Slabbed has been keeping one eye peeled on the machinations in Pascagoula, where property taxes are set to increase a whopping 34%, to make up for the financial mismanagement of the current administrations ($9 million of the $14 million dollar total deficit in 1 year) and the prior administration ($6 million of the $14 million dollar deficit over 4 years).
For those catching up, current Mayor Maxwell dropped the budgetary bombshell in late July and blamed a bookkeeper and the former Mayor for the $14 million dollar deficit. Slabbed was the first media outlet to call BS and for good reason as the math didn’t add up the way Mayor Maxwell claimed. Soon the forensic audit report was made public and the more traditional media outlets caught on quickly. Here is the evolution of Tyler Carter’s coverage for the Mississippi Press:
It would help if Mayor Dane would whip the other City Council persons in line so they could keep a consistent story:
This comes after Mayor Maxwell revealed last week the city is facing a $14 million budget deficit, and that the city and state are reviewing spending from 2012-2017. The city has already turned over financial records to the State Auditor.
“The misconception out there in the social media world is that we should have known this coming in,” the mayor said.
Maxwell took office in July. The budget had to be adopted by October. He said the city passed a budget based on the current numbers.
It was a common practice in years past to move money from the utility fund into the general fund to balance the budget, Councilman Scott Tipton said Wednesday.
The only reason it wasn’t done in the last two years is that, “there was no money left in there to do it,” Tipton said.
So who are we to believe, Mayor Dane who claims not to have a clue but who had the September 30, 2016 audit which showed the general fund was broke waiting for him when he assumed office in July, 2017. Mayor Dane actually submitted the audit which showed the general fund was broke to the Office of the State Auditor in October, 2017. Or should we believe the City Councilman that just admitted raiding the Utility fund for years until it ran out of money. The financial mismanagement here crosses into the realm of malfeasance IMHO folks because Mayor Dane and Councilman Tipton were clearly mining money from the lemonade spring area of Big Rock Candy mountain. Continue reading “Bless Their Poor Hearts, Which Suddenly Now Thirst for Knowledge”
You betcha they did as this also implicates a couple of former City Clerks. As Wes points out in the story none of this is exactly new information having been pointed out in the 2014 Fiscal year audit and the State Auditor’s Office Performance Review of same. Hizzoner of course is having none of it and pretty much says the seasoned professionals at both Wright Ward Hatten & Guel and the performance audit division of the State Auditor’s Office are full of it.
Nevertheless, the mayor said the fact the auditor’s office disputed itself on one issue puts everything else into question.
When asked why the investigation is expanding if he has proof no checks were improperly issued, the mayor said it’s possible the sheriff and his investigators favor his opponent.
The State Auditor changing the draft of their Performance review is hardly contradictory and such is why a draft is a called draft. Getting it right before a final report is issued is usually known as professionalism in locales other than A Place Apart, a concept that has been missing from the financial side of City Hall for many years. In any event this is what the State Auditor had to say about problems in the claims payable process since Hizzoner brought it up: Continue reading “Hizzoner under Investigation: The Misdemeanors that simply won’t go away”
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!”
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”.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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:
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”