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”

Guest post: Bay Superintendent Responds to Bryant’s State of the State Address

Bay St. Louis Superintendent of Education, Rebecca Ladner responded to Governor Phil Bryant’s State of the State Address last night.

Two of the things she cited the Republicans for were underfunded schools and underpaid workers.

These two points are interesting coming from her when I reflect back on 2010 in her second year as Superintendent in the Bay-Waveland School District. There was a district wide pay cut for all certified employees, and while some long standing employees took as much as 12% to 16% pay cuts on salaries that never exceeded the $30,000 range, she took a 10% cut on her $110,000.00. I don’t remember her complaining about the sad state of her faithful employees then, and how that was going to affect their retirement. So, while she is familiar with underpaid employees, she makes sure administrators are never in that mix. In a community where 78% of the families live at poverty level, some in her administrative staff (including her) make more than some state level elected officials.

As far as underfunded schools, she seems to have lots of local tax dollars to spend in Bay St. Louis. She just doesn’t have any interest in spending it in the classrooms. While teachers have always dug into their own pockets to make sure their classrooms have what they need, Ms. Ladner did manage to find somewhere near a cool million dollars (no one can seem to obtain totals) to spend on field turf for the football stadium.

Yes, the Republicans leave a lot to be desired when it comes to producing an effective educational system in our state, but don’t hold your breath waiting for it to be corrected by Democrats like Rebecca Ladner.

Lana Noonan, Chairman
Hancock County Alliance for Good Government

Slabbed welcomes all points of view on the topics we cover. Our readers can submit guest columns to Slabbed New Media. While we allow anonymous comments on the blog, guest columnist must submit a verifiable name and contact information in order to be published.

Guest Post | Hancock County Alliance for Good Government Spring Newsletter

Spring is trying to arrive, but looks like Old Man Winter just doesn’t want to let go this year. We will be dreaming of these cool temps come August when we are in the middle of a Mississippi summer and heated campaign for the 4th Congressional District Seat. Actually the run-off should be mild compared to the primary between Palazzo and Taylor. The negative flyers are already arriving in mailboxes. Sure hope this doesn’t turn into the fiasco of 3 years ago when the PACS were stuffing our mailboxes and TV screens with all of this nonsense. If this does start, we hope both candidates will step forward and denounce them and demand a real debate on the real issues, and tell the PACS to get packing.

The Hancock County Board of Supervisors is in a quandary over insurance coverage for the spouses of county employees. Claims are much higher than in the past, but on the other hand, employees have not had raises for the past 5 years. This is supposed to be hashed out at the Supers’ meeting on April 7. It would be so nice for the taxpayers of Hancock County to be able to sit at home on their own computers and view the monthly expenditures of the Supervisors, but alas that still has not happened even though District 3 Supervisor Lisa Cowand said at their Nov. 2013 meeting minutes and dockets would be online by April of this year. We checked on Friday, April 4, and their last published docket is still from April 2009, even though we requested this now 5 months ago.

They have been submitting them to the Sea Coast Echo for publication, but that is at the expense of the taxpayers. It would be so much easier and less expensive to just put them on their website. Enough of taking them at their word on this issue.

The City of Waveland is preparing for Municipal Elections, but few have announced to run for office. As the summer gets closer we are sure announcements will be forthcoming for Mayor and Aldermen with the retirement of Ward I Alderman Lili Stahler. Time will tell, and we’ll be watching, and reporting. Continue reading “Guest Post | Hancock County Alliance for Good Government Spring Newsletter”

Guest Post | Hancock County Alliance for Good Government: 2014—-A Year of “Elections” and “Decisions”

First of all, a Happy New Year to all–hope your holidays were all you wanted them to be and the New Year will be successful for you. This year will be a year of “elections” or “decisions” if you will. Waveland will hold their municipal elections in the Fall, and if that seems far off, just wait. It will be here before you know it. Certainly the announcements and campaigning will be here soon. The Alliance will sponsor a political forum as we do for all the elections, so stay tuned if you are a candidate or simply a voter.

Events that have unfolded since the Bay St. Louis officials took the oath of office last July indicate that the Bay City Council needs to “elect” to see that their city’s bills get paid whether or not the Mayor does. They may have to “take the checkbook” away from him if need be. This is, of course, a figure of speech, but they do have the legal responsibility for seeing that the bills are paid, which could be to refuse to approve any more dockets until he pays the Solid Waste and Hancock County Utility Authorities what the city owes them. After all, these folks have dockets to pay as well. And using the excuse that they fell behind because they didn’t charge enough for utilities is ridiculous. That’s not the fault of the Utility Authorities. By the way, what happened to the $500,000 line of credit that was supposed to cover these utility bills? And, most importantly, what is the administration doing with the money the users are sending to city hall to pay these bills? The city does’t own any garbage trucks or employ any garbage workers. So what makes them think they can keep funds for a service they not only do not, but cannot perform? Amazing. Who knows what the list of delinquent bills looks like? Now we are hearing that Lowe’s has cut the city off for non payment; and heard it from RELIABLE sources.

Let’s hope the ad valorem taxes in the Bay are enough to take care of these problems what with the Harbor coming on board between March and May–built by the Feds, but to be maintained by the locals. The continuing long list of foreclosures in the paper each week is very disturbing. Continue reading “Guest Post | Hancock County Alliance for Good Government: 2014—-A Year of “Elections” and “Decisions””

Guest Post | Hancock County Alliance for Good Government: Openness in Governing

In the state of Mississippi the efforts of some public officials to exclude the taxpayers from their deliberations on the expenditure of public funds has reached epidemic proportions. The sad thing is that the weak laws in this state don’t offer much relief for the taxpaying public.

In one day we get to observe a state official, State Auditor Stacey Pickering, and his staff admit under oath their efforts to hide information not only from the public, but from a Judge.

Then the Bay St. Louis Mayor and City Council call a “special” meeting to finalize the purchase of a new fire truck that will come in at slightly over $500,000. The notice of the meeting went out the morning of the meeting. This doesn’t give John Q. Public much chance to make arrangements to listen or participate in the discussion of the purchase of this equipment with our hard earned tax dollars.

No one is questioning the necessity of the equipment, but the urgency of the meeting is what is suspect. Continue reading “Guest Post | Hancock County Alliance for Good Government: Openness in Governing”