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”

Meltdown on Main: Bay City Council unable to pass FY 2016 Budget due to lack of information

And from that headline one could easily conclude last night’s meeting was a complete waste of time since the City Council had to schedule a special meeting for later this week after Mayor Fillingame was unable to answer their financial questions regarding the upcoming budget but it wasn’t for a variety of reasons.

Mayor Fillingame did announce that long time City Comptroller turned City Clerk Katherine Smith is retiring on September 30 along with his selection of Casey Favre to fill the remainder of Mike Benvenutti’s term on the Bay Waveland School Board.

I could end this post here and delete the first three words of the headline and call it a public interest journalism day easily completed so I can devote time to the major investigative project Slabbed is doing on the construction of the Jackson County jail where the stakes are so much higher as personal liberty is at issue rather than the simple squandering of tax money by a small town mayor that is in over his head.  I’m not though because last night’s meeting was not the one the public was supposed to see, at least according to the agenda of the meeting emailed to the public by Council Clerk Tilley on Friday.  This public record shows up on a variety of locally focused websites besides Slabbed so I might as well join the gang and display an agenda here on Slabbed so everyone can get a flavor of what I’m talking about:

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

I observed a long time ago on these pages that the City Council could do a better job running it’s meetings by curtailing the very generous public comment periods where a Citizen could get up to the mike, state their name for the record and opine (within reason) to their hearts content on issues facing the City. It made the meetings longer, unnecessarily so in some cases. I also noticed a few months back that a new policy was adopted with respect to the first public comment period that it be limited to agenda topics and the above agenda reflects that fact.

A second public comment portion at the end of the meeting was still maintained where the topic of public comments are not limited. Those people that give enough advance notice can be placed at the top of the agenda like Mssrs. Caplinger and Wells were last for yesterday’s meeting.  The policy is still very reasonable and friendlier to the public than many local governments in Mississippi which generally have one comment period that requires advance registration with the board clerk.  I like the fact the Bay St Louis City Council has such a generous policy, that was adopted when Ward 4 Councilman Compretta assumed the role of Council President a few months ago. Continue reading “Meltdown on Main: Bay City Council unable to pass FY 2016 Budget due to lack of information”

Bay St Louis Mayor defends administration against 2014 audit results, claims recurring problems are not rooted in dishonesty

And if you narrowly define the term “dishonesty” to cover criminal activity such as the conversion of municipal assets, embezzlement of funds and the like I completely agree with Mayor Fillingame because Slabbed has found no evidence of such wrongdoing and believe me when I say if I thought there was some hankey-pankey going on Slabbed would be on it.

That said there are two active investigations underway at City Hall including one by the gang at the United States Department of Justice.  When asked by Councilman Favre last night about the active investigations involving misspending of Drug Forfeiture funds City Attorney Donald Rafferty indicated that he thought the Administration would be vindicated and that brings me to another word in “misspending” “misspend” “misspent”, terms I have used to describe the problems in the City’s financial management. The Mayor made it clear in his remarks he thought the term was too strong. I took the liberty of looking it up for everyone during last night’s meeting posting same to Slabbed’s twitter timeline:

Meantime Wes Muller over at the Sun Herald wrote a pretty good account of last night’s meeting correctly framing the root problem of audit recommendations contained in bad audit report after bad report being roundly ignored by the Administration.

Bay St. Louis audit report has troubling findings, much like the last one ~ Wes Muller

Finally being as this is Bay St Louis we had to have an Alice in Wonderland type moment and that came when Councilman Seal directed local Alliance for Good Government President Lana Noonan to take down some numbers derived from the FY 2000 and FY 2014 audit reports pointing out that both the City’s General Fund Revenues and Water and Sewer Fund revenues were down compared to FY 2000.  It was a great point, made in anticipation of another tax increase for this year by the Councilman but I wondered if he understood the implications of what he pointed out. Continue reading “Bay St Louis Mayor defends administration against 2014 audit results, claims recurring problems are not rooted in dishonesty”