Slabbed New Media has confirmed that Bay St Louis Mayor Les Fillingame has vetoed two recent City Council Actions including a Council resolution seeking a Department of Justice Investigation into the mishandling of several hundreds thousand dollars in Drug Forfeiture funds by the Fillingame Administration. This City Council resolution was passed 7-0 at the August 18, 2015 City Council meeting. Mayor Fillingame also vetoed giving the Clerk of the City Council online viewing access to the City’s main bank account, which passed at a recess meeting of the City Council on September 25, 2015. That City Council action resulted from the culmination of months of wrangling between Mayor Fillingame and the City Council over the Council’s inability to access basic financial records including cash balance information before being asked to vote on matters involving City finances.
The veto represents the latest sparring between the Mayor and City Council that most recently flared up when the City’s audit firm presented the Council with a draft of the 2013-2014 Fiscal Year audit report in August, which by law was due to the Single Audit Clearinghouse on June 30, 2015 and the Office of the Mississippi State Auditor by September 30, 2015. According to sources familiar with the operations of the City, Mayor Fillingame has thus far failed to deliver the City’s Corrective Action plan to the numerous significant deficiencies identified by the audit firm for inclusion in the report. One of the significant deficiencies noted by the audit firm included the City running naked for Workers Comp insurance for 60 days just months after Mayor Fillingame was re-elected in 2013 due to nonpayment of the policy premium. Fillingame had previously steadfastly denied the City was experiencing any financial problems during the campaign.
This continues a pattern of Mayor Fillingame attempting to stonewall bad audit reports as the Municipal FY 2012-2013 audit opinion was disclaimed by the City’s audit firm after Mayor Fillingame failed to deliver a plan to deal with the City’s financial crisis, which has been an ongoing topic for discussion in the City since 2011 despite Fillingame’s repeated denials of same. In June 2014 Mayor Fillingame finally admitted to the City Council that the City was on the verge of defaulting on an existing water and sewer bond issue due to a lack of funds. This bond issue was then refinanced at a cost to the taxpayers of over $150,000, which averted the default and resulted in a $13/month surcharge being applied across the board to every municipal water customer.
More recently Mayor Fillingame has diverted the $13/month surcharge that was added to utility bills to the City’s operating bank account, despite being dedicated by both loan agreement and council resolution to the payment of the refinanced Water and Sewer bonds. City financial records show only infrequent transfers from the operating bank account to the dedicated debt service fund despite a covenant in the bond debenture requiring the monthly deposit of these funds to the debt service bank account. This debt service funding is currently comingled with Utility, General and Harbor fund cash. Rumors have repeatedly surfaced that accuse Mayor Fillingame of mishandling these dedicated funding sources in an attempt to cover-up the accumulated deficit in the General Fund caused by repeated spending of tax money on non-budgeted items like free Trolley bus service for Ward 2 at a cost of over $70,000 for 6 months of service. Earlier in 2015 it was revealed Mayor Fillingame was providing City a owned dumpster for use by two restaurants in Old Town Bay St Louis.
On September 25, 2015 the City Council voted to allow the Mayor to use a portion of the municipal reserve fund for cash flow purposes. The municipal reserve consists of proceeds from the sale of City property such as the Old City Hall along with other one time revenue streams such as the City’s share of the BP oil spill settlement. The council approval was predicated on the condition the money be repaid to the reserve fund after the 2015-2016 property tax collections are settled early next year.
Slabbed New Media has also learned the Performance Division of the Mississippi State Auditor’s office has begun a review of the City’s financial practices in addition to the State Auditor’s Investigative division, which arrived onsite at City Hall in August, 2015.
Sources on the Bay St Louis City Council have indicated to Slabbed the Mayor’s vetoes will be addressed in the upcoming council meeting scheduled for October 6, 2015. Slabbed will update this story as events unfold.