Meltdown on Main: Bay City Council unable to pass FY 2016 Budget due to lack of information

And from that headline one could easily conclude last night’s meeting was a complete waste of time since the City Council had to schedule a special meeting for later this week after Mayor Fillingame was unable to answer their financial questions regarding the upcoming budget but it wasn’t for a variety of reasons.

Mayor Fillingame did announce that long time City Comptroller turned City Clerk Katherine Smith is retiring on September 30 along with his selection of Casey Favre to fill the remainder of Mike Benvenutti’s term on the Bay Waveland School Board.

I could end this post here and delete the first three words of the headline and call it a public interest journalism day easily completed so I can devote time to the major investigative project Slabbed is doing on the construction of the Jackson County jail where the stakes are so much higher as personal liberty is at issue rather than the simple squandering of tax money by a small town mayor that is in over his head.  I’m not though because last night’s meeting was not the one the public was supposed to see, at least according to the agenda of the meeting emailed to the public by Council Clerk Tilley on Friday.  This public record shows up on a variety of locally focused websites besides Slabbed so I might as well join the gang and display an agenda here on Slabbed so everyone can get a flavor of what I’m talking about:

Source: Bay St Louis City Council
Source: Bay St Louis City Council

I observed a long time ago on these pages that the City Council could do a better job running it’s meetings by curtailing the very generous public comment periods where a Citizen could get up to the mike, state their name for the record and opine (within reason) to their hearts content on issues facing the City. It made the meetings longer, unnecessarily so in some cases. I also noticed a few months back that a new policy was adopted with respect to the first public comment period that it be limited to agenda topics and the above agenda reflects that fact.

A second public comment portion at the end of the meeting was still maintained where the topic of public comments are not limited. Those people that give enough advance notice can be placed at the top of the agenda like Mssrs. Caplinger and Wells were last for yesterday’s meeting.  The policy is still very reasonable and friendlier to the public than many local governments in Mississippi which generally have one comment period that requires advance registration with the board clerk.  I like the fact the Bay St Louis City Council has such a generous policy, that was adopted when Ward 4 Councilman Compretta assumed the role of Council President a few months ago.

I was unable to attend the meeting last night but I did get some updates via text message and the public comment section foretold the fact the council meeting would be a largely useless endeavor as Slabbed presents audit workpapers complete with after the fact spin: A case study in financial incompetence evidently dominated the first public forum despite the fact that this post, which was based almost entirely on the City’s own public records, was not on the City Council Agenda. (Rightfully so as local press coverage is typically fodder for the local waterin’ holes rather than official meetings of a public body.)

First was Ward 4 resident Larry Smith, a gentleman that has not recently attended any City Council meetings that was highly critical of Slabbed’s use of City public records to illustrate that critical insurances had lapsed despite Mayor Fillingame’s assertions to the contrary.  Smith, a former IT vendor with the City did not bother to remain for the entire meeting as he left not long after positing  his remarks but he did call for the council to hire outside counsel to “censure” Slabbed New Media for publishing these public records.

Ward One resident Christina Richardson, a vocal supporter of the Fillingame administration who does actually attend most every meeting also spoke up criticizing Slabbed’s posting of public records which illustrated the City was without workers compensation coverage just a few months after Mayor Fillingame was reelected in 2013.  The 2013 election campaign witnessed Mayor Fillingame vehemently deny on several occasions that the City was in financial trouble as was then being claimed by his opponent, local businessman Jeff Harding.  Miss Richardson did manage however, to touch upon agenda topics in the 2013-2014 Municipal Single Audit, which is now almost 90 days late.

Miss Richardson was followed by regular meeting attendee Mickey Evans whose comments did not include any agenda items but Ms. Evans did engage in some name calling terming the Alliance for Good Government members in attendance at last night’s meeting as “fourth graders”.

Both Mmes. Richardson and Evans are both closely associated with the Hancock County Friends of the Animal Shelter, a local nonprofit that supports the Hancock County Animal Shelter, a very worthy cause that fills a vital unmet social need.  At a 2015-2016 municipal budget workshop held earlier this month, in response to questions by Councilman Lonnie Falgout about the City’s budgeted 2014-2015 appropriations to various local nonprofits, Mayor Fillingame revealed the City had not paid the Shelter the $15,300 in remaining support of the $17,500 that was budgeted for the 2014-2015 fiscal year that ends on September 30, 2015.

According to  Councilman Lonnie Falgout who spoke with Slabbed New Media this morning, it was those original inquiries by the City Council earlier this month that resulted in the belated payment of the remaining current fiscal year appropriations to both the Hancock Animal Shelter and the Women’s Shelter as reflected on the September 22, 2015 docket of claims that was approved last night by the City Council.

Also commenting was Ward 4 resident Joan Coleman, the nice lady that blamed the City’s auditors for being late with the 2014 audit at the first September 2015 Council meeting. Despite the fact that it is the submission of the City’s Corrective Action Plan to the numerous audit findings by Mayor Fillingame that is delaying the release of the very late report the Mayor informed the council last night his office has still not completed the Corrective Action Plan for the 2013-2014 Fiscal year audit, which was due to the Single Audit Clearinghouse on June 30, 2015.

The above outbursts in my opinion betray the fact the meeting that was planned could not happen after Monday’s publication to Slabbed.org which showed that vital City insurance coverages lapsed due to nonpayment of policy premiums. You see folks the Mayor was armed with that September 5, 2015 letter saying the City had workers comp coverage for the entire year as well as the second email from the City’s insurance agent of record explaining away the lapsed windstorm coverage and the public was certainly going to see those when he disputed the City audit firm’s risk management findings.  What the public was never going to see was the past due invoice showing the cancellations and there are City Councilpeople, despite having every document displayed on that post, that would have sat there and nodded their heads in agreement with the line of BS that was surely coming from Mayor Fillingame that the City was covered for insurance the entire year showing the letters he had to “prove” that assertion. That could not happen when the public got to see everything for themselves thus the resulting public displays of anger coupled with childish name calling by Mayor Fillingame’s friends. This is what the public was treated to last night and now we have special meeting scheduled for Thursday to handle the public’s business that should have been but was not handled last night.

Meantime for those of you that hate Slabbed New Media for publishing public records or would brand us as underhanded for sparing everyone the risk-management charade that was coming from the Mayor, we like to hear from you as much as this website’s legion of fans and distinguished list of regular readers as Slabbed values reader feedback. So far the silence on my end has been deafening, except for the expressions of support from a pretty wide cross section of the community that is interested in knowing exactly what is going on with City finances rather than a fantasy version of the events that is often presented by the politicians here.

There were some other powerful moments last night as Mayor Fillingame blamed the City Council for many of the major problems cited in the draft 2013-2014 Single Audit. Councilman Favre in particular took issue with the Mayor’s finger pointing but that deserves it own post. Stay tuned.

33 thoughts on “Meltdown on Main: Bay City Council unable to pass FY 2016 Budget due to lack of information”

  1. The citizens have been sold a lemon, this mayor. He can twist and dance around facts. Will lie and deny till the end. He should be selling used cars like lil les. He ran his first campaign on transparency, which is the very thing that’s exposing his misspending, mismanagement and incopendance. Look who he sourounds himself with and qualifications; his drinking buddy that lost his contracting business made building official can’t pass the exam, his daughter loosing money from the community center register who is seldom at work but always on the clock went bankrupt let house go back is that the same girl that was supposedly attacted? The entire city workforce was called in to search for that gost. Look at them girls I don’t think that’s something they should fear. his recreation job holder who was weems next door neighbor, fire chief not certified never at work supported his election they had to wrongly fire someone who was certified to move her up who sued the city for big bucks, his assistant has been fired from more places than I can count. The list goes on thugs hang with thugs. I was taught long ago that he who lies will steal it’s going to be interesting how the investigations that miss McDonald didn’t want and voted against, turns out. I bet some people wind up in jail. I was told that Tommy Longo was going to run against les next election.

    1. No mention of 2-3 utility increases since the election. Fact. No mention of 5 mill tax increase last year. Fact. No mention this will solve all our problems. Fiction. Council did not know how bad of shape the city was in & still don’t know. Fact. No mention that the tax increase was not put into the correct accounts as it was collected. Fact. Raise this & that , increase this & that , this administration will spend $1.50 for every $1.00 collected & sware they have .50 left. Fact. Mayors arrogant little assistant was even fired from the Bay. Fact or Fiction. Go to the city council meetings with a open mind & listen. Make your own mind up. Things that are being asked is in black & white if you do your homework. If you don’t like the questions being asked by council members call them out & ask for the proof. Most of the time it’s in the pudding. Same for the mayors answers. Happy Trails

  2. Very accurate. Supporters trying to hide facts, denial of such facts and trying to make bad guys out of the whistle blowers! It rarely works it only inspires more effort to dig in and let them wallor in it! Lieing, stealing and cheating have always gone hand in hand! What favors did Bobby get from larry that let him rant and rave about something not on the agenda! He enforces that rule on everyone else! Free computer work? Everyone knows bobby is a cheap skate that doesnt donate or volunteer but he likes giving other peoples money away! He is the guy that samples the strawberrys but never buys any! Larry may have his own skelatons to bury from rumor on the street!

  3. Please find attached opinions from the Mississippi Ethics Commission that confirms the City Council members may vote to include the Hancock Chamber of Commerce in the 2015/2016 budget. Please let me know if you would like our legal counsel board members to present this to you at your next meeting.

    Sincerely,

    Tish Williams
    Hancock Chamber of Commerce

    Why is Tish trying to push for the Tax Payer Funding from BSL. They already pay her through their county tax dollars. No is no. What does her biased attorney know that the City Attorney doesn’t? The city is in financial trouble and as a concerned citizen you would think Tish would be the first to step and ask what her organization could do to help. They were on the dole for years. Try giving back!

    The main reason they were denied is because the Mayor has publicly and privately stated that all audit promblems were cash flow related! You don’t have to be smart to understand no!

    1. The executive director’s compensation plan is tied to how much money the chamber brings in. It’s all about the Benjamin’s. Say what you want about the way Tish handles her business, but she is shrewd and her comp plan was designed specifically for her.

      Post Carleen Moran, the chamber’s finances were in a mess and the chamber needed someone that could turn things around and make it a viable entity again. Tish was heavily recruited by several chamber members for the ED job. They wanted her and provided a very nice comp plan with very little financial risk to the chamber. Seriously doubt Tish would have considered moving and taking the ED position without a decent compensation plan in place. Who could blame her? Not many people would have taken such a risk if there hadn’t been a significant reward tied to their success. Business 101. Tish has certainly delivered in turning the chamber around and has made a nice living doing so. Our current chamber certainly doesn’t resemble the one Tish inherited. She has done some good things for our community over the years, but she’s had the money and support to do that and more.

      No question her financial interests are first and foremost. It’s painfully apparent that’s what drives many of her decisions, her associations with certain people, “projects” and more. Infinity anyone? Not so subtle attempts to take over the Tourism Commission. What a nice boost the tourism taxes would give to her bottom line!

      If the city doesn’t provide a subsidy to the chamber this year, so be it. The chamber will have to find the money elsewhere or cut back on its “services” and/or expenses. It really isn’t that complicated. Maybe the chamber will work harder in the future to show a return on the investment the city has made in the chamber for YEARS.

      The Chamber has become accustomed to receiving money without having to show results. Unfortunately, the economic and financial toll Katrina, the Great Recession and the BP Oil Spill on our county/city is starting to show. The Chamber needs to decide if they are going to be a festival organizer/tourism promoter/downtown merchant association/sporadic business resource provider or if they are going to be a partner in helping drive true real economic development in Hancock County. The days of having plenty of money in the pot to spread around with nothing to show for it are over. Time for the chamber to develop a new strategy for success. One that doesn’t depend on handouts from taxpayers, cities and a county strapped for cash.

      1. A good history lesson and very well said. I’m sure Tish is more than capable of making whatever adjustments necessary to keep the Chamber right-sized.

  4. As a dues paying member of the Chamber of Commerce, let me say that at this juncture of the city’s history and condition of their finances, I would not be at all offended if they told us tomorrow night that they just cannot give us anything this year.
    After all, for five years they gave us a building which could have brought in around $180,000 in rent to the city for those 5 years. We get the use of the Community Hall for free for two events each year and city workers to help clean up afterwards. We could offer the city $100 each time to cover electricity, what water we use and the hours the city workers spend cleaning up and putting the furniture away for us.
    I am sure we will get our donation, but I am at the point of feeling very uncomfortable about it, especially right now when the Mayor announced last night to the Council that he doesn’t know how they will make payrolls next month.
    Nothing against the Chamber. I enjoy working on the Committee I server on, but I know we can do better than this.
    I am inclined to agree with Councilman Boudin. The city dwellers already contribute to us through their county taxes. They are giving double when the cities also tax them for Chamber donations.
    County dwellers, which would be some of our Chamber officers, only give once through their county taxes.
    Considering the financial condition of the county as a whole right now, all of the non profits may have to settle for receiving contributions from the taxpayers every other year until things improve.
    As I said, I am not going after anyone personally, these are just my personal feelings, and I do think they are worthy since I have gone to the trouble educate myself as to the financials of the Chamber. Had to do it myself since they never send out an annual financial statement to their membership. They are the only organization I have ever belonged to that does not do that.
    Hope that will change too.

  5. I hope soon that an employee with the city would come forward and blow that whistle. (with evidence in hand) This would be the only way to resolve the lies and bickering. Sometimes, when one grows up, they have matured enough to admit they were not qualified to do the job promised to the citizens. This would include the Mayor, City Council and every employee. You are a citizen first, and an employee of the citizens second. Consider the citizens before you make a decision. You are one also. Although the words tar and feather keep popping into my brain.

  6. Who would you suggest to be the Whistleblower? David did what the Mayor told him and if he did step forward we all know Les would throw him under the bus if he doesn’t have a mental breakdown before. The next person is retiring when she does come to work or gives the council the information they need, in the position, and the last one hired took items from a restaurant he was going to rent that did not belong to him. Maybe someone should blow the whistle on them also. They are all part of the problem led by one Lying Leader.
    This town is too small. The one person who may step up and be a hero would end up being the villain. We can only hope that the investigation from Jackson will give us some insight and help we need in removing our current mayor and the good people of BSL can really see what he has done to this wonderful town and its finances.
    The Audit is still revealing the same report from the year before, yet nothing was done to correct the previous mistakes.
    Hopefully it will all blow up in his face and the truth will finally prevail !!!

  7. Doug, thank you so much for keeping up the good work on informing the public as to what is happening in MS and LA. Many of us can’t get to all of the meetings, and the local newspaper is usually not as informative.
    I guess some just don’t really like reading the “truth” in your blog rather than the “fiction” in the newspapers.
    I love all the comments the most. One really gets more information from the public and what is really happening around.

    1. Ditto, Outraged!

      Doug, please post the Slabbed PO Box address again. Many folks living in Bay St. Louis and Hancock County appreciate all that you do. Thank you for your efforts to uncover the truth, for sharing your expertise and for providing a platform to keep things out in the open – where they should be.

      Also, a huge thanks to the very brave person(s) that provided the REAL documentation of the city’s lapse in worker’s comp coverage and the info on the city’s “self-insured” wind coverage. Now that the public has the facts, there is no way to spin it. It is what it is.

      Must say how completely horrifying the letter provided by the MML to our mayor was. Wow! They basically gave him a pass and a get out of jail free card. Where does the deception end??? Guess there really is no honor among thieves.

      It’s also laughable that a few people were “offended” by the public info you posted, but nothing surprises me anymore. Same goes with how the council handled the public comments during their meeting this week. They bend with the political winds. The forum the council provided the naysayers gives the rest of us some insight on the folks that voted for the mayor and the rest of the council. Scary.

      The mayor’s pick for the vacant school board position is quite interesting as well. Our new BWSD board appointee is a very smart man and certainly well qualified, but is also very “politically” connected.

      1. Slabbed can certainly use the reader support. The new Slabbed in the cloud is going to run around $120/month and that does not count other expenses.

        Make your check payable to:
        Slabbed New Media, LLC
        Post Office Box 788
        Wiggins, MS 39577-0788

  8. Can’t we all just get along? Les said everything will be ok. He said he ran off the problems, David, Catherine, & Jane. Him and his daughter can figure it out. He said all he needs is a hug and two million dollars.

  9. Good luck with the audit from Jackson ladies. Harrison county and Jackson county have recently had dealings with Jackson audits (DMR, SRHS, Judge Schloegel), and they do NOT follow the law. They have their own laws for “dear friends and family” and get out of jail free (Example: Joe Zeigler, who is the brother-in-law to Harrison county mayor, just to name one who only got a slap on the wrist). So, until everyone realizes that they need to vote the trash out of Jackson, I guess we will still have to keep being stepped on down here on the Coast. We all feel your pain and are behind you BSL!!! Good luck! Coffee break over….

  10. Let me see…..BSL gives them free use of the Community Center free clean up and garbage disposal, All Hancock Taxpayers give them $25,500 per year. BSL is a tax paying member of Hancock County…..Now I see why they need more? Help me figure it out, Im Confused!

  11. The chamber walks a fine line between being lobbyist and being a 501C3. Lobbyist are taxable entities. They also have their fingers in politics which also holds consequences to their status. It’s all in black and white. Google The difference between 501C3’s and Lobbyist.

    They spend and a lot of time lobbying for what they want.

    Infinity ran them off!

    Waveland in their time of need was dropped by them because they didn’t have the money to pay them to run the incubator they asked
    for.

    Bay Saint Louis, although we hosted them for several years and give them the Community Center and Free Labor, are threatened with being cut out of their advertising because we have budget short falls, a lot of the short falls were on projects they promoted.

  12. Does anyone know what the Chamber is paying Hancock Bank for the space upstairs on Main and the Beach? Or is the Bank donating the space?

    1. Last night Councilwoman McDonald moved to let Les use the reserve fund to pay all the past due bills. It died for the lack of a second.

      Meantime someone that was on the 9-8-15 docket still has not received their check from the City and Tuesday the council approved over $400,000 more in claims. If they can’t release the checks from the small docket how can they pay the one that was just approved?

  13. Councilman-at-Large Mike Favre stated there are accounts payable as old as last year.
    The shocking information last night was the revelation that the Mayor had neglected to execute the contract the Council had voted to enter into with Pioneer Collection Agency this time last year to collect delinquent utility bills and court fines. This results in a lost opportunity to have over $100,000 in utility bills and who knows how much I’m court fines to the city’s credit at this crucial time of the year.
    It looks like for the next year and nine months the Council may have to take a more daily responsibility in the operation of the city even though by law that is not their responsibility.
    It will be a sacrifice of time on their part, but they should seriously consider it on behalf of the citizens they represent.

    1. Earlier this month former councilman Jim Thriffley dropped the term Writ of Mandamus to the current council in public forum. The council better learn the term and then hire outside counsel.

      The worst part is that budget they are working on is useless because they do not know how much in claims payable Hizzoner has sandbagged. Again I use the term Writ of Mandamus because I’d argue the Mayor has a legal duty to give the council all the financial facts, not just the parts he wants the council to see.

      If you want to know whether your councilman is part of the problem or part of the solution watch what they do now that the facts that are literally slapping them across their faces.

      By my count there are three, maybe four that need to be replaced IMHO.

  14. Wendy, Doug, Rev. Reed and Bobby better get their heads out of the Sand and start acting responsibly for the job they were elected to. Enough is enough. If the council has to micro manage the Mayor then it is time for a new mayor. This man better get his head on straight and start doing the right thing. The walls are crumbling all around him now. He had better start running before he gets hit. Maybe it will knock some sense into his thick empty head.

  15. Fed Up Taxpayer,
    I agree, but in the meantime there are bills to be paid, employees to be managed, taxpayers to be served.
    For the next year and nine months SOMEONE has to step up.
    The only real relief is what the citizens of Waveland did—
    Take care of business at the polls in 2017.

  16. $120/month to host a website “in the cloud”? Either you’re a liar or you’re an idiot and probably shouldn’t be offering opinions on anyone else’s ability to make prudent financial decisions.

    1. Opinions vary Larry.

      An AWS on demand instance for a high traffic website is not cheap. This isn’t some online Magazine nobody reads Larry as Slabbed had over a million site visits last month. A Professional Account at Cloudflare isn’t free either. Neither is the CDN.

      Cloud solutions for CPA run close to $1,000 a month so I kinda think of Slabbed as a bargain by way of comparison.

      Our time in AWS is limited as Slabbed will be on a dedicated server located right here in a secure location in Mississippi before the year is done.

    1. And that site lists my competitors as DOJ.gov and fjc.gov. it also shows the Sunherald.com with less than 2.4 million site visits over the same time period which is about 10 times less than what they reported last time they did a story on their website stats. Of course since neither one of us hosts our stats with them it stands to reason such gibberish is out there. That site and ones like them peddling competitor analytics are a dime a dozen and pretty much worthless.

      But now this is twice you’ve come on here launching childish personal attacks Larry so into moderation you go. If you have anything intelligent to add to the topic of Bay finances I’ll be happy to clear your comment.

  17. Does anyone know the background of the city auditor, outside Hancock bank? The harbor Seals have provided the auditor though the bank. Who will gain from that I wonder?
    Financial and accounting knowledge is desparately missing from the executive offices in BSL. The councilmen may have wonderful business experience, but I don’t know of any with not for profit experience, including the new auditor. Fund accounting is vastly different from for profit accounting. Maybe we should change our for of government to city manager – council. We would be much better served by a professional manager than the current mayor. The manager could be fired for doing the same job the mayor has.
    Something to think about…

    1. City Comptroller Clark worked for Alexander and Van Loon and Hancock Bank as I recall his introduction to the council. Councilman Falgout was quoted complimenting Clark in Wes Muller’s Sun Herald story.

      Truth be told David Kolf knew what he was doing but he allowed himself to get sucked into Fillingame’s cover-up of the bad financial situation. Judging from the audit findings, they were their own worst enemies voiding entire docket runs etc.

      Most organizations the size of BSL normally have at least three people in finance, 1 to handle payroll and act as finance’s interface with HR , 1 to handle Payables and other assorted areas like lease management and 1 to run the show preparing financials etc.

      If the internals at City Hall do not change Mr. Clark will be set up to fail just like David Kolf.

      The City’s audit firm has been around for more than the 22 years since I’ve hung my own shingle, likely twice that long. They do a good bit of Governmental and Homeowner’s Association auditing and they are a full service firm that is reputable.

  18. I agree entirely with you, Douglas, about David Kolf. He’s a good man who got in with a less than intelligent snake. I am very concerned the same thing will happen with Mr. Clark. Fund accounting is a different animal than a bank or a CPA firm. If the city weren’t in such dire straits, the learning curve would be fine, but we are in that unenviable position.
    We have an outstanding audit firm. They can lead the horse to water, but…. After an unqualified audit last year, nothing got better.

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