To the Editor | Time to Sunset Hancock Solid Waste Authority

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. Continue reading “To the Editor | Time to Sunset Hancock Solid Waste Authority”

The Crickets are Chirping, An Open Letter to Phil Bryant

May 8, 2018

Mrs. Lana Noonan
Waveland, Mississippi 39576

Governor Phil Bryant
P. O. Box 139
Jackson, Mississippi 39205

Dear Governor Bryant:

I reviewed the Opportunity Zone Map for Hancock County, which was released to the press on April 23, and as a citizen of Waveland, was very surprised to see my city’s struggling downtown business district “carved” out of the zone eligible for the Federal tax abatements to attract investors to our area.

My first reaction was, “who could do this to us?!” It was a surprising and disappointing revelation to learn through the U. S. Department of the Treasury representative, Jeff Merkowitz, that it was, in fact, our own Governor who selected and nominated the eligible census tracts within our state for designation as Qualified Opportunity Zones.

The purpose of my letter is to ask you, as the person who made this decision, what criteria you used to determine that our entire neighboring city of Bay St. Louis, including their already thriving downtown area, and highway corridor, was entitled to be an Opportunity Zone, and downtown Waveland was not.

Considering the requirement of 20% of citizens living at poverty level, and no one making over 80% of the median income, this conclusion of yours is an enigma to me and many others. Continue reading “The Crickets are Chirping, An Open Letter to Phil Bryant”

Guest Post | Lana Noonan: Congratulations to the Local Public Officials that made Restructuring the Bay Waveland Schools Possible

The Hancock County Alliance for Good Government would like to offer our congratulations to those public officials who made possible a restructuring of our local Bay St. Louis-Waveland School Board.

We’ll start with former Mayor Les Fillingame, who last February, 2017, did not re-appoint Maurice Singleton, leaving that appointment to the new administration. Current Mayor, Mike Favre, and the new Bay St. Louis City Council replaced Singleton with Vicky Arnold, and most recently replaced Joan Thomas with Ann Latrop.

Those of us who regularly attend School Board meetings, review claim dockets and test scores could not be more pleased in the new Board. We will hold them accountable for their opportunity to make the long overdue improvements to the School District.

One has been accomplished, that being the resignation of Superintendent Vicky Landry, which ends the nepotism arrangement in the School District Business office between her and her brother, Business Administrator, John McCraw. The Director of the Miss. Ethics Commission and the Attorney General both advised against this arrangement last year, and it has finally been accomplished. Sadly they prevailed for 12 months in violation of state law to the tune of $217,000 in salaries for these two. We feel those funds could have been better spent on the students and their teachers.
Next, and actually, most important on our list of challenges for the new Board is to address the academic conditions of our two elementary schools. North Bay dropped from a”B”rated school to a”C” and Waveland from an”A”to a “D”as reported by the State Department of Education.

We will continue to attend the School Board meetings, and hopefully witness some long awaited leadership that will result in the most important goal for our community–putting the kids first, and developing a personnel roster that can make that happen.

Lana Noonan, Chairman
The Hancock County Alliance for Good Government

Guest Post: Politics Trumps Public Safety and Being a Good Neighbor

Is it too high of an expectation these days for the concern for public safety and being a good neighbor to trump politics and personal agendas for just one day out of the 365 that the Good Lord blesses us with this year?

WLOX reported Friday that Bay St. Louis Mayor, Mike Favre, has decided not to assist the City of Pass Christian with 4 off duty Bay Police Officers for crowd control at the St. Paul’s Carnival Association Mardi Gras Parade.

Mayor Favre contends he needs all of his force in the Bay to protect their citizens. Mayor Favre may want to consider the fact that a very large number of his citizens will be in Pass Christian tomorrow for the infamous “Pass Parade” which draws the largest crowd of any parade on the Coast, and is historically the most volatile.

Year before last two people were shot and killed at the parade, and this was not the first time violence was an issue for this event.

Former Bay St. Louis Police Chief, Matt Issman, told WLOX that he has access to two text messages from Bay Officers saying Issman’s suit against the Bay and Mayor Favre was the reason given to the officers as to why they are not allowed to assist the Pass, coupled with Issman’s position as a Reserve Officer with the Pass PD. Continue reading “Guest Post: Politics Trumps Public Safety and Being a Good Neighbor”

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”