Other Voices | Lana Noonan: Hancock County Budget Season Update

It’s difficult to tell where to begin when it comes to Budget Season with our local entities. The number crunching has begun, and the departmental wish lists are presenting major financial challenges for our local officials.

Let’s begin with the City of Bay St. Louis. The seven guys on the City Council are working hard to get their budget together for the upcoming fiscal year of 2017-2018.

One little kink in the wheel that must be resolved sooner rather than later is WHERE IS THE 2016 AUDIT??????? Kind of hard to formulate a budget until you examine your auditor’s candid verdict on your books of account for the past fiscal year. The Auditor, Bobby Culumber, is MIA. They had better find him pretty soon. I think the audit was due on June 30, 2017 which would have given the City Council ample time before budget workshops to identify and confront their monetary issues and prioritize them.

Moving right along, the issues that have been discussed at the last two budget workshops are:

1. Going out for bids on the city’s insurance which is due to renew in Feb. or March of 2018.

2. On this same subject, since Council does not approve benefits for part time employees, they should also remove themselves from this benefit. Their position does not require them to spend every day at City Hall. ALL OF OUR PUBLIC ENTITIES SHOULD ELIMINATE THIS FROM THEIR BUDGETS. THINK OF THE MONEY WE WOULD SAVE.

3. Supporting the continued presence of a Tourism Office in Hancock County and lending financial support. Councilman DeSalvo also wants to solicit support from the Downtown Merchants since they benefit the most from Tourism events such as Cruisin’ the Coast. Continue reading “Other Voices | Lana Noonan: Hancock County Budget Season Update”

PSA: Hancock County Alliance for Good Government Political Forum for Bay St. Louis Municipal Elections

On Thursday, April 20, 2017 the Hancock County Alliance for Good Government is sponsoring a Political Forum for all candidates who have qualified to run in the 2017, Bay St. Louis Municipal Elections.

While The Hancock County Alliance for Good Government does not endorse candidates, since 2010, the organization has provided Political Forums for City, County, and State-wide elections as an opportunity for the voters and candidates to meet and debate the current issues of their government.

The Forum will be held at the Old Town Community Center in the Depot District on Blaize Avenue from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm.

Candidates can register to participate by calling—228-493-4358 or 228-363-9395.

Other Voices | Lana Noonan: The Devious Bay Waveland School District

The “dog and pony” show that was put on for public view by the majority of the Bay-Waveland School Board, their attorney, Ronnie Artigues, and guest speaker, attorney Jim Keith on the night of February 15 led me to make a Public Records Request for the CD audio of the meeting.

Mr. Keith’s visit to the School District Board meeting was, I assume, at the suggestion of School Board Attorney, Artigues. The bill for his visit, however, will go to the taxpayers. Obviously the Advisory Opinion of Tom Hood, Director of the Mississippi Ethics Commission either didn’t impress Artigues or Keith, or they knew the majority of the board was dumb enough to follow their advice rather than an Ethics Board Opinion. This is not a first for this board and its attorney.

Hood’s Advisory Opinion pertained to the school board appointing Vikki Landry Superintendent. She is the sister of the Business Manager, John McCraw. Long story short, the ethics opinion cited state law and an AG Opinion prohibiting such nepotism, and held that one or the other should resign their position. The brother sister team could not serve together.

Artigues and Keith convinced the board, with the exception of Casey Favre, to defy state law.

Keith even went as far as to tell the board there were “other districts in the state that do this all the time.” When I confronted him after the meeting for the names of those districts, his reply to me was, ” I’d rather not name them. I don’t want them to get reported.” I replied, “Reported for what? You just told this board it was perfectly okay for sister and brother to work together in the Central Office in violation of State law.” I didn’t get any names.

My experience in acquiring the audio of this meeting is evidence of the devious behavior that goes beyond the board and their attorneys. Continue reading “Other Voices | Lana Noonan: The Devious Bay Waveland School District”

Guest Post: Bay-Waveland School Board Budget Hearing – A New Ballgame

The Bay St. Louis-Waveland Budget hearing Monday night was a whole new ball game as compared to the last 15 years. Not only was the Administration called on to justify their spending, but the public was actually invited to speak and ask questions.

The School District Budget report distributed to the audience last night claims a per pupil spending $11,083.00 to educate each child in the Bay St. Louis-Waveland School District. While the Superintendent stated they are underfunded $700,000 by the State, it appears we are doing just fine without State Funding because $11,083.00 is more than it costs to educated a student in our local private schools.

But what are we spending this $11,083 on?

Locally Under Major District Maintenance Expenditures the Instructional Budget ($297, 931) came in way behind Insurance ($794,307), Utilities ($900,670), and Transportation ($834, 500). Bringing up the rear were School Nurses ($180,000) and Maintenance ($127,000). Remember folks, the more we continue to play with bricks and mortar the more our Maintenance Budget will be and the Administration seems to be addicted to Architects and Engineers.

Under Administrative Costs, of the 14 Coast School Districts listed, we are the second highest percentage wise. That has pretty much stayed the same since a survey the Hancock County Alliance for Good Government did on Coast School District Administrative Spending in 2010.

The Superintendent and Business Manager defended their Administrative spending with regards to the low enrollment 0f 1,924 by saying that no matter how small a district is, the State still requires the same number of administrators. Well, there is your best argument for one School District in Hancock County. Why should the taxpayers in a county of only 45,000 residents, a lot of whom are below poverty level, have to continue to support duplicate administrative costs for a little over 6,000 students combined? Continue reading “Guest Post: Bay-Waveland School Board Budget Hearing – A New Ballgame”

Other Voices | Lana Noonan: Wasting time at a marathon Bay St Louis Council meeting

Let’s start at the end rather than the beginning on this one.

At roughly 11:00pm last evening, March 8, the Bay St. Louis City Council elected to go into Executive Session for personnel and litigation matters, so those of us who had endured the 51/2 hour meeting exited to the lobby until we were called back in only to find, as usual, that no action was taken.

Just prior to adjournment, Ward I Councilman Doug Seal levied his objection to Council President, Joey Boudin, that “people” were being allowed to “talk to long” at Public Forum. Boudin countered that he did indulge one citizen from Ward III, but had no problem with it since the Council only meets twice a month and he felt like the citizens deserved to be heard.

Ward II Councilwoman, Wendy McDonald, then stated “this is a business meeting.” Yep, that’s what she said. And, that begs the question Madam Council, “whose business?”. Do you think you are sitting on the board of a private enterprise? The “business” you are conducting is the public’s.

Certainly if we can sit through 6 hours of hearing your voice, ours can be heard for 30 minutes or so. Not to mention that, for the most part, the most logical and worthy comments come from the citizens at the podium. They just continue to fall on deaf ears.

Yes, we sat through another fiasco of the Building Dept. and its unqualified Chief Inspector Charles Oliver. One of Oliver’s underlings actually admitted to Council and all present Tuesday night that he does inspections on dumpsters, but doesn’t actually know the regulations that pertain to dumpsters.

Then there is the drama of the Port and Harbor commission and the Mayor’s request to the Council on January 19, 2016 ratifying his “appointment” to the Port and Harbor Commission, when none of them have the legal authority under state law to make an “appointment” as the City only “nominates”. This went on for a long time too for the second meeting in a row. The proper procedure, by state law, is for the local officials to nominate, and the Governor to choose a commissioner from their list of names to represent their city. The City Attorney sat silently through this on January 19, 2016 not once correcting or guiding these misinformed public officials. The City Attorney only discovered the law when someone other than the Mayor’s choice showed up with a letter from the Governor appointing him to the Port and Harbor Commission! Bay St. Louis has some 11,000 residents, but the Mayor can only think of one person to nominate? Yes, truth is stranger than fiction. But truth has become a rare commodity nowadays. Continue reading “Other Voices | Lana Noonan: Wasting time at a marathon Bay St Louis Council meeting”

Other Voices | Lana Noonan: Its a new game in town for Bay-Waveland School District

If the rest of the meetings of the Bay St. Louis-Waveland Board of Trustees are anything like the first one of this calendar year, which took place Monday night, you can safely say “There’s a new game in town!” And newly elected Trustee, Mark Kidd, representing Waveland, threw the first pitch.

Transparency, accountability, and communication are what he stated he is interested in moving forward, and move he did!!

On a motion by Kidd and seconded by the other Waveland representative, Mike Bell, Bay St. Louis representative, Casey Favre was elected Board President.

On reliable source, this was not the plan of some other Board members going into the meeting!!

The Superintendent then gave a report on the latest Test Scores with emphasis on the ACT test results. This ended up being an almost 15 minute monologue that excluded any real data on how the students actually performed with the exception of the Superintendent saying that she “thought” they came in somewhere around 4th Coast wide out of the 16 school districts tested . Trustee Kidd corrected that statement to reveal they came in 4th from the bottom or 13th with an average ACT score of 17.8. Does the Superintendent really expect the public to believe she didn’t have those results? Continue reading “Other Voices | Lana Noonan: Its a new game in town for Bay-Waveland School District”

Guest Post: How Long Does Transparency Take in Hancock County???

On November 19, 2013, the Hancock County Alliance for Good Government appeared before the Hancock County Board of Supervisors and requested they put their Minutes and Dockets online as part of their website for the general public to view,especially since their meetings are at 9:00am when the vast majority of folks are out trying to make a living.

It is interesting that they have upgraded their site somewhat to include Agendas and Dockets although not completely up to date. But there are no Board minutes. Folks, that is where the business of the taxpayers is taken care of—where you can read who made what motion, how your elected officials voted, who missed meetings etc. That is the meat and potatoes of the public’s business.

The “chatter” throughout the County about how secretive some of their “business” has been conducted bears out in one glaring example:

In their February 7, 2011 minutes the Board of Supervisors actually voted over the telephone, which is in direct violation of the Mississippi Open Meetings Law. There is no provision in the Open Meetings Law for telephone polling– only telephone conferences of which the public must be informed in advance. The Alliance for Good Government was given a “tip” on this. When we inquired about it, Mrs. Lisa Cowand Board President, emphatically denied it. So we appeared at their office unannounced and obtained a copy of the minutes revealing the truth about their actions.

The February 7, 2011, telephone poll was for a resolution on Tourism Legislation. Now, what could have been so secretive about that? We’ll never know because the public was deprived of hearing their representatives deliberate the issue in front of the public they represent and who pays their salaries.

Those voting in secret over the telephone were:
David Yarborough—Yes
Roderick Pullman—-Yes
Lisa Cowand———Yes
Steve Seymour——Yes
Tony Wayne Ladner-Yes

This is only one example of how they have no conscience about handling the Public’s business in secret. And 3 of them are running for Re-Election this year—Yarborough—Cowand—Ladner.

This is the 15th year of the 21st Century—IT IS PAST TIME FOR TRANSPARENCY IN GOVERNMENT IN HANCOCK COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI!

Lana Noonan, Chairman
Hancock County Alliance for Good Government

Guest Editorial: City of Bay St Louis Infrastructure Improvements Must be Legally Funded

At the May 11, meeting of the Bay St. Louis – Waveland School Board, Jason Chinche, the City Engineer for Bay St. Louis representing the Mayor made a funding request of the School Board of $50,000 in “start-up” money for an infrastructure project on the extension of Carroll Ave. north of Highway 90 for approximately 900 ft. of sidewalk for a total cost of some $200,000.

Before the conversation started between the Engineer and the Board, Superintendent Rebecca Ladner, spoke up and said that she could not be on record endorsing school district funds for this project because it is on city property, not school district property. Her statement apparently fell on deaf ears because the Board and their attorney agreed to investigate how the funding could be arranged. Mind you, this item was on the Action Agenda of the School Board meeting. Had the Superintendent not spoken up, the Board may have issued the funds right there.

In a conversation with the State Department of Education on May 12, the Finance Office told me that Superintendent Ladner was correct, and that school districts cannot donate money, only services and facilities. Both city governing bodies have been advised by the Hancock County Alliance for Good Government of this with Miss. Code and Attorney General’s Opinions provided by the State Department of Education. Unfortunately the Bay St. Louis Mayor and School Board Attorney are currently attempting an interlocal agreement between the two entities, the School Board and the City of Bay St. Louis, for this $50,000 in school district funds to be transferred to Bay St. Louis city accounts.

Since the Bay St. Louis Mayor and School Board attorney ( and some School Board members) decided to pay no attention to the Superintendent and the State Department of Education, the Alliance for Good Government approached the Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the State Auditor for opinions.

Their opinions, based on what they referred to as a similar case in New Albany, Miss. where the city requested funding from the local school board for an infrastructure project, is as follows: Continue reading “Guest Editorial: City of Bay St Louis Infrastructure Improvements Must be Legally Funded”

Last night’s Bay City Council Heroes are Councilmen Reed and Falgout

By Lana Noonan, Special to Slabbed New Media

The big surprise party for Mayor Fillingame last night was courtesy of Ward 6 Councilman Lonnie Falgout. Falgout confronted City Attorney Rafferty and Mayor Fillingame with documents from the Hancock Bank pertaining to the Restructured Bond Agreement of last summer when the city could not come up with their payment of over 400,000 on Utility system bonded debt.

Falgout asked Rafferty if he was present when the documents were signed–Rafferty replied yes. Then Falgout told the Mayor that he had signed a document with the bank guaranteeing them that payments of not less than $30,000 a month would be DEPOSITED in the debt service holding account for the payment coming up on July 1, 2015.

Fillingame adamantly denied promising to DEPOSIT the money monthly to the debt service account until Falgout read the document aloud to the Mayor and all present. According to Falgout at the last meeting, no DEPOSITS were made from October, 2014 until the end of March, 2015, coincidentally when the Ad Valorem taxes were coming in from the County Tax office. So, what was happening to that “not less than $30,000 a month” promised to the bank under the Mayor and City Clerk’s signature? This is what caught the attention of Councilman-at-large Mike Favre when he didn’t see that account growing to the amount the council had appropriated in the 2014-2015 budget.

This is important because when the Mayor and City Clerk were taken to task several meetings ago about the funds not being deposited on a monthly basis or reported to the Council, the Mayor took the podium and chastised the Council saying–“you can only speak through your minutes, and you have never told us how you wanted it handled.” Mayor Fillingame then informed the council the transfer to the debt service fund would be made quarterly.

Well, get the Mayor some Aricept, because the Hancock Bank spoke through their document requiring the debt service account, the one that Mayor Fillingame and City Clerk David Kolf signed in the presence of the bank officials and the City attorney. Continue reading “Last night’s Bay City Council Heroes are Councilmen Reed and Falgout”

City of Bay St Louis asks Bay Waveland School Board for Municipal capital projects funding

By Lana Noonan, Special to Slabbed New Media

What looked like a rather boring agenda for the May 11, 2015 Bay-Waveland School Board meeting turned out to be rather interesting. First up was Superintendent Ladner presenting awards to School District retirees and students who had excelled in academics and arts.

In the Superintendent’s report Ms. Ladner covered the Third Grade Reading Gate Test Scores that were just released on Friday, May 8. Out of some 160 3rd graders, 91% passed with an average score of 998. The lowest score that could be made to pass was 926, and the highest score that could have been achieved was 1200.

When the Business Manager took the podium to give the first update on the upcoming budget, he was interrupted early on by Trustee Benvenutti who asked, “Do you have any copies for the Board of the information you are reading from. I am not a CPA and certainly won’t remember all of this.”

Superintendent Ladner spoke up and said that they didn’t really want people having this information on the budget at this time as it is a work in progress. Benvenutti shot back, “who do you mean by “people?’ We are the Board who will have to approve this budget, and I want this information. Can you arrange for it to be emailed to us no later than tomorrow?” Ladner agreed.

There was a pretty lengthy discussion on what to do to remedy the ongoing situation at the football field concerning the drainage problem under the bleachers. Bill Carrigee, the new project manager, advised the Board that in order to do the job right and finish it, he would recommend breaking up the concrete under the section of bleachers that are affected, dismantling the bleachers and then reassembling them once the drainage is in place. This will be an additional $170,000 on an already multi-million dollar project. Continue reading “City of Bay St Louis asks Bay Waveland School Board for Municipal capital projects funding”