To borrow an old fashioned metaphor, there has been a lot of ink spilled over the mishandling of the Equitable Sharing Grant by the Fillingame Administration, a grant violation that resulted in one dedicated audit along with a performance audit that confirmed what Slabbed has been saying since late 2013: The Fillingame Administration can’t handle money. From bringing the City to the verge of default on its water and sewer bonds to using the resulting $13 debt service surcharge added to everyone’s monthly water bill to pay general city expenses the examples of the Mayor’s financial mismanagement are legion as are the casualties, figuratively in the parade of City Clerks turned over by the City to go with one police chief. Worse are the active investigations into Payroll Fraud among other crimes alleged to have been perpetrated by city employees centered in the Police Department.
Organizationally when the Mayor exhibits a complete disregard for the financial portions of the state home rule statute the allegations of impropriety should not surprise. State Auditor Stacey Pickering termed the phenomenon a “Culture of Corruption”. Slabbed covered it in the organizationally corrupt Department of Marine Resources. To quote the late Yogi Berra, “It’s like déjà vu all over again” in the Bay.
Now we’ve entered election season and its time for the public to be asking questions and arming themselves with information about the candidates for office. Early this year Slabbed published the meeting notes from the December 2016 meeting between City officials and the United States Department of Justice. That document contains a wealth of information that should be important to every voter in terms of the three elected officials, two of whom are now running for Mayor that were in attendance with the other seeking reelection to the City Council. That meeting started with the DoJ making a repayment demand of about $300,000 in misspent funds and ended with the DoJ representative making a promise to take the proposal to let the resource starved Bay PD spend the money immediately on very real needs such as mold remediation inside the station house.
From a political standpoint it would have been easy for the two councilmen in attendance to let the Mayor suffer the consequences for comingling and misspending the grant beginning in 2011 by keeping quiet and having the DoJ demand $321,000 from the City while the Mayor prattled on about someone forging his electronic signature on the annual financial affidavit. They didn’t and ultimately the City now will be able to use these funds for their intended purpose – bolstering public safety. And as I wrote in a comment after that news broke that act also got the Mayor off the hook for repaying the misspent funds. There was simply no loss to the City. Continue reading “Time to move on from the DoJ Disaster”
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?
Going back over 140 plus posts Slabbed has done on the financial operations of the City of Mayberry Bay St Louis serves as a reminder that we’ve been on that particular beat since the Spring of 2014 and had been paying attention for about a year before that. In hindsight 2013 was the watershed year and that year also happened to be the last election year for City officials. To understand what is happening now is to understand what was going on back then. Also key to understanding today’s events is to understand that “A Place Apart” truly is Apart from a Home Rule Charter standpoint and therein lies the root cause of the problem. First up is the City’s Charter which is colloquially known as “Strong Mayor-Weak Council”.
The mayor-council form of government is essentially a “strong mayor” form of government made available by the legislature in 1973 and approved by the Department of Justice in August 1976. It is used in 10 municipalities in Mississippi: Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, Columbus, Greenwood, Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Jackson, Laurel, Meridian and Tupelo.
The Bay is the runt municipality in the strong mayor world. The proverbial strong mayor has vast power including almost complete control over the City’s workforce. Larger Cities benefit from this kind of organization because keeping the bureaucracy on point is easier when there is a clear Chief Executive. In smaller Cities with smaller work forces like “A Place Apart” it has the drawback in allowing day to day municipal operations to be dominated by a single person, in this case Hizzoner.
The City Council (as opposed to Board of Aldermen in “Weak Mayor”) only controls two things directly and those would be the budget and the annual audit. City Councils also have investigative authority under the law.
Here at Slabbed we always have fun examining the “journalistic facts” conveyed by the local main stream media against what those facts strongly suggest along which how those facts are being reported by the various local media outlets. The technical expression is take-away which google defines as “a key fact, point, or idea to be remembered, typically one emerging from a discussion or meeting.”
Deputy Police Chief Derek Hoppner surprised aldermen Tuesday night by asking them to cancel the city’s popular Mardi Gras night parade, saying the move was needed to protect police officers.
Deputy Police Chief blindsiding the Board of Aldermen? My reaction was wow!
Hoppner gave the aldermen a memo outlining his complaints before Tuesday’s meeting and said Police Chief Mark Dunston agrees with him. Dunston, however, was out of town, he said, and did not sign the memo. Dunston called a press conference for 10 a.m. Thursday and is expected to announce the city will have the parade.
Want to bring up new business to the Bay St Louis Council and not be on the meeting agenda? No problemo you just do it and the doormats on the City Council invariably seem to go along. This is how you end up with an audit presentation happening at a Council workshop when an “audit update” morphs into a full blown audit presentation. It is slated to happen again tonight with the Mayor telling WLOX he’ll be bringing his pick to be chief of police to the City Council. Funny thing is that item of business is not listed on the agenda emailed out by City Council Clerk Tilley.
The first round of public comments are limited to agenda items only and since a new Police Chief is not on the agenda the Council will not hear from the public before they rubber stamp the Mayor’s choice. Worse though is the City Council spent around $10,000 on a performance audit which included the Office of the State Auditor telling the Council they should not take action on any item not on their agenda, noting the Council in the past frequently engaged in this highly questionable practice. Continue reading “Old bad habits live on in a Place Apart”
First off I did not take a poll but WLOX (Hugh Keeton if I’m not mistaken), The Sun Herald and the Sea Coast Echo were all in attendance or watching one of the various the live streams. It was a marathon meeting and I’ll start with the later portion of the meeting before I left around 8pm, two and a half hours in and the August bill from the former City Attorney:
Anyone that has witnessed the early performances of the new City Attorney understands exactly why the City Council made the change. As an added bonus, the Citizens are finally getting value for their money in legal.
Several residents spoke out against Anita Warner’s application for a variance to the zoning ordinance in order to construct a six-foot aluminum fence on her front yard property line fronting on Third Street and Caron Lane and extend it to the side yards. The Planning and Zoning Commission denied the recommendation that the fence be aluminum and have a 10-foot set back. Many residents said they didn’t want the fence or greenery there because it would obstruct people’s vision. Warner attended the meeting and presented the city with photographs indicating similar fencing surrounding her residence. Ellis Anderson, a representative from the Historic Preservation Commission, told the board, after Warner and others had left the meeting. Two weeks ago, they voted down her request. Her choice was to appeal to the city, which Warner did, and the council sent her request to planning and zoning. The council granted the variance with the stipulation that the six-foot fence be constructed out of aluminum made to look like wrought iron, no obstructions in the right of way and a 20-foot set back on the corner and regular setbacks on the front and side, which is 20 feet.
I’ve been to or saw the live stream of at least three Council meetings over the course of the summer where one or more City Councilmen explicitly warned the Mayor to not use the former City Attorney’s services after his contract expired on July 31, 2016 as the Council would not approve it for payment. And of course what does the Mayor do? If you guessed he uses the services of the former City Attorney you’d be a winner!