Financial Failures of 2013 still haunting A Place Apart: The Case for Outsourcing Code and Law Enforcement (Part 1)

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”.

There are about 300 municipalities in Mississippi and the overwhelming majority (90% or so) use the “Weak Mayor” home rule option. Bay St Louis is one of ten municipalities that use Strong Mayor: Here is the skinny from the Stennis Institute at Mississippi State:

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.

With that set up we need to circle back to the previous City Council that was in place in 2013. Not long before the election that Council began to allow the Mayor to spend the remainder of the municipal reserve fund on capital projects such as decorative street lamps for Wards 2 and 3. By the time the party primary elections took place in May 2013 the City was effectively broke despite the Mayor’s very public denials in the media. We know the City was broke because less than a year later the City’s auditors disclosed they were considering issuing a “Going Concern” opinion on the City’s financial statements. But its worse than just being broke. Continue reading “Financial Failures of 2013 still haunting A Place Apart: The Case for Outsourcing Code and Law Enforcement (Part 1)”

Holiday Bliss in A Place Apart?

Christmas falling on a Sunday has been good for the 24×7 news cycle, especially locally. The Rabble-Rousers are out in full force in the Bay ahead of next Tuesday’s workshop on the future direction of the Bay PD. A packed public workshop would be a good thing, especially if those that came out for the workshop at 4:30 stayed for the ensuing City Council meeting which starts at 5:30. Per the last workshop Councilmen Seal and Compretta are on record against consolidating services with the Hancock Sheriff while Councilmen Reed, Falgout, Favre and Boudin have yet to take a public stand on the issue.

Back on the 9th I wrote the following about the meeting with the United States Department of Justice in Jackson between certain City officials and the DoJ folks that are locally responsible for the Equitable Sharing Grant, which the Fillingame Administration co-mingled and misspent:

Speaking of rumors, one is swirling that Mayor Fillingame yesterday blamed the entire fiasco on deceased former Chief of Police Mike Denardo going so far as to claim that Denardo had forged his signature on the annual financial affidavits submitted to DOJ which showed the restricted funds were still in the bank despite the fact they had been comingled and misspent by the Fillingame Administration.

Let’s back up over a week and visit with Cassandra Favre’s comprehensive article on the last City Council meeting ’cause it is all coming out:

Probe at City Hall: Council wants answers in alleged forgery of Fillingame’s signature

Blame the dead man? A Classic and (classless) move as the Fillingame Administration passes straight through the twilight zone into the stuff of a cheap soap opera. Better yet was Cassandra capturing the nuance in the counsel provided to the City Council by City Attorney Trent Favre. To understand why we appreciated it is to understand that Slabbed earned its media card covering the post Katrina insurance litigation including the concept of double dipping coverages. In its most simple form in order for insurance coverage to kick in there had to be a loss and that loss could not necessarily be insured multiple times. Should the DoJ take pity on the City and not demand immediate repayment of the accumulated grant payments in favor of letting the City spend the money the way it should have been spent to begin with, then City Attorney Favre’s point about there being no insurable loss is valid.

There is a catch however and Cassandra picked it up: Continue reading “Holiday Bliss in A Place Apart?”

Mystery Solved & Miscellany: Bay St Louis still has not submitted its 2014 Audit to the Office of State Auditor

As we unraveled this mystery the scene that pops into my mind is Homer Simpson doing his famous DOH after doing something boneheaded.

First up is why is the 2015 audit not online at OSA? The answer is the 2015 audit is in review and that it will not show up until the City gives OSA technical Assistance a copy of its 2014 audit. Further a letter was mailed on February 11, 2016 from the OSA’s Greg Higginbotham which stated:

As of February 5, 2016, this office has not received the Municipality’s Annual Financial Report for the Fiscal Year End 2014. Mississippi Code Section 21-35-31 requires this report to be filed with the State Auditor by September 30 of each year for the preceding calendar year. This statute also provides penalties for Municipalities who fail to file their reports. We ask that you file your report immediately.

We understand that there may be special circumstances causing your filing to be delayed. If this is the case, it is important that you make us aware of these circumstances. Please contact me at 800-321-1275 if the Municipality’s Annual Financial Report will not be forthcoming in the next few days.

If I may be so bold to give Municipal Clerk Gonzales some free advice since the above letter was addressed to the “Municipal Clerk” it would be Continue reading “Mystery Solved & Miscellany: Bay St Louis still has not submitted its 2014 Audit to the Office of State Auditor”

Playing the local media for fools here on the Coast is nothing new part 2 (Updated)

When it comes to Bay St Louis, WLOX seems to get played more than the rest folks. A compare and contrast is in order, first the WLOX story which relies on one source and that source happens to be the person responsible for the Bay St Louis – Department of Justice disaster:

Mayor Les Fillingame tells us the audit could be complete by the end of the year. Fillingame said DOJ officials indicated they want the city to remain in the drug forfeiture program, despite any potential problems.

Those problems could include not spending the drug forfeiture money the correct way or not documenting the expenditures properly.

If that is found to be the case, the city could be asked to pay back up to $300,000. That money would come from the city’s general fund. Fillingame said he hopes that is not the case.

Now let’s highlight Wes Muller’s story on this matter for the Sun Herald. Muller relied on multiple sources for his story and the difference shows:

“It was pretty simple,” Mike Favre said of the meeting. “We’ve got to put the money back. They’re going back and they’ll discuss whether we get to keep the money once we put it back or if they’re going to take it.”

He said there’s a chance the DOJ could take the $320,000 as “some sort of punishment.”

“We’re still being looked at by other agencies,” he said. “I think one of them is the DOJ’s inspector general, and from what I understand, it won’t be good if they come in. You don’t want them there.”

So not only will the City be required to make the DOJ fund whose cash were misspent by the Fillingame Administration whole it may have to repay the entire thing to the DOJ, which means the City will likely also be kicked out of the program. That sounds serious to me. Continue reading “Playing the local media for fools here on the Coast is nothing new part 2 (Updated)”

Secretary of State Hosemann: Bay City Officials Never Notified his Office of Triple Tails Encroachment on State Green Space

In our first post on the topic of the Fillingame Administration playing Santa Claus with state owned land I asked the following question:

Does anyone reckon that Seal, Compretta, McDonald or Hizzoner came clean with Hosemann about the council granting Triple Tails permission to cantilever their building over the green space in direct violation of the lease between the City and the Secretary of State?

I also disclosed that I had contacted the Secretary of State’s Office with some questions on this matter and here one day in advance of another meeting between City Officials and Secretary Hosemann I received an answer to the inquiry, which was:

Did the City ever contact SOS and advise SOS in early 2015 that they were allowing Triple Tails to construct their building over the state owned green space? If so what was the nature of the contact and how was the questions-City requests handled by SOS?

That was an important question because there was lots of paper wasted in the form of Board minutes in 2015 documenting contact between City officials and Secretary Hosemann’s office regarding Triple Tails. The timeline constructed with the help of the Hancock Alliance for Good Government contained in the first post on this topic illustrates: Continue reading “Secretary of State Hosemann: Bay City Officials Never Notified his Office of Triple Tails Encroachment on State Green Space”

Playing the local media for fools is nothing new here on the Coast (Updated)

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.”

First up something is screwy in Ocean Springs:

Aldermen ‘blindsided’ by request to cancel popular Ocean Springs parade ~ Karen Nelson

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.

I mention this because WLOX is reporting that Dunston did not know his subordinate was going to the Board of Aldermen demanding the night parade be cancelled. Continue reading “Playing the local media for fools is nothing new here on the Coast (Updated)”

Old bad habits live on in a Place Apart

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.

12-06-16 Agenda
Click to obtain full 3 page City Council agenda

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”

Houston we have a problem: Bay St Louis City management of public lands held in trust abysmal

This will be a multi part post.

At last Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the issue of the City leasing air space over the state owned green space came to a head and such was the major reason that Slabbed was interested in that meeting. To set things up, at the council meeting of November 8, 2016, Mayor Fillingame told the Council there was no written lease for the use of air space over the state owned Green Space at the Harbor used by Triple Tails and when that was relayed to Slabbed, we immediately spotted major potential problems. At this point we need to give a major hat tip to Lana Noonan and the Hancock County Alliance for Good Government who did some major legwork for Slabbed New Media in advance of last Tuesday’s meeting.

First up is the construction of the Bay Harbor courtesy of the U.S. taxpayers, the taking of private land for the Harbor and construction of the new Seawall under the auspices of the US Army Corp of Engineers. After the construction of the Seawall was completed property lines were redrawn and a strip of Green Space between the private property and the seawall was created. It is the City’s inability to manage this small strip of land that is the topic of this post as we explore how one private business, Triple Tails, was able to build and cantilever part of their building over the property line into the air space above the state owned green space. Mayor Fillingame and his administration’s inability to manage this green space in accordance with the lease has now caused major problems that are not easily fixed.

A timeline of events is in order: Continue reading “Houston we have a problem: Bay St Louis City management of public lands held in trust abysmal”

Bay St Louis City Council meeting recap: Mayor Fillingame tries keeping the Denardo Payroll Fraud under wraps

Bad boys bad boys, whatcha you gonna do whatcha you gonna do when they come for you….

According to both news reports Les doesn’t want to protect the tax payers financial interest by placing the Bond Holders on notice. Obviously he isn’t worried about fulfilling the contractual agreement to report a claim or the possibility of a claim. Personally I feel he is culpable with the Police Chiefs going rogue.

Of all the things he is accused of being a good steward of the tax payers interest isn’t one of them.

Les n Lil Daddy Said have some hard decisions to make in the coming weeks.

Indeed they will. In the case of the Denardo payroll fraud, the questions are pretty easily answered but the little Dutch Boy Hizzoner begs to differ:

Bay police chief’s widow implicated in payroll-fraud investigation ~ Wes Muller

However, the mayor believes the council is acting “prematurely” by filing notices with the bonding companies and said he will likely veto its decision.

“We don’t have anything to say if she’s guilty or not guilty,” Fillingame said. “We’ve got nothing to base that on yet except for suspicion.”

Better than a suspicion in a typical payroll fraud case there is actually a money trail as well as a documentary evidence trail in the form of time sheets and other documents used to prepare the fraudulent paychecks. In the case of Ms Denardo, everyone at City Hall knew she no longer worked there given the social media surrounding her leaving the City to work at FEMA and her going away party. Continue reading “Bay St Louis City Council meeting recap: Mayor Fillingame tries keeping the Denardo Payroll Fraud under wraps”

Bay St Louis City Council meeting recap: City Clerk Gonzales tries her hand at hoodwinking the City Council

Of the last four City Clerks only one had the kind of professionalism and personal integrity to follow financial portions of the Mississippi Code while the other three sold their professional reputations for a paycheck. Unfortunately Clerk Gonzales falls in with the majority in my opinion and it was a rather simple, somewhat innocuous looking agenda item in 3(g) that attracted my attention before last Tuesday’s meeting:

Source: Bay St Louis City Council
Source: Bay St Louis City Council

The reason the proposal to set up an Unemployment Compensation Revolving Fund within the Municipal Reserve Bank Account attracted my attention is the obvious co-mingling of dedicated funds, a major no no the council should have learned by now.

That said there were at least three City Councilmen, lead by Councilman Doug Seal, that evidently retained none of the training given them by the Office of the State Auditor’s Performance Audit division in favor of railing about there being too many bank accounts (itself a confusion between the terms “fund” and “bank account”). That said, after a member of the audience repeatedly mentioned to City Attorney Trent Favre the money needed to be separated into its own fund, were questions asked by Councilman Boudin. The council ended up telling Gonzales keep the funds separate. Continue reading “Bay St Louis City Council meeting recap: City Clerk Gonzales tries her hand at hoodwinking the City Council”