Yesterday, Circuit Court Judge Chris Schmidt continued the DUI appeal of controversial Bay St Louis Building Inspector Charles Oliver until the June 2017 court term. Oliver had previously pleaded no contest to the charge in County Justice Court, which came after he caused an accident with injury on Highway 90 in Bay St Louis during the 2015 Cruisin’ The Coast. Blood drawn pursuant to a warrant after the accident showed that Oliver’s blood alcohol content was in excess of 3 times over the legal limit.
The appeal was originally scheduled to be heard on Tuesday February 21, 2017 but was postponed until February 23 due to a scheduling conflict involving Rafferty, whose role in the case was not clear to spectators in attendance as he did not handle the case in his role as City Prosecutor. On Thursday the matter was then continued by Judge Schmidt to the June Circuit Court term.
And there has been a lot happen since I descended into the salt mine. I appreciated the continued commentary on the situation in the Bay from the commenting community here. Last night there was a City Council meeting we’ll need to catch up on but first some of what else has happened here on the coast over the past 10 days or so first up in Hancock County.
One Assistant Superintendent for the Bay Waveland School District wasn’t enough therefore:
Earlier this month we did a series of posts on K-12 education, the last one disclosing a meeting Slabbed had with Bay-Waveland School Board Trustee Mike Bell. The meeting, which included local parent volunteer Cami Cornfoot and Lana Noonan, President of the Hancock County Alliance for Good GovernmentTM dealt with the hiring of a new Superintendent of Education and the optics involving the fact the new Superintendent’s Brother was the existing business manager of the school district.
We covered a lot of ground over the ensuing two plus hours of discussing the state of the school district. I reserved judgment as I was in it for the information and I wanted to hear the School Board’s side of things. Lana on the other hand was pretty staunch in holding her position that the resulting nepotism from the hire of Vikki Landry looked awful. Simply put, Lana held Trustee Bell’s feet to the fire as they would eventually nicely agree to disagree on the subject.
To kick start things we need to re-visit Cassandra Favre’s January 27, 2017 story, BWSD may need 2 assistant superintendents, which left her readers (myself included) with the distinct impression the School District’s Central office expanded by one Assistant Superintendent solely to ameliorate the problems created by hiring the sister of the business manager as the Superintendent. Trustee Bell took issue with that characterization saying the addition of the second Assistant Superintendent was a discreet event that was not done to solve the nepotism problem involving Landry but rather involved a more sweeping reorganization of the business office in a move that cut the amount of local funds spent on Administration.
First what I found strange was both the before and after job description matrices we were presented showed the business manager answering organizationally to one of the Assistant Superintendents, a setup I had never seen in my 20 plus years auditing and consulting with Mississippi K-12s. Every other school district that I have first hand knowledge had the School Business manager answering directly to the Superintendent which makes sense given the job responsibilities handled by the School Business Office. The “before reorganization chart” was thus strange for lack of a better term because the arrangement would have had the Business Manager answering to his sister when she was Assistant Superintendent. Turns out that was not the case but before I get to that let’s visit with Kate Royals at Mississippi Today:
A bill removing a provision in the law allowing school districts to hire relatives of the district’s superintendents and principals passed the Senate on Wednesday.
State law defines a relative as a spouse, child, sibling or parent. The bill would, however, put in place a process for spouses of superintendents to be hired.
Yesterday we highlighted the WLOX coverage of the Fillingame Administration misappropriating and then spending the DoJ Equitable Sharing Grant on expenses other than for law enforcement. Today we have a two pack from the Sea Coast Echo and the Sun Herald as Hizzoner continues to wax nonsensical. First up is Cassandra Favre’s report for the Echo:
Favre said when city officials met with DOJ representatives in Jackson, everyone in that meeting “felt like that we had to repay this money and we wouldn’t get to spend it in Bay St. Louis, that they would take the money back.”
Favre said Falgout made a presentation to DOJ representatives about the “deplorable” condition of the Bay St. Louis Police Department building.
“They seemed to buy into it,” Favre said. “They went back to Washington with that information, that we would spend the money on the building and other things for the police department if we put the money back and they allowed us to keep it. Evidently, they came back in January, when we had that meeting a week or so ago and said we would be able to keep the money here and spend it on the police department.”
Missing in Cassandra’s story are any quotes from Mayor Fillingame, who left the Council meeting shortly after the DoJ report was read into the record and approved by the Council.
Meantime Wes Muller hit the ball out of the park with his story on the same topic, which built upon some dynamite journalism he did back when this story first broke:
In its investigation, the Sun Herald obtained records from the DOJ, including an affidavit signed by Mayor Les Fillingame, certifying the city had accumulated $298,108 in forfeitures as of Sept. 30, 2014. As the council had not approved any purchases with the DOJ money since 2011, the balance of the general operating account should never have dipped below that amount.
But during an August 2015 meeting, council members noticed the general operating account had a cash balance of only $80,000. The council called for an inquiry by state and federal authorities.
Last night’s WLOX newscasts at 6 and 10 both featured the Bay St Louis DoJ Equitable Sharing fund disaster, first with the 6PM newscast showing an interview with Councilman Boudin where he disclosed the Council was filing claims on the bonds of the Mayor, the late Chief Denardo and the two City Clerks (Kolf and Smith) that had a hand in misspending the Federal grant, which was intended for use in law enforcement. Mayor Fillingame sent in a statement after the 6PM newscast that said:
“I think if it is their personal desire to pursue a claim against any employee or official against all of the professional advice that they have received, there will be great personal liability. The only losses that have been suffered by the taxpayers of Bay St. Louis has been the loss of money spent by the council pursuing claims that don’t exist. We have spent exuberant amounts of money on having this reviewed, audited and looked at legally. The council has gotten no advice from any of the auditors or agencies that have reviewed this, nor have they had any of the city’s legal counsel advise them that there is any claims against any person that has participated in the DOJ program. That money was put in the general fund account and spent by the counsel. None of the money was lost, it was spent in the process of serving the community. Before you have a claim you have to have a loss, and there has been no loss.”
Today Slabbed received an excerpt of a draft of the OSA performance review which debunks the Council going “against all the professional advice that they have received”:
In fairness to the Mayor the final report linked above omitted the repayment language but to say the Council is going against all the professional advice they have received is inaccurate as the above clearly indicates the topic of how to handle a repayment was covered in the OSA performance review. Whether a loss has occurred, a topic Slabbed covered, is a legal question that will have to be sorted out.
Meantime I wonder if anyone else giggled hearing WLOX anchor Christina Garcia use the term “mingle” instead of the proper financial term “commingle” to describe what happened with the DoJ funds in the Bay?