the kids. When I suggested this recently to a Hancock Board member, they said they would resign today if it would make it happen. It’s time for that conversation to begin—past time.

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