In another matter, last year, the Bay St. Louis City Council questioned the validity of the city’s building official, Charles Oliver’s employment. Although Oliver has been employed by the city for years, since he was never actually certified by the state, council members consider him the city’s “interim” building official.The council referenced Senate Bill 2587.
Councilman Lonnie Falgout said at a July 2016 council meeting that any compensation paid to Oliver after July 1, 2016 was a “direct violation of the law.”
At a July 2016 council meeting, Fillingame said an AG opinion said that the new law did not relate to municipal employees.
Fillingame said Friday that Oliver is the “building official, not an interim and not in an appointed position. He is a city employee.”
And like I said at the beginning of the post, the problem with making it up as you go along is the budgets submitted by the Mayor which have been adopted clearly shows the real story with respect to Oliver:
If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything. ~ Mark Twain
For former Bay St Louis School Board member Maurice Singleton the news is just as bad. For the incestuous School District, some fresh blood on the Board of Trustees would be a good thing in any event.
And why are we calling HB 51 Leslie’s law? Mainly because it cleaned up a questionable AG’s opinion that involved the City of Bay St Louis and its unqualified perpetually interim crony Chief Building Inspector Charles Oliver. Kingfish at Jackson Jambalaya has been all over this issue for two years now and his post yesterday on the topic is a must read for everyone in the Bay. The citizens in “Strong Mayor” Chartered towns throughout Mississippi owe Senator Harkins an Atta Boy for seeing this good government measure through the legislature to the Governor’s desk. Here is a snippet from Kingfish’s post:
The first challenge to this law took place in Bay St. Louis, where good ole boy politics reigns supreme. The Mayor fired the building inspector seven years ago and appointed a close friend who was not qualified to the job on an interim basis. He has never been confirmed by the city council and is not a certified building inspector. Such things mean nothing to Mayor Fillingame. Interim means eternal as far as he is concerned. The city council challenged his employment after the law became effective on July 1, 2016. However, Mayor Fillingame and city attorney Donald Rafferty went running to Jim Hood for some cover and he gave it to them. Earlier post with copy of opinion.
I’d posit this is also very bad news for Mayor Fillingame’s latest scheme involving the Bay Waveland School Board as he has failed to make an appointment to fill Maurice Singleton’s seat on the Board of Trustees. Singleton’s term expired in February and Fillingame has steadfastly refused to make a school board appointment to fill the seat, instead arguing that Singleton, who appears to be cooperative in the Mayor’s scheme, is now a 180 day interim appointment. With the State Auditor’s office now empowered to enforce financial penalties associated with this kind of abuse, it will be interesting to see if Singleton continues his role as the Mayor’s lap dog. Stay tuned.
Bay St. Louis attorney Stephen Benvenutti told the council the city’s comprehensive zoning ordinance was never published, as required by law, when it was adopted by the previous City Council in 2010.
Municipalities are legally required to publish zoning change proposals and other significant measures in the municipality’s local newspaper within 30 days of a council’s vote. The newspaper of record for municipalities in Hancock County is the Sea Coast Echo.
The display of ineptitude inherent to not following simple, statutorily mandated tasks such as keeping a codified book of municipal ordinances and publishing them after Council adoption by Mayor Fillingame and his appointees is stunning, though not surprising. The fact is this problem was identified in 2015 by the FY 2014 auditors at Wright Ward Hatten and Guel. Here is what the state auditor wrote in their Performance Review of that audit:
“You’re – in essence – healthy,” Bobby Culumber, of Gulfport-based CPA firm Culumber, Harvey & Associates, told council members at a workshop meeting on Thursday.
Ooops sorry folks wrong auditor. Here is what the State Auditor Performance Review said about Fillingame Administration problems handling ordinances:
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”
Off books secret bank accounts in Mississippi local government is more common than one would think. Once uncovered nothing good ever happens for those involved, even if the secret account was created with the best of intentions. This is what Hizzoner told Wes for the above article:
Mayor Les Fillingame would not comment on the investigation but confirmed the officers’ resignations and terminations.
“None of these officers were targets into the investigation of former Police Chief Mike De Nardo, he said. “They all left for various reasons. I really cannot get into specifics because they are all personnel issues, but I can say that two of them left to take jobs at other departments.”
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?
I almost spit my coffee when Hizzoner explained the Equitable Sharing Funds fiasco:
For the record Dave, I think the folks in Diamondhead are very happy being a “fake” city as the citizens there can sleep at night knowing dedicated public safety funds are spent on public safety instead of decorative street lamps, salaries for the Mayor’s daughter or a Trolley that no one used. As an added bonus the Fake City of Diamondhead’s public works department has a smart pig for its workers to use while the “real” city in the Bay neither has much in the way of a staffed public works department or a smart pig. Just saying…..
In one instance which councilmen say bolster their allegations, records obtained by the Seacoast Echo show a supporting clerical administrative position within the city of Bay St. Louis has recently been eliminated from the city’s current annual budget.
According to city records, the administrative position was once within the city’s fire station but was removed from the fire department’s payroll at budget time and added to the police department. It has since been eliminated in its entirety by city council members, in a 5-0 vote, from both department’s budgets, but the unnamed employee still apparently works for the city.
“It’s one story after another,” Ward 5 Councilman Joey Boudin said. “It just keeps changing. We just can’t keep dealing with it!”