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”
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”