Hizzoner under Investigation: The Misdemeanors that simply won’t go away

And last night Wes Muller dropped the latest from Sheriff Ricky Adam:

Did more than 700 improper checks come from Bay St. Louis City Hall?

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”

Hizzoner appears on WLOX This Week, waxes nonsensical

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…..

But you folks didn’t come here today to see a poor quality version of yesterday’s Hizzoner’s WLOX Interview or to see me rag on Dave no siree. You folks came here today because Slabbed always seems to nab some sort of super-secret City document, such as the notes from last month’s meeting with the Department of Justice which we did indeed procure for your reading enjoyment. As a bonus, Chief Freeman can catch up on the goings on in the City. Click the pic below to obtain the three page PDF: Continue reading “Hizzoner appears on WLOX This Week, waxes nonsensical”

Probable Cause…….

Low hanging fruit courtesy of Hizzoner without self control:

Bay Council member alleges misuse of funds ~ Stacey Cato

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!”

Bay employee never worked at police station but still got paid ~ Wes Muller

Councilman Joey Boudin said it’s illegal for the city to pay an employee outside the confines of the city’s budget.

“Just because he’s breaking the law doesn’t mean we have to,” Boudin said. “If he needed to change it, he should have brought it to our attention immediately.”

Hows about a comment bump from Duped this afternoon at 2:10PM: Continue reading “Probable Cause…….”

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)”

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”

Saturday Special: It’s Still Screwy in Bay St Louie….

As a young auditor I learned very quickly that one thing governing boards dislike more than anything else is “Emergency” special called meetings. Along those lines we get a flavor from Cassandra Favre’s article on yesterday’s Bay Council emergency meeting that the Council was not very happy and for good reason. To set things up Cruising the Coast is in full swing with the Old Town section of the City jam packed with classic cars and people. If there is such a thing as a good time to call a City Council meeting, the Thursday – Saturday stretch of Cruising the Coast would be off limits yet that is exactly what the Mayor asked the Council to do, three days after a regular meeting, so the City could make its next payroll. The meeting was not streamed by Jerry Beaugez of Mayor Fillingame’s Administration as neither attended the meeting which the Mayor asked to be called. The lack of a live stream and the conspicuous absences appears to be an exercise in trying to hide the fact the City does not have enough of a general fund balance to make its first payroll of the fiscal year. Here is a snippet:

“You’re – in essence – healthy,” Bobby Culumber, of Gulfport-based CPA firm Culumber, Harvey & Associates, told council members at a workshop meeting on Thursday.

Oops, sorry folks, wrong meeting workshop. Here is a snippet from Cassandra’s story: Continue reading “Saturday Special: It’s Still Screwy in Bay St Louie….”

Microcosm of Dysfunction: Last night’s Bay City Council meeting had a little something for everyone….

First off I did not take a poll but WLOX (Hugh Keeton if I’m not mistaken), The Sun Herald and the Sea Coast Echo were all in attendance or watching one of the various the live streams. It was a marathon meeting and I’ll start with the later portion of the meeting before I left around 8pm, two and a half hours in and the August bill from the former City Attorney:

Bay council rejects $10,000 bill from ousted city attorney ~ Wes Muller

Anyone that has witnessed the early performances of the new City Attorney understands exactly why the City Council made the change. As an added bonus, the Citizens are finally getting value for their money in legal.

Next are the Third Street fence Nazis and that dysfunction in City government mentioned in the post title. First up we must backtrack to the September 6, 2016 Council meeting and I have this via Cassandra Favre at the Sea Coast Echo:

Several residents spoke out against Anita Warner’s application for a variance to the zoning ordinance in order to construct a six-foot aluminum fence on her front yard property line fronting on Third Street and Caron Lane and extend it to the side yards. The Planning and Zoning Commission denied the recommendation that the fence be aluminum and have a 10-foot set back. Many residents said they didn’t want the fence or greenery there because it would obstruct people’s vision. Warner attended the meeting and presented the city with photographs indicating similar fencing surrounding her residence. Ellis Anderson, a representative from the Historic Preservation Commission, told the board, after Warner and others had left the meeting. Two weeks ago, they voted down her request. Her choice was to appeal to the city, which Warner did, and the council sent her request to planning and zoning. The council granted the variance with the stipulation that the six-foot fence be constructed out of aluminum made to look like wrought iron, no obstructions in the right of way and a 20-foot set back on the corner and regular setbacks on the front and side, which is 20 feet.

Bay St Louis Historical Preservation Member Ellis Anderson addressing the City Council on September 6, 2016. Photo via the City of Bay St Louis Facebook page.
Bay St Louis Historical Preservation Member Ellis Anderson addressing the City Council on September 6, 2016. Photo via the City of Bay St Louis Facebook page.

The above is factually correct but it does not paint a very rich picture of the events. The meeting of September 6, 2016 was a marathon meeting, with the zoning variance being near the top of the meeting. Ellis Anderson made her entrance into the Council chambers and spoke to the council at 10:30 at the end of the meeting with the exchange between the Council and Anderson turning a bit testy. The City live stream of Anderson’s remarks is partially contained in the last three minutes of the meeting video but it cuts off right at the point when the exchange got a bit testy. Cassandra nailed the crux of the historical commission argument above and I’ll quote it again: Continue reading “Microcosm of Dysfunction: Last night’s Bay City Council meeting had a little something for everyone….”