At the July 17, 2017, meeting of the Hancock County Board of Supervisors, Board President, Blaine La Fontaine, introduced the discussion for the dissolution of the Hancock County Solid Waste Commission. He concurred with the opinion of a growing number of citizens that this is an unnecessary layer of government for the taxpayers to support. La Fontaine backed up his statement with a study that he said revealed a savings of at least $125,00 a year in engineering and legal services alone. He suggested an inter-local agreement with the 3 cities similar to what Harrison County does and an invoice system for the collection of costs. In a county like Hancock where 75% of the school children are on free lunch, and the other 25% of the population are paying the bills, any savings is welcome news to the payers, and also exhibits a sense of fiscal responsibility on the part of our elected officials. Those were the viable “meat and potatoes” benefits outlined in the Board President’s presentation.
Since that presentation by La Fontaine, The Hancock County Alliance for Good Government has been doing some research of our own at the Solid Waste Commission reviewing minutes, audits, budgets, etc. Overages in engineering and legal fees are commonplace, and unfortunately go unaddressed by the Commission. Sadly, no mention in any minutes by the Commissioners of attempting to curtail these overages.
While all of the aforementioned issues matter on the bottom line to the taxpayers, the real selling point for the dissolution of this extra layer of county government came sharply into focus when Alliance members attended the June 10, meeting of the Commission. The lack of interest of the Commissioners is disturbing. Two didn’t utter one word during the entire meeting. The annual audit was presented without any pertinent questions. It was probably the shortest audit presentation to a public body we have ever witnessed. One Commissioner actually admitted he had not even read the audit even though it was sent to them in advance of the meeting.
The most egregious section of the meeting was when The Alliance asked the Commissioners about a resolution they passed in their minutes March 12, 2018 (15 months ago) to write to the MDEQ asking for MDEQ’s support of the Commission’s approval of the upgrade of another landfill in the county. I had personally visited the Solid Waste Office and made a Public Records Request for the Commission’s letter to MDEQ and MDEQ’s response when I found the resolution in their minutes. The secretary contacted me the next day to say my request could not be granted because there was no document available due to a decision by the Commission not to proceed in contacting MDEQ. A further review of their minutes has revealed no discussion, decision, or motion subsequent to March 12, 2018, resulting in a decision not to write to MDEQ. But, it is all too apparent that decision was made at sometime between March 12, 2018 and June 10, 2019, because the March 12, 2018, resolution they passed is still sitting in their minutes without being acted upon.
The Mississippi Supreme Court is on record stating that” the philosophy of the Open Meetings Act is that ALL deliberations, decisions, and business of ALL governmental boards and commissions, unless specifically excluded by statute, must be done in public and properly documented.” The resolution passed on March 12, 2018, dealt with a contractor, which is not protected from public discussion, and has to be in open session.
Could there be a financial savings to the taxpayers of Hancock County without this extra layer of government? We and many others think so. The other plus for the taxpayers would be the elimination of yet another taxpayer supported commission whose lack of interest was so evident on Monday, June 10. One of the Commissioners even stated on his way out of the meeting that he didn’t know why we even have to have this?! We agree with him.
Don’t we already have enough government in Hancock County for its mere 45,000 population with a county government, 3 cities, 2 school districts, 4 law firms, close to 50 elected officials, 3 city clerks and their deputies, a county administrator, 3 law enforcement agencies, numerous fire departments, and 4 auditing firms to keep up with all of the spending??!!
A gentleman called me one day and said that he was on temporary assignment at Stennis doing a study. He had a degree in City Planning and could not believe the amount of government in Hancock County for the population. He explained it was no wonder we can’t maintain roads and bridges, and do general infrastructure work without grants, or just plain doing without?
We requested of the Solid Waste Commissioners that they begin publishing their minutes, agendas, dockets, and audits on their website for easy access for the public. The county, all 3 cities, and both school districts all do this, and invited them to join in the effort for transparency. The Commission’s response was no response.
The last time I checked Hancock County was the only county in the state with this Solid Waste set up. What do the other 81 counties know that we don’t? Solid Waste is not the only area where we could consolidate services and provide savings to the citizens of Hancock County, but after 2 years of research and observing Monday’s meeting, it’s a great place to start!!
The Hancock County Alliance for Good Government,
Lana Noonan, Chairman
Ron Thorp, C0-Chairman
David Wells, Board Member
Sam Moore, Board Member
Libby Garcia, Board Member