Microcosm of Dysfunction: Last night’s Bay City Council meeting had a little something for everyone….

First off I did not take a poll but WLOX (Hugh Keeton if I’m not mistaken), The Sun Herald and the Sea Coast Echo were all in attendance or watching one of the various the live streams. It was a marathon meeting and I’ll start with the later portion of the meeting before I left around 8pm, two and a half hours in and the August bill from the former City Attorney:

Bay council rejects $10,000 bill from ousted city attorney ~ Wes Muller

Anyone that has witnessed the early performances of the new City Attorney understands exactly why the City Council made the change. As an added bonus, the Citizens are finally getting value for their money in legal.

Next are the Third Street fence Nazis and that dysfunction in City government mentioned in the post title. First up we must backtrack to the September 6, 2016 Council meeting and I have this via Cassandra Favre at the Sea Coast Echo:

Several residents spoke out against Anita Warner’s application for a variance to the zoning ordinance in order to construct a six-foot aluminum fence on her front yard property line fronting on Third Street and Caron Lane and extend it to the side yards. The Planning and Zoning Commission denied the recommendation that the fence be aluminum and have a 10-foot set back. Many residents said they didn’t want the fence or greenery there because it would obstruct people’s vision. Warner attended the meeting and presented the city with photographs indicating similar fencing surrounding her residence. Ellis Anderson, a representative from the Historic Preservation Commission, told the board, after Warner and others had left the meeting. Two weeks ago, they voted down her request. Her choice was to appeal to the city, which Warner did, and the council sent her request to planning and zoning. The council granted the variance with the stipulation that the six-foot fence be constructed out of aluminum made to look like wrought iron, no obstructions in the right of way and a 20-foot set back on the corner and regular setbacks on the front and side, which is 20 feet.

Bay St Louis Historical Preservation Member Ellis Anderson addressing the City Council on September 6, 2016. Photo via the City of Bay St Louis Facebook page.
Bay St Louis Historical Preservation Member Ellis Anderson addressing the City Council on September 6, 2016. Photo via the City of Bay St Louis Facebook page.

The above is factually correct but it does not paint a very rich picture of the events. The meeting of September 6, 2016 was a marathon meeting, with the zoning variance being near the top of the meeting. Ellis Anderson made her entrance into the Council chambers and spoke to the council at 10:30 at the end of the meeting with the exchange between the Council and Anderson turning a bit testy. The City live stream of Anderson’s remarks is partially contained in the last three minutes of the meeting video but it cuts off right at the point when the exchange got a bit testy. Cassandra nailed the crux of the historical commission argument above and I’ll quote it again:

The Planning and Zoning Commission denied the recommendation that the fence be aluminum and have a 10-foot set back. Many residents said they didn’t want the fence or greenery there because it would obstruct people’s vision……..Ellis Anderson, a representative from the Historic Preservation Commission, told the board, after Warner and others had left the meeting.

Bottom line is the Council granted the variance, over riding the recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Board. P&Z took into consideration the neighbors that opposed the variance, who complained the fence would block their view onto Third Street when coming out of Caron Lane. The City Council, in granting a variance which required a 20 foot setback instead of 10 seemingly solved that problem so Ms. Warner was free to construct her fence. Not exactly folks because Bay St Louis gets its tagline “A Place Apart” for a good reason.

Since Ms. Warner received her P&Z variance she still needed to go back to the Historic Preservation Commission to get their blessing on her Aluminum fence which is designed to look like a high end wrought iron fence. Worth noting at this point for those that do not understand the rhetorical bait and switch Anderson was attempting on the 6th is that when Ms. Anderson made her remarks on behalf of the Historical Preservation Commission, Ms. Warner had not yet approached them again with a request to permit the fence since she hadn’t cleared P&Z until the Council gave her a variance.  My understanding from last night’s meeting is the HPC turned Ms. Warner  down the first time she applied for a COA and Ms. Anderson’s remarks left no doubt they would turn Ms. Warner down again.  At this point I need to quote from the HPC webpage titled “How it works“:

Commission members do NOT vote based on their personal taste.  They refer to Design Guidelines to make decisions and suggestions.

Let’s fast forward to last night’s meeting and check out Slabbed’s live stream where Ms. Pat Robinson of the HPC discusses why they turned Ms. Warner down on her request for a COA for a second time at minute 50. To set things up the neighborhood has a hodge-podge of different type fences from the ugly chain link to the refined wrought iron look.  The Council essentially asked why Ms. Warner was being singled out with her proposed fence. It all came back to the often repeated talking point from the Historical Commission folks that the City Council “overrides everything we do”, an assertion that has no basis in fact.  In that entire exchange I did not hear one valid reason why the Historic Preservation Commission turned down Ms. Warner and this gets us to Councilman Seal at minute 52:28, who nails it.  He is reading from this document, the 2008 manual that HPC makes available on their website, specifically page 36 on fencing.  Here is what it says:

Wood picket, vertical board, stockade, and ornamental iron fences are found in the Historic District. Fences along street fronts and near buildings should be refined or ornamental, and should allow views of the yard and building. Fences for rear and side yards may be more opaque. Split-rail fences, chain-link fences, and plastic fences are not appropriate in the Historic District except on rear areas of lots. Fences along side and rear lot lines may be constructed of rough board, plank, or welded wire fabric.

Fencing shall allow ventilation and floodwaters to pass through the fence material. In a very few instances, solid cement blocks were used in the historic district; these were badly damaged in hurricanes.

Is it me or does Ms. Warner’s proposed fence nail the HPC design requirements? More than that it exceeds them because the decorative fencing will not just be on the front of her property but around all four sides. If we accept that Ms. Warner’s fence meets the HPC design requirements then the question becomes what the hell is going on at HPC because to repeat what they claim on their website:

Commission members do NOT vote based on their personal taste.  They refer to Design Guidelines to make decisions and suggestions.

When Councilman Seal questioned Ms Robinson about that basic contradiction her answer, just like Ellis Anderson’s remarks two weeks earlier all came back to Planning and Zoning not granting a variance on the 6 foot fence height, which the Council overrode two weeks back.  Historical Preservation is just that and planning and zoning it ain’t, but at least two members appear confused as to what the mission of HPC entails. In legal parlance the term that comes to mind regarding the run around Ms. Warner faced trying to construct a new fence is “arbitrary and capricious.” And in the process of figuring out why HPC was arbitrary and capricious it all came down to a squabble among neighbors with HPC taking sides instead of following its own guidelines.

Through time I’ve seen enough out of both HPC and Planning and Zoning to understand the next Mayor and City Council needs to do some housecleaning on both boards as the names of some of the people that needlessly cause the dysfunction such as that which I just highlighted surface time and again at the City Council meetings. The question isn’t whether or not these citizens are well-intentioned because there is no doubt in my mind they are well-intentioned. Rather, as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux pointed out via proverb, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

Immediately after that came the 2015 audit presentation by Bobby Culumber at minute 54:46. This segment is defined by the amount of what I’ll term insider talk because the public was not given any copies of the audit to follow along the discussion on the audit of “The City of Ocean Springs”. Still the Q&A was revealing:

  • At 1:05:00 Councilman Boudin asks about statement contained in audit which implied the Municipal Reserve Fund with funded because of “increased operational efficiencies” specifically asking Culumber if he understood where the money in the Municipal reserve fund came from. After a short period of silence Councilman Boudin detailed the numerous one time transactions such sale of City assets plus the City’s share of the BP settlement plus the dedicated millage to build the reserve. Culumber then tried changing the subject by talking about the budget-actual comparison contained in a different part of the audit report.
  • At 1:10:00 Councilman Favre wondered why there was not a finding written about the City not depositing its millages that dedicated are for Debt Service, The Library and the Municipal Reserve fund into those funds in accordance with the statutory restrictions placed on the tax levy, rather than being co-mingled and misspent as happened in 2015.  Culumber admitted the dedicated millages should have gone straight into the proper fund but never answered the question why his firm did not write an audit finding documenting this significant deficiency in favor of talking about deficit spending and having to borrow money to cover deficit spending. Mayor Fillingame then jumped in talking about the BP settlement and how it was his right to spend the money, which the Council restricted for deposit into the Municipal Reserve Fund, because it’s purpose was to cover lost revenue.
  • At 1:12:35 Councilman Favre asked Culumber if they checked to make sure that only authorized check signers were signing City Checks as this issue had been flagged by the State Auditor (and will come up again in the Denardo Payroll Fraud Investigation). Culumber claimed there was a general improvement in that area saying they did not find anything wrong in that area saying they checked “the cancellations”, i.e. the endorsement on the back rather than the signatures on the front and then went on to talk about internal controls to prevent invoices from being double paid.
  • At 1:13:12 Councilman Favre asked Culumber if they had reviewed the OSA performance audit report. He said yes and then interestingly Councilman Boudin tried to run interference for Culumber (Culumber was originally recommended to the Council by Boudin). Councilman Favre persisted asking Culumber if he reviewed the previous reports saying it was his understanding that Culumber should have reviewed the previous audit findings, all material weaknesses that Culumber and his firm upgraded in 2015 to significant deficiencies.
  • At 1:14:16, Councilman Favre said he was still looking for the DoJ money, which Culumber said in July was in the City’s accounts the entire time. Culumber could not identify on his financial statement where that money was located instead incorrectly saying that the DoJ money was never segregated, a major factual inaccuracy.

The bottom line is the Council still has major questions about the 2015 audit but they will never be answered. The Council voted 5-1 to accept the report despite all the unanswered questions.

Finally Ron Thorpe of the Hancock County Alliance for Good Government made a presentation about forming a committee to explore consolidating the two public school districts in Hancock County. His presentation was very well thought out and it interested the Bay Council, which would have two of its members serve on the consolidation committee per Mr. Thorpe’s proposal. WLOX is covering this aspect of last night’s meeting – like I said in the post title last night had a little something for everyone.

Please feel free to add your insights in comments.

20 thoughts on “Microcosm of Dysfunction: Last night’s Bay City Council meeting had a little something for everyone….”

  1. Unfortunately the City constantly appoints members to committees that have no idea of what they need to do. If you have a strong chairperson, you may be able to conduct the meetings according to what the laws say. I have witnessed too many times members voting for their person likes or dislikes and NOT follow what they are appointed to do. Unless the city gets aggressive with their committee members we will always have chaos. They need to focus on the ordinances adopted by the city and nothing else. Personal opinions and ideas need to stay out of the meeting. How many members do you think have even read the guidelines for the Historic District to even understand what is allowed or not allowed. Apparently not many by their actions, comments and voting. The council should not have to clean up the mess from the committees for not following the rules.

  2. Ellis is a rabble rouser that has Bobby Compretta as a lap dog, because he thinks she swings a lot of votes. He allows her to violate city code by having a hideous weed over run wrecked boat in her front yard while she terrorizes everyone in her neighborhood. Nice and appropriate is not defined as what she likes.

    She has threatened to leave because she doesn’t think the city takes her advise often enough. With any research you will find anything she gets from Bobby hurts others and helps her.
    She is in it for herself.

    She blames all her problems on her neighbors because they may not want to live in the world of Ellis.

  3. She may want to leave, but when she had her house for sale it was way “overpriced”. If she can’t be reasonable on the committee how can she be reasonable on the price of her house? Total Rebel Rouser. She’s probably voting for Hillery !! Only out for herself..

  4. New to this forum and love the news. The comments regarding the HPC made me chuckle. This is the third “small town” in which I’ve lived in the past 15 years, and each has had an HPC. I don’t know the members here, but I’d imagine the formula is the same. Historic preservation is a modern industry. In the previous two towns, the HPC consisted of members who owned their house (but seldom anything else) and a few bureaucrats who would sit there and tell someone else who was risking down their own hard-earned money on a dilapidated building just what they could and could not do. The members got to play god for the day and they were going to exercise their authority. And the HPC’s usually followed the guidelines recommended by some traveling “expert” consultant who went to each town and advised them what “looking historical” looked like. The funny part for me was always that the HPC’s usually met in rooms adorned with pictures featuring historical favorite stores and buildings on Main Street….and few, if any, of the old favorite stores would meet the HPC guidelines! As it turned out, what made the buildings memorable was their uniqueness, not their uniformity. Bob the Paint Man had bright colors on the wall; the diner had a brushed stainless steel canopy; and, the Five-And-Dime had a recessed area for sale racks. Historically, the buildings were all different!

    I used to comment that the HPC’s didn’t want “historical;” they wanted Norman Rockwell.

    1. You hit the nail on the head. You have to do as They did or what They say. They think once they say it it becomes irrefutable. Ellis thinks everyone around her should work in her best behalf to make her property more marketable! She bough an old house half ass restored it and thinks it is worth 3times what she has in it. If it was my property I would get rid of that ridiculous wrecked boat in the front yard. For Christ sakes people were saved on refrigerators, dumpsters, mattresses Etc…but who am I to tell her what nice is!

  5. The biggest problems on these committees created by the Mayor and Council is the participants. Some have the credential and integrity to serve while others don’t. The others are appointed because the mayor thinks since they live in the city and want to help, lets put them on a committee. Their agendas are not in sync with the committee needs to vote on. They vote not because it is the outlined guidelines they have to follow, but if they like or think it is good. Not acceptable. That is not what they are up there for, yet they have no clue.. And the mayor or council feel compelled to appoint some of these people and it will always be a problem. The others have never served and once they get there think they are superior. Not True. Lets get members that are committed to the real reason they should serve on any committee..

  6. Meanwhile… BWSD and school board are imploding. WHY is this not being covered? Waveland Elementary’s principal is fired along with a teacher who hated Mrs Sutherlin. What is going on. Please do some digging. I have heard a lot more but would rather not say yet as it may give away who I am and I dont need the backlash

  7. Concerned Parent,
    Special meeting of Bay St. Louis-Waveland School Board tomorrow, Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 5:30pm.
    Should be interesting.

    1. The Sea Coast Echo couldnt have been more vague. So Penny Carter and Mrs Sutherlin are not named in the article nor is the $5000 bribe the school board offered the principal to keep her mouth shut about the unwarranted termination. Things are about to get more interesting.

      1. Concerned Parent,
        I believe the hearings for both parties to challenge their terminations will be open to the public. The dates for those should be available through the School District Office, 467-6621.
        Before making a serious accusation about the School Board of offering a bribe to Mrs. Sutherlin for her silence, let’s make it to the hearings and listen to the sworn testimony. By the way, I believe the other terminated employee is Penny Rodrique, not Carter. Facts are so very important here.

  8. I am a life long resident of Mississippi and I have given much thought about our State. Anyone who knows me knows that I am Mississippi First. We were brought into Statehood 199 years ago. It has become apparent to me, that to continue to be last at everything for nearly 200 years, our Elected Officials have to work very hard to make it that way. Corruption, Misrepresentation, out right incompetence and the nurturing of the “Good Ole Boy System” insures it will continue to be last. The very people who claim to want to do so much for their state and community are the very people who always appear to have their hand out to do it. Trying to make a living off the tax payer is great, but give something back. Doing what you are paid to do is not giving back. If you do what you are paid to do that is admirable but don’t make the claim that you are giving back. You are earning a living. This goes for 501C nonprofits that are high payroll and low give back. Getting Federal and State Tax Payer funded Grants to do things that ultimately get on the backs of the Local Tax Payer and funds your salary is not giving back.

  9. Well said, Rod. Just me, but I think too many elected officials (and some appointed) have lost sight of the term “public servant.” They seem to think they are elected to rule, not serve.
    I also don’t agree with the Chamber, who is supposed to be promoting local businesses, offering to do services for local governments that local businesses could provide, and essentially shutting out the locals. The Chamber should not be in competition with local business, it should be promoting them. After all, those are the people they rely on through dues to exist.
    But, as you say, we are first in one thing—corruption—most corrupt state in the nation, and I think Hancock County is referred to as the most corrupt county in the state.
    As long as the powers that be at the state level continue to turn their heads, nothing will change.

  10. Lana you are correct. I shouldnt listen to gossip and possible rumors. I was told Carter and didnt check into its validity. Thank you for reminding me the importance of always listening but remaining silent when necessary.

  11. Concerned Parent,
    Could the $5,000 have possibly been severance pay? That wouldn’t be uncommon. If it was a severance offer, the district was probably attempting to avoid the cost associated with the due process hearing. Also, I highly doubt the termination was unwarranted. Before terminating these employees the district obtained counsel from the number one Education Attorney in Mississippi, Jim Keith. If Mr. Keith recommended termination, he would have done so based on sound legal reasoning.

    As for Mrs. Rodrique disliking Mrs. Sutherlin, that is true. It is no secret that most teachers on Waveland Elementary’s campus dislike Mrs. Sutherlin. Just look at the employee turnover since Sutherlin became principal. Employees certainly weren’t leaving because Mrs. Sutherlin was a great leader. She probably should have been terminated during the summer when the anonymous survey that all of her employees completed was reviewed. But, Becky Ladner is her best friend. So, that wasn’t going to happen. Once Becky “resigned” Sutherlin lost her protection. Being terminated was only a matter of time.

    Rather than leaving, like the other employees, Mrs. Rodrique put up a fight and stood up to Mrs. Sutherlin. Rodrique probably fought back too hard, caused too much chaos, pissed off the wrong people, and got herself fired. However, her termination was probably warranted as well, considering Jim Keith signed of on it too.

    There is much more to this story than what you have been told. There are two sides, and neither one of them is without blame. I am sure more information regarding this situation will come to light during the due process hearings.

    It all goes to show that respecting people and acting like an adult goes a long way.

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