At the outset, let me say that The Hancock County Alliance for Good Government has no interest in the personalities involved in the Bay St. Louis Historic Preservation Commission.
What we do have an interest in, as per our Mission Statement, is keeping the political process clean, regardless of the individuals involved in the execution of the public’s business.
On the evening of May 8, 2018, at their regular meeting, the Bay St. Louis City Council, after exiting Executive Session, acted on a item of business that was NOT on their advertised Agenda. That item of business was the dismissal of a Commissioner from the Bay St. Louis Historic Preservation Commission.
During the course of the meeting, at the second Public Forum of the evening, Ward II citizen, Teri Velardi, asked Council if they were going to take any kind of action that evening regarding the Historic Preservation Commission. She actually polled the Council one by one. All said “no.”
Council President Gene Hoffman who represents Ward II, said that there could be some issues with the Commission, but not that night. Velardi pressed them with the possibility of an Executive Session on the issue, and all either said they had no issues that night with the Commission or as Ward IV Councilman, Larry Smith said, “he had no opinion at that time on the Commission.”
When Council President Hoffman entertained a motion to consider going into Executive Session, City Attorney, Heather Smith, was the only one to say she had a property purchase and 4 or 5 litigation issues to discuss with Council. The motion by Councilman DeSalvo, and seconded by Councilman Smith passed unanimously to go into closed session.
When Council re-entered regular session, Councilman Smith motioned to dismiss Commissioner Ellis Anderson from the Historic Preservation Commission. His motion was seconded and carried with the exception of Council-at-large, Knoblock, who had not yet re-entered the Council Chambers from Executive Session, taking a bathroom break. The motion was made, no discussion, motion seconded, passed. Done.
The Mississippi Open Meetings Act states section 25-41-5(3) that an Agenda of items to be acted upon must be prepared and made available to the members of the public body and the public “at the time of the meeting.”
An examination of the Agenda published for public review and provided to the public before the meeting did NOT include the dismissal of a Commissioner from the Bay St. Louis Historic Preservation Commission.
The Hancock County Alliance for Good Government contends that this action by the Bay St. Louis City Council prohibited the public from their right to know that a Commissioner was being dismissed, and their right to either listen to the deliberation or participate at one of the two Public Forums.
The Bay St. Louis – Waveland School District Board of Trustees did the same thing last August, 2017, when they voted to go into Executive Session under false pretense of personnel, and after exiting Executive Session voted 3 to 2, Kidd, Bell, and Thomas for; Arnold and Favre against, to extend for 4 years the contracts of Superintendent Vikki Landry and her brother, Business Administrator, Jon McCraw.
The Mississippi Ethics Commission upheld a complaint against the School Board finding them in violation of the above mentioned statute, and put the School Board on notice to refrain from this practice in the future and to only act on items that have been included in their published Agenda. Failure to abide by a written finding of the Ethics Commission can result in a fine for the public officials in violation.
This type of behavior by two public entities in the city of Bay St. Louis begs the question, “where were the publicly paid attorneys for these public bodies? Why didn’t they stop their client from violating a law that so clearly protects the public’s right to know.?”
Not to mention, Council President, Gene Hoffman himself is a practicing attorney!!!
Is it time to report the Bay St. Louis City Council to the Ethics Commission? They don’t seem able to discipline themselves, and their legal counsel, like the School Board’s neglected her opportunity to keep her client within the confines of state law, and protect the public that provides her compensation.
Hancock County Alliance for Good Government