To borrow an old fashioned metaphor, there has been a lot of ink spilled over the mishandling of the Equitable Sharing Grant by the Fillingame Administration, a grant violation that resulted in one dedicated audit along with a performance audit that confirmed what Slabbed has been saying since late 2013: The Fillingame Administration can’t handle money. From bringing the City to the verge of default on its water and sewer bonds to using the resulting $13 debt service surcharge added to everyone’s monthly water bill to pay general city expenses the examples of the Mayor’s financial mismanagement are legion as are the casualties, figuratively in the parade of City Clerks turned over by the City to go with one police chief. Worse are the active investigations into Payroll Fraud among other crimes alleged to have been perpetrated by city employees centered in the Police Department.
Organizationally when the Mayor exhibits a complete disregard for the financial portions of the state home rule statute the allegations of impropriety should not surprise. State Auditor Stacey Pickering termed the phenomenon a “Culture of Corruption”. Slabbed covered it in the organizationally corrupt Department of Marine Resources. To quote the late Yogi Berra, “It’s like déjà vu all over again” in the Bay.
Now we’ve entered election season and its time for the public to be asking questions and arming themselves with information about the candidates for office. Early this year Slabbed published the meeting notes from the December 2016 meeting between City officials and the United States Department of Justice. That document contains a wealth of information that should be important to every voter in terms of the three elected officials, two of whom are now running for Mayor that were in attendance with the other seeking reelection to the City Council. That meeting started with the DoJ making a repayment demand of about $300,000 in misspent funds and ended with the DoJ representative making a promise to take the proposal to let the resource starved Bay PD spend the money immediately on very real needs such as mold remediation inside the station house.
From a political standpoint it would have been easy for the two councilmen in attendance to let the Mayor suffer the consequences for comingling and misspending the grant beginning in 2011 by keeping quiet and having the DoJ demand $321,000 from the City while the Mayor prattled on about someone forging his electronic signature on the annual financial affidavit. They didn’t and ultimately the City now will be able to use these funds for their intended purpose – bolstering public safety. And as I wrote in a comment after that news broke that act also got the Mayor off the hook for repaying the misspent funds. There was simply no loss to the City.
Financially abused citizens nonetheless still wanted the Mayor’s bond called despite the good advise they were given by City Attorney Trent Favre that the City had no viable claim but the City Council persisted in hiring outside council. And at the last meeting the Council found out they would be on their own in such an endeavor as the State Auditor has told the City the exact same thing their City Attorney advised them of months ago: The City has no claim. Now the Mayor has vetoed their resolution about calling the bond.
Anger causes people to make thoughtless decisions thus it naturally follows that important decisions should never be made in anger. The very real public anger caused City Councilmen to question the motivations behind the very good advice they were getting from City Attorney Favre. Such was as crass an act as the Mayor questioning the motivations behind the City Audit firm exposing the full extent of the financial mismanagement in 2015. What we haven’t yet seen is a positive message for the citizens such as a plan to clean up the mess and move the City forward. What we have all seen is continued recriminations that have taken on an Alice in Wonderland type quality summed up by commenter Confused who wrote, “Les is proud that he was only accused of cheating and not stealing” certainly referring to social media posts such as the one put out by the Hancock County NAACP in support of the Mayor which also attacked the local good government group.
Such missives would hardly be noteworthy outside the context of the upcoming election. Four months ago the same organization was making salacious accusations about minors conducting modern day lynchings in the Stone County High School football team while branding an entire town as a bunch of hick racists. Those accusations unraveled like a cheap sweater but the damage was done and the Football team’s season fizzled. In Hancock County comingling and misspending grant money dedicated to public safety causing the boys in blue to go without is OK in the eyes of the same organization. But such jibberish is made possible in the context of a City Council stepping out against the sound advise of its own Attorney.
Worse there is now a smouldering $300,000 hole in the City’s budget with almost half the fiscal year elapsed. The payback of the funds in the form of their immediate expenditure and resulting impact on a budget that had no wiggle room is the important nugget that gets lost in the inane bickering. Tonight the council will hold a workshop that will chart the way forward. Absorbing the DoJ repayment will not be painless.
Sixty days out from the election there are important questions about the direction of the City that those running for City office need to address including budget and funding priorities. Throwing around platitudes about being the person to work together with others sound greats but in a City with the budgetary restraints faced by the Bay accompanied by groups of citizens and special interests that compete for scare resources while large parts of the City do not get much in the way of City services means the problems facing the Bay are in no way susceptible to resolution by cheap talking points alone. Such important stuff tends to get lost in the tit for tat back and forth we are seeing now. Its past time the City moved on to the real challenges it still faces now that the DoJ mess has been addressed and solved.