Other Voices | Libby Garcia: OSA Performance Audit Division educating Bay St Louis City Officials – A grim reality

January 22, 2016

On Thursday night January 21, 2016, Mrs. Sam Atkinson held a 2 hour training session with the Bay St. Louis Administration (Mayor), City Council and a handful of Bay St. Louis city employees. It was so artfully done, that there were very few questions that had to be asked of Mrs. Atkinson by the officials. The public was allowed to attend the meeting as observers only, and no comments were allowed from the observers, in an effort to maintain the training atmosphere rather than distractive rhetoric which was a good idea. You could tell that Mrs Atkinson was well versed in her field and that we all; employees, elected officials and citizens alike, could learn a lot from her expertise. I later reviewed my own notes and then listened to the tape of the session again. There were three things that seemed to primarily target the City Council:

1. The proper development of the council meeting agendas,
2. The documentation of council actions through accurate minutes, and
3. The approval of the payment of the city’s bills (Docket of Claims) through an orderly procedural chain.

Mrs. Atkinson stated firmly that there was great liability facing the Council Members if their procedures in paying the bills did not follow clear policies and procedures of verification. Verification that the bills were paid in the order they were received, that the bills were separated by docket numbers, properly dated, and subsequently logged into a docket book. She also stated that it was illegal for the Administration to hinder the Council from receiving requested information or the originals of those invoices, because it could make them vulnerable to liability. Then she said something astounding: Misspending of the public’s funds could require replacement of those funds to the public by use of the bonds of the officials that did not do their part to protect those public trust funds…. and (here is the key):

LOSS OF BOND EQUALS LOSS OF OFFICE.

Mrs Atkinson also stated several things that were actually against the law, or you could say “illegal”:

1. The Administration not presenting documentation to the Council when requested.
2. Transfer of funds without the approval of the Council.
3. Spending funds outside the budget
4. Co-mingling of designated funds and several others things that space does not allow me expand upon in this post.

I have attended the Council meetings consistently for at least six years, and have heard the Council repeatedly ask, demand, beg, and downright grovel (in my opinion) before this administration for dated original invoices in time before the meetings so that they could be sure what they were actually paying on the docket, only to be put off meeting after meeting. It has been an embarrassing display of disrespect to the Council by the Administration. All of these problems could have been avoided, had the Administration simply complied with the law. Continue reading “Other Voices | Libby Garcia: OSA Performance Audit Division educating Bay St Louis City Officials – A grim reality”

BREAKING: Word filtering out the Department of Justice report on the City of Bay St Louis has been released (Updated)

In fact, based on what I am being told, it appears the final report on the Equitable Sharing Grant has been released for several days but this situation is fluid as I write this. According to unofficial sources:

1. The DoJ Report has been released.
2. It mandates the City repay all misspent money to the grant program or be debarred from participating in the Equitable Sharing Program.
3. The tab for this is being stuck on the taxpayers of Bay St Louis instead of the perpetrators.

There is more that I will not go into here folks.  If number 3 above is accurate, there is going to be hell to pay because there are some very fired up members of the community already speaking about hiring counsel to sue to the City.

Stay tuned.

Update:
Since this post was published it has come to my attention official denials have been made regarding the release of the DOJ report and the repayment demand. We are working to clarify this situation.

Update:

Slabbed New Media stands behind its initial reporting.

Major announcement expected at tonight’s Bay City Council meeting

There is a lot of background chatter on this topic folks but I will not report the rumor because, if true, will be bad enough for certain parties without advance speculation on my part. I’ll do my best to attend this evening and broadcast the meeting on Periscope. Stay tuned.

Tonight’s recessed Bay St Louis City Council meeting should be a good one

But first I have two things related to Tuesday’s meeting, which was a barn burner all on its own:

Bay St. Louis council, mayor exchange threats in Tuesday meeting ~ Wes Muller

Falgout moved to have City Attorney Donald Rafferty file a writ of mandamus to force the administration to comply with the council’s invoice ordinance. A writ of mandamus is an order from a court that a government official fulfill his or her duties.

Rafferty responded the city attorney may not take the side of the mayor or the council.

Laughter erupted among those in attendance.

And I uploaded a 2 hour clip of the meeting from Slabbed’s Periscope coverage of the meeting. (The sound is uneven but that is the nature of the beast)

10-22-15 Agenda - Recessed meeting

Stay tuned.

Bay St Louis Mayor Les Fillingame vetoes City Council 7-0 vote calling for Department of Justice Investigation

Slabbed New Media has confirmed that Bay St Louis Mayor Les Fillingame has vetoed two recent City Council Actions including a Council resolution seeking a Department of Justice Investigation into the mishandling of several hundreds thousand dollars in Drug Forfeiture funds by the Fillingame Administration. This City Council resolution was passed 7-0 at the August 18, 2015 City Council meeting. Mayor Fillingame also vetoed giving the Clerk of the City Council online viewing access to the City’s main bank account, which passed at a recess meeting of the City Council on September 25, 2015. That City Council action resulted from the culmination of months of wrangling between Mayor Fillingame and the City Council over the Council’s inability to access basic financial records including cash balance information before being asked to vote on matters involving City finances.

The veto represents the latest sparring between the Mayor and City Council that most recently flared up when the City’s audit firm presented the Council with a draft of the 2013-2014 Fiscal Year audit report in August, which by law was due to the Single Audit Clearinghouse on June 30, 2015 and the Office of the Mississippi State Auditor by September 30, 2015. According to sources familiar with the operations of the City, Mayor Fillingame has thus far failed to deliver the City’s Corrective Action plan to the numerous significant deficiencies identified by the audit firm for inclusion in the report. One of the significant deficiencies noted by the audit firm included the City running naked for Workers Comp insurance for 60 days just months after Mayor Fillingame was re-elected in 2013 due to nonpayment of the policy premium. Fillingame had previously steadfastly denied the City was experiencing any financial problems during the campaign.

This continues a pattern of Mayor Fillingame attempting to stonewall bad audit reports as the Municipal FY 2012-2013 audit opinion was disclaimed by the City’s audit firm after Mayor Fillingame failed to deliver a plan to deal with the City’s financial crisis, which has been an ongoing topic for discussion in the City since 2011 despite Fillingame’s repeated denials of same.  In June 2014 Mayor Fillingame finally admitted to the City Council that the City was on the verge of defaulting on an existing water and sewer bond issue due to a lack of funds. This bond issue was then refinanced at a cost to the taxpayers of over $150,000, which averted the default and resulted in a $13/month surcharge being applied across the board to every municipal water customer.

More recently Mayor Fillingame has diverted the $13/month surcharge that was added to utility bills to the City’s operating bank account, despite being dedicated by both loan agreement and council resolution to the payment of the refinanced Water and Sewer bonds. City financial records show only infrequent transfers from the operating bank account to the dedicated debt service fund despite a covenant in the bond debenture requiring the monthly deposit of these funds to the debt service bank account. This debt service funding is currently comingled with Utility, General and Harbor fund cash. Rumors have repeatedly surfaced that accuse Mayor Fillingame of mishandling these dedicated funding sources in an attempt to cover-up the accumulated deficit in the General Fund caused by repeated spending of tax money on non-budgeted items like free Trolley bus service for Ward 2 at a cost of over $70,000 for 6 months of service. Earlier in 2015 it was revealed Mayor Fillingame was providing City a owned dumpster for use by two restaurants in Old Town Bay St Louis. Continue reading “Bay St Louis Mayor Les Fillingame vetoes City Council 7-0 vote calling for Department of Justice Investigation”

Methinks the cycle has turned to spin….

So here I find myself this Saturday working on the day jobs including trying to arrange the massive amount of information I still have to present on the new Jackson County Adult Warehouse Detention Center when off in the distance I heard a sound (ooops wrong sound this one), which is the sound of the local spin cycle starting.

Rest assured I am paying very close attention to this matter. Even better coming soon Slabbed will do something we’ve never done and that is present an actual audit workpaper because the proof lies in the contemporary documentary evidence, not after the fact spin or self-serving backfill.

The Fillingame Administration has made a major mess. The exercise of finding out who is taking ownership of it is quite enlightening.

Bay City Council votes 7-0 to request DOJ OIG Investigation of City Drug Asset Forfeiture Funds

The City of Bay St Louis has been out of the news cycle here at Slabbed for a few months now but here in the dog days of August last night’s meet produced big news on a couple of fronts the main one being this morning’s City Council meeting headline. There has been chatter about the Drug Asset Forfeiture Funds since the last meeting and it was clear from Chief Denardo’s remarks last night regarding the Bay Police Department’s inability to access the funding source to make undercover drug buys there was a problem in finance. The council request asks for a review of the forfeiture accounts from 2008 forward.

Additionally Slabbed has learned this morning from a source with knowledge of City Hall operations requesting anonymity that Mississippi State Auditor’s office investigators have visited City Hall this morning requesting a meeting with Mayor Fillingame, Chief Denardo and City Clerk Smith regarding problems in the Forfeiture Funds. State Auditor’s Office Investigator Susan Syerson was in attendance at last night’s meeting.

Additionally Councilman Lonnie Falgout questioned the amount of cash currently shown on the City’s financial statements for the 2014 Refunding Bond Debt Service Fund indicating his calculations show a shortage of close to $100,000 in the fund. Mayor Fillingame promised to present a reconciliation of the cash in that fund at the next scheduled council meeting.

Finally, what started out as a dust up over how much Bond Vig would be due City Attorney Donald Rafferty turned into a bidding war between Butler Snow and Jones Walker with Continue reading “Bay City Council votes 7-0 to request DOJ OIG Investigation of City Drug Asset Forfeiture Funds”

Special Meeting of the Bay St Louis City Council Called for Tuesday Evening

Slabbed New Media has learned that by call of the City Council, a special meeting will be held in the Council Chambers at approximately 6:30pm Tuesday April 28, 2015, following the Bay Planning and Zoning Board meeting.

The Council has requested the City Clerk be in attendance as the meeting will focus on City finances and the upcoming bonded debt payment.

The public is encouraged to attend.

Transparency again an issue here in Mayberry by the Sea

How does a City Councilperson properly discharge the duties of their office when they can’t get access to basic financial information?

Bay St. Louis City Council spars with clerk over financial records ~ Wes Muller

And as per usual when inquiries are made by the council of the administration they are met with sneers and snark:

Kolf sent out an email Sunday with a single sentence that inflamed tensions even more:

“I’ll get everyone a key to City Hall on Monday,” he wrote.

Whether his statement was meant to be serious, sarcastic or a simple joke is unclear. Kolf could not be reached for comment at his office.

Its ironic folks because this was covered over on Al.com just last week:

Feud over finances: 5 Fairfield City Council members sue the mayor ~ Kent Faulk

It’s nice to see Councilman Reed show Continue reading “Transparency again an issue here in Mayberry by the Sea”