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Ed. Note: The following is a comprehensive analysis by an expert in Mississippi white-collar crime on why the State and Coast repeatedly comes up short in economic development and ranks high in government corruption.

Mississippi’s Open Wound

Archaic Government Must End for Coast and State to be Successful in Economic Development- Analysis and Opinion

By Royce Hignight

Foreword

             Mississippi has finally made number one. The SUN HERALD headlines in a January 17, 2004, article screamed, “Survey: Mississippi leads in Corruption.” Even more embarrassing, according to the article, Mississippi even out did Louisiana, a state that is legendary for corruption. The article stated, “More Mississippi public officials have been convicted on federal corruption charges per capita over the past decade than in any other state, according to the Washington based newsletter Corporate Crime Reporter.”

            If anyone is shocked by the federal convictions for the last decade, their minds would be blown away by recalling the federal convictions in the prior decade and years when some of the most powerful office holders in the state were convicted, including Senators, Highway Commissioners, the Executive Director of the Highway Department, Public Service Commissioners, Sheriffs, District Attorneys, scores of Supervisors, even a Chief Federal District Judge, etc. 

            The question that needs to be answered is “Why” corruption and its evil cousins, favoritism and cronyism, are so pervasive in Mississippi.  This article will explain the “why”; the effect on quality of life and economic development; and what must be done to cure the insidious problem once and for all by eliminating opportunities to engage in favoritism, cronyism, and corruption. Those who benefit from such a system often reinvest some of their gains into the political system in a myriad of ways, such as campaign contributions, good will, and even outright kickbacks.

            Before the problem can be fixed, the public, office holders, the media, and perhaps other institutions must understand the problem begins with the expenditure of public funds and the lax oversight and accountability of those expenditures. The problem will end only with effective oversight and accountability of public funds and a full return is realized on expended pubic funds.  Good government leads to economic development, while other efforts to promote economic development are questionable, largely ineffective, even counterproductive. 

Controversial use of Public Funds to Create Jobs by  Subsidizing Private Industries  and to  Construct Convention Centers or Other Facilities in the Name of Economic Development

            Questions are being raised from coast to coast over the high cost and low return in the use of public funds to subsidize private industry for the purpose of creating jobs.  For example, a news article that appeared in the SUN HERALD July 22, 2003, by Neal Peirce, a nationally known author and lecturer on community development issues, reflected that  the Boeing Company had asked for bids from various communities around the country to land a proposed assembly plant.  The highest bidder was the State of Washington.  Washington’s bid to get approximately 1000 jobs was $3.2 billion in subsidies.  That is a cost to the taxpayers of $160,000 per year per job for jobs with average salaries of $65,000 per year.

            It is easy to understand why such cost of economic development would be questioned.  Yet, politicians, lobbyists, consultants, and businesses which benefit from subsidies run over each other to get such deals.  Politicians benefit from the chance to announce the creation of jobs, while businesses, their consultants and lobbyists who make the “deal” go are rewarded financially.        

            A SUN HERALD news article dated December 9, 2003, revealed that the city of Pittsburg, PA, “had so many construction projects under way that it looked as if a flock of giant whooping cranes had come to roost.”  The construction included new sports stadiums and a new convention center.  However, the article pointed out that the city was nearly broke, near bankruptcy, and was asking for a bailout.  The mayor’s critics said he had pushed development too hard. 

Government economic development policies don’t work. 

            The state of North Carolina has developed one of the most aggressive programs in the United States for attracting and retaining industry according to an article dated February 18, 2002, by Dr. Roy Cordato, Vice President for Research and Resident Scholar of the John Locke Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute dedicated to improving public policy debate in North Carolina.

            In his article, which appeared in the SPOTLIGHT, a publication of the Locke Foundation, Dr. Roy E. Cordato, stated, “when it comes to assessing the efficacy of state development policies, such as tax incentives and subsidies to attract new businesses or aid faltering ones, economists speak with one voice.  Government economic development policies don’t work.  This has been the conclusion of nearly all studies of the issue.  As recognized by the Council of State Governments, a comprehensive review of past studies reveals no statistical evidence that business incentives actually create jobs…They are not the primary or sole influence on business location-decision making and…they do not have a primary effect on state employment growth.”  

            Dr. Cordato’s article referred to a survey of internationally owned companies in North Carolina in which the companies were asked to rank factors that attracted them to the state or would keep them from relocating.  Ranked highest were the following factors: labor force availability; quality transportation; quality of life factors, such as K-12 education and recreational and cultural activities; and, business climate, which included tax burdens, the level of regulation, and the attitude of local government officials toward business in general.  The companies typically ranked economic development policies as the least important.

            Another article which appeared in the SPOTLIGHT dated December 8, 2003, by John Hood, President, titled, “THE BEST INCENTIVES, subtitled, “Targeted policies fail while tax rates, services matter.” He said, “recent studies have found that state or local investments in public services boost economic growth …the services most often found to foster better economic outcomes are police and fire protection.”

             According to articles by Don Carrington dated August 8, 2003, and August 18, 2003, which appeared in the CAROLINA JOURNAL ONLINE, the economic development legislation known as the Lee Act passed by North Carolina in 1996, which authorized subsidies and other benefits to private industries to create jobs, required a biennial assessment [accountability] to determine the effectiveness of the subsidies authorized pursuant to the Lee Act.

            The August 8, 2003, article revealed that a study done by Michael I. Luger, Director of the Office of Economic Development for the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise UNC-Chapel Hill, pursuant to the legislative mandate revealed that 96% of the employment associated with the tax credit program would have occurred without it.

The “Good Jobs First” findings revealed, “a troubling picture of financial mismanagement, lack of oversight, and inability to demonstrate effectiveness [lack of accountability].

            A second study referred to in the August 18, 2003, article revealed that 95% of the time targeted tax credits are not a “deciding factor” for companies when they make investments or hire workers.  Representative Paul Luebke, D-Durham, was quoted as saying “We are simply wasting taxpayer dollars” with the subsidies.

            An organization known as “Good Jobs First”(GJF), which provides information to the public, the media, public officials and economic development professionals on best practices in state and local job subsidies, reviewed 122 state performance audits of economic development since 1990. The “Good Jobs First” findings revealed, “a troubling picture of financial mismanagement, lack of oversight, and inability to demonstrate effectiveness [lack of accountability].This picture dramatically illustrates the need for greater public disclosure of economic development activities, more rigorous internal evaluation by development agencies, and much more frequent external evaluation by state governments”[accountability].

            The “Good Jobs First” (GJF) review went on to say, “Without these changes state-sponsored economic development will continue to be a national scandal.” If there are any economic development programs anywhere that the above should apply to, based on news articles and other information, it is Harrison County and the State of Mississippi where these type programs and public resources are so vulnerable to exploitation and inefficiency due to a lack of accountability, oversight, and the lack of enforcement of state statutes from the local to state levels.

            In fact the above review included audits done in 1998 that were critical of Mississippi Planning and Development Districts, as well as the Mississippi Department of Economic Development, for deficiencies, such as lax oversight, lack of accountability, unreliable job creation numbers, and a number of other types of deficiencies.

Boards and Commissions are Inherently Structurally and Organizationally Defective and Have Lax Oversight and Accountability        

            There have been a number of media reports which have revealed numerous criticisms of various commissions and boards.  It is apparent that there are inherent organizational and structural defects in these governmental entities, such as the Biloxi Port Commission, Southern Regional Wastewater Management District, Mississippi Coast Coliseum Commission, Harrison County Tourism Commission, and the Harrison County Development Commission (HCDC).  The manner in which the members are appointed makes it difficult to know which elected officials to hold responsible for the actions or lack of actions for these entities. It seems these types of entities take on a life of their own, with little accountability to anyone, except themselves.

Due to the lack of accountability and oversight and secretiveness, in which these entities are too often cloaked, it is difficult, if not impossible, for the public, to know how taxpayer money has been spent or how much has been wasted.

            The members/commissioners of these types of governmental entities appear to be susceptible to manipulation by staff and of becoming “rubber stamps” for staffs, again making it difficult to fix responsibility for board and commission decisions.   They also appear to be very susceptible to a takeover by “narrow interests,” which can run them to benefit their interests, instead of, the public’s interest.

            Due to the lack of accountability and oversight and secretiveness, in which these entities are too often cloaked, it is difficult, if not impossible, for the public, to know how taxpayer money has been spent or how much has been wasted. It is clear that there is a lack of political will by the elected officials, in general, who make appointments to these entities and by the Board of Supervisors, in particular, to exercise proper oversight and accountability to insure that the public interest is best served. To insure that the public interest is preserved, it is readily apparent that corrective action is needed by the Board of Supervisors and other public officials.

            According to a SUN HERALD article dated March 1, 2003, the Southern Regional Wastewater Management District (Hancock County) was “chided for lax oversight,” in the spending of public funds.  A SUN HERALD news article dated October 20, 2002, was headlined, “Biloxi Port Commission Leaks Money.” This headline needs no further explanation.  Another SUN HERALD article dated March 11, 2003, was titled, “Report: Tourism Needs Refining.” The byline was, “More Accountability needed, consultant says.” This article was about the Mississippi Coast Coliseum Commission and the Harrison County Tourism Commission. 

            The article revealed that an $18,000 study had been done, which stated, “both groups are managing their money well but need to be more accountable for the money that they spend on marketing…Both commissions should have a clear list of goals and objectives and report annually on marketing efforts.”

            The article went on to say, “You’re spending millions of dollars on marketing…Can you tell me if you’re getting a return on that investment.”  The article also revealed the amazing disinterest of some public officials in regard to their oversight of public funds.  The article stated, “Most of the Harrison County supervisors glossed over the accountability issues raised by the report and focused instead on building a new convention center and the problem of getting a new hotel-motel tax.”

            An analysis, which appeared in the December 3, 2003, Letters to the Editor-SUN HERALD, of the Coliseum’s audited financial statements, by Thomas Brosig, an experienced businessman and former CEO, who is certainly qualified to do such a review, reveals that the Coliseum has been operating at a loss for at least the years 1997-2002.  According to the article the losses were covered by a taxpayer-funded trust fund that has a huge balance set aside for the purpose of funding such losses.

            A SUN HERALD editorial dated November 30, 2003, promoting a $70 million expansion of the Coliseum, may have been erroneous when it stated, “Today, the coliseum and convention center covers the cost of its $3 million annual operating budget with money it generates.” Either Brosig or the SUN HERALD is wrong.  Assuming Brosig is right, the big question that should be asked by public officials is, “WHY IS THE COLISEUM OPERATING IN A DEFICIT” when the Coliseum’s original construction bond was paid off early years ago.  This is called accountability?

            In addition, these boards and commissions engage their own auditors.  This raises a question as to whether or not their work product is free of bias.

Special Interests Can Gain Inordinate Amount of Influence over Boards and Commissions

            The people who serve on these boards and commissions tend to fall into three groups: (1) Conscientious people who have the best of intentions of serving the public interest; (2) People who seem to serve mainly for the perks, social reasons, and the chance to feel important, expend as little effort as possible, “go along to get along types”; (3)  People, who I will refer to as “special interests,” seek to be appointed to these boards and commissions, those whose primary motivation is to gain some benefit for themselves, their employers, or associates. 

            The appointments to these entities are usually made up of a combination of appointments from the Governor, mayors, and supervisors.  On the surface, this seems to be an ideal arrangement, wherein ordinary citizens would be appointed to the boards and commissions who would look out for the public interest.  However, it just does not seem to work out that way in reality.

Because of this dispersion of the power of political appointments among a number of indifferent elected officials, ordinary citizens don’t know who to hold accountable.

            It is very easy for the politically influential “special interests” to dominate these boards and commissions. They can successfully and aggressively lobby the Governor, mayors, and supervisors to have people appointed to these boards and commissions who are under their influence.

            As history shows, after making appointments to these boards and commissions, many of the public officials seem to almost totally abdicate their responsibilities for the oversight and insurance of accountability of these Boards and Commissions.  Of course, this is the politically expedient thing for them to do in that they then don’t have to stand up to powerful “special interests,” which have an economic interest or other interest in controlling these entities.

            Because of this dispersion of the power of political appointments among a number of indifferent elected officials, ordinary citizens don’t know who to hold accountable. What initially seemed like a good idea in having citizens on these type entities, in reality conceals the identities of “special interests,” that may dominate the entity and provide insulation from public scrutiny of their activities.     

Strict Accountability and Oversight Required

            Without accountability and oversight and with their activities largely out of public view, these types of governmental entities with their control over vast public resources and with their ability to expend these resources can become a hothouse for favoritism, cronyism, and lead to a waste of public resources.

            The Biloxi Port Commission is a prime example of what can happen with lax oversight, accountability, and disclosure.

            One only needs to compare the decrepit state of the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor boating and recreational facilities to the excellent Gulfport Small Craft Harbor and facilities, which are overseen by the City of Gulfport, to see the difference between effective and ineffective oversight and accountability.

            After years of citizen complaints in regard to declining services and lack of facilities, while boat slip fees skyrocketed and the Biloxi Port Commission demanded more and more taxpayer funds, the City of Biloxi made one of the best decisions ever made by the City of Biloxi and took over the Port Commission functions.

            Hopefully, this takeover has brought an end to the monumental mismanagement of the Port Commission.  At least now, the public can figure out whom to hold accountable.

Lack of Accountability and Oversight at the HCDC        

            The recent disclosures concerning the Harrison County Development Commission, by Dr. Paige Gutierrez, a former Commissioner, reveals that this Commission may be the most troubled of all.  These disclosures, just like other similar commissions or boards, again reveal a lack of accountability of taxpayer funds and accountability of actions.  Attempts to bring accountability and oversight to HCDC by Commissioners Gutierrez and Richard Bennett, and others, and by Supervisors Connie Rockco and Marlin Ladner, have been stonewalled by other supervisors, commissioners, and others.

            The HCDC was formed in 1958 under State legislation to become the primary business and economic development agency of Harrison County and the cities within Harrison County.  It is governed by a twelve-member commission, which is appointed by the Board of Supervisors, which has one appointment each; each Mayor of each municipality has one appointment each; and the Governor has two appointments.  Daily activities are overseen by an Executive Director with a staff of seven.  The HCDC currently administers five industrial parks, which were developed with taxpayer funds, and has a budget of approximately $8-9 million.

             The Development Commission’s funding comes from three primary sources.  The bulk of the funding comes from revenue generated from land sales and leases; the operation of services in the industrial parks; and tax funds appropriated by the Board of Supervisors. 

            The goal of the Development Commission is supposed to be the creation of jobs through the recruitment of new industries and the expansion of existing industries.  In order to attract new industries and to encourage the expansion of existing industries, the Commission has an array of economic incentives it administers to attract and/ or expand industries in Harrison County in order to expand the job base. 

            Among the incentives administered by HCDC are certain tax exemptions, including ad valorem taxes, and discounts on the properties (selling property below the market price)located in the Industrial Parks.  The Development Commission has recommended that the Board of Supervisors grant tax exemptions which are currently at over $850,000 per year.  While these incentives are referred to as tax exemptions to the recipient, they are, in fact, tax expenditures to the County.  The only difference in tax expenditures and any other line item expenditures in the County budget is that tax expenditures do not show up on the budget, but are, in fact, hidden costs.

            When tax exemptions are given, that loss is made up by taking funds away from other public services, which is detrimental to economic development or every taxpayer has to make up the difference.  Therefore, it is just plain good government and good economic development sense to make sure tax expenditures (exemptions) are spent as wisely as every other expenditure of taxpayer funds. 

            Current and former Commissioners have complained that often-times issues are brought to the Commission for approval without adequate information, preparation, or time for careful consideration.  They have also complained that various invoices and bills are presented for approval without adequate explanation. There are bills for hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars, for meals, entertainment, country clubs, a dinner club, travel, and other expenses.  All of this should run up red flags.

            Various Commissioners, Supervisors, the media, and private individuals have tried repeatedly to find out what the public is getting in return for the public funds expended by the   Development Commission; the tax expenditures; and the income derived from the Industrial Parks.

            Supervisors Rockco and Marlin Ladner have sought to find out how the expenditure of these funds relates to bringing in new industries and/or expanding  existing industries for the purpose of creating jobs and what is done to verify that the jobs, which HCDC claims have been created, have in fact been created, to no avail.

            One Supervisor said Supervisor Rocko was on “a witch hunt” for her efforts at accountability. When questions are asked in an effort to seek accountability, all too often HCDC invariably, and in my opinion, wrongfully, claims it is proprietary information and, therefore, cannot be made known to the public. 

            These unwarranted assertions for the need of such secrecy seem to be more for keeping the public from knowing how public funds are being expended than for protecting any legitimate proprietary interest those companies might have. According to GJF, secrecy and claims of “privileged information” are common tactics of economic development agencies. There have been instances, in which it appears the HCDC is not even knowledgeable or ignores the procedure set forth in state statues in regard to the release of proprietary information. More disclosure, not less, is what is what is in the public interest. 

Supervisors Have Responsibility to Insure Oversight and Accountability at HCDC  

            If the Development Commission cannot or will not set up mechanisms to monitor the cost-effectiveness of its expenditures, then it is the responsibility of the Board of Supervisors to do so, and the public should hold the Board accountable if it fails to do so.  On August 29, 2003, Supervisors Connie Rockco and Marlin Ladner presented five motions to the Board of Supervisors to bring more accountability and oversight to HCDC. 

            Three of the proposed reforms are flatly required by state law, and the other two are needed to conform to the spirit of state law (for full details see the Guest opinion of C. Paige Gutierrez and Richard Bennett on this site).  As incredible as it may sound, Supervisors Larry Benefield, Bobby Eleuterius, and William Martin voted against the proposed reforms.

             Even more incredible was the fact that the SUN HERALD, in an editorial dated September 3, 2003, titled, “Why are supervisors in Harrison County punishing the thrifty?” attacked Supervisor Marlin Ladner. Specifically, the SUN HERALD was critical of Supervisor Ladner who wanted HCDC to use some of the $7 million surplus that HCDC had accumulated from the sales and leases of public land  that had been developed with public funds, instead of appropriating more scarce taxpayer funds to HCDC.

             This SUN HERALD’s attitude is diametrically opposed to an Attorney General’s opinion dated April 24, 1986, to Supervisor Bobby Eleuterius, in which Eleuterius was told then that, “any funds the Commission has on hand at the close of the fiscal year must be applied to the extent necessary to fund the succeeding year’s budget.”  The AG’s opinion further stated, “the dictates of public policy do not encourage the intentional massing of public monies in excess of what is required to accomplish authorized public purposes.”

            One of the reasons that this is bad public policy is that often times, these large sums of money are deposited into some favored financial institution, which benefits greatly from taxpayer funds.  Such public money can become a huge source of political and economic power for public officials who control them from grateful financial institutions.

            I believe the reluctance of the Supervisors to exert proper oversight over the HCDC, the unwarranted editorial attack on Supervisor Marlin Ladner by the SUN HERALD, and the apparent reluctance  of  most of the mainstream media to fairly cover these issues demonstrates the dominant influence of special interests in this community.

            Citizens rely upon elected officials to know and to ensure that public funds are wisely and well expended.  All economic development expenditures, including tax expenditures, should be as well-scrutinized as line items in the budget.

            Accountability standards are applied to other government functions: such as, schools by test scores; social services using cost and quality of service indicators; road construction by county engineers, etc. Why should the Development Commission and all other commissions not be held to the same accountability standards?

Reform of Harrison County Government Must Begin With the Board of Supervisors

            Governmental reform is clearly needed in Harrison County.  Harrison County adopted the “unit system” of county government in 1988.   Under the county unit system, the supervisors are required to do the following: appoint a county administrator to handle day-to-day operations; appoint a road manager to oversee road administration; implement central purchasing, receiving, and inventory control; and, implement a centralized personnel system.  In other words, under the “unit system,” the County is required to operate as one single unit instead of five little fiefdoms.    

            Legislation for the implementation of the “County Unit” system was passed as a result of the FBI’s operation Pretense, which led to the convictions of nearly seventy Supervisors in the 1980’s who had governed under the “beat system” of government.

            In the 19th century “beat” system of government, supervisors could individually dispense public funds and favors. The “beat” system created an environment where inefficiency, cronyism, favoritism, and corruption flourished.  Such an environment has cost the taxpayers an astronomical amount of money and has been one of the most significant factors in retarded economic development throughout the state.  

            After the adoption of the unit system, it was envisioned that supervisors would thereafter serve in a policy making capacity.  The day-to-day operations of the county were to be consolidated and centralized under the supervision of professionals, which, in theory, would provide a barrier to undue influences on county operations and prevent the abuses that led to so many federal convictions of supervisors. However, many supervisors all over the state were reluctant to give up a political system in which they could dispense so much political largesse at their individual discretion. That appears to be the case in Harrison County, at least among a majority of supervisors.

            For example, in the early months of 2001, the SUN HERALD did a series of articles on a million dollar slush fund that was referred to as an escrow fund.  According to news reports, the Harrison County Supervisors divided up the fund and each expended his/her share at his/her discretion instead of appropriating the funds, as a board, in order to be in conformance, with at least the “spirit of the law,” if not the “letter of the law,” in regard to the county unit system.  Many thought that this was just a political slush fund.  I believe it is a symptom of a much worse problem, and it appears that a majority of the board wants to hang on to 19th century government in a 21st century world.

            According to a SUN HERALD article in late 2001 and early 2002, Supervisor Connie Rockco succeeded in getting the other supervisors to consent to a study to improve the efficiency of county government and attempt to take the “politics” out of government actions.

            According to the SUN HERALD article, one supervisor noted, “in 1989 the county conducted a comprehensive efficiency study, the recommendations which were mostly ignored…We could have taken that same 1989 study, updated it and saved $27,000 on this one.” 

            This occurred during the time of the 2001-2002 budget hearings in which the supervisors found, “by their own admission, a smorgasbord of largess: programs, positions and, in some cases, entire departments for which the need is suspect in a county government…”In spite of the report, no meaningful reforms were made.

The Mississippi State Constitution Aids and Abets Cronyism, Favoritism, Corruption, and Inefficiency throughout State.

            Wouldn’t the County be better off if the Board of Supervisors concentrated county resources on worthwhile projects that would benefit the entire  county, such as an east-west route along the railroad tracks and north-south routes between Highway 90 and I-10 rather than  frittering away resources blacktopping city streets?  What would improved transportation routes do for economic development?

Cronyism, Favoritism, Corruption, and Inefficiency Are Detrimental to Economic Development and Quality of Life

            I have spent over thirty years investigating and studying inefficiency, favoritism, cronyism, and corruption in the state of Mississippi, often contemplating why this is so pervasive, and how the quality of life has been affected.  I have absolutely no doubt  that these four things  have caused the loss of resources that has left this state at the bottom of the list in most, if not all, socio-economic measurements, such as, education, economic development, transportation, public safety, and almost everything else that affects quality of life.  Why does this occur?

The Mississippi State Constitution Aids and Abets Cronyism, Favoritism, Corruption, and Inefficiency throughout State.

            Over many years there have been news articles and discussions on the need to write and to adopt a new state constitution.  A large part of the need for a new constitution is to reorganize state government by putting currently elected executive offices and functions under the Governor’s office.  This would insure that all state government offices would take a much more efficient, coordinated, and professional approach to all government initiatives.  Perhaps the most important reason for consolidating these functions would be to insulate government actions from being unduly influenced by favoritism cronyism and corruption.

            Under the current constitution, it is too easy for officials to duck responsibility for the oversight and enforcement of state law regarding sensitive areas, such as political subdivisions and their fiscal affairs and campaign finance and insuring accountability and oversight of public resources.

Mississippi has no state police to enforce most state laws. It is hard to find where the “buck stops” in Mississippi.

            For example, in July 2003, the SUN HERALD published an article, in the aftermath of the Federal indictment of several judges and others, in an effort to find out which state office was responsible to enforce campaign contribution laws. The Secretary of State, in whose office political candidates have to file campaign disclosure reports, said his Office does not have the staff or authority to investigate campaign finance disclosure statements.

            The Attorney General blamed the Legislature for insufficient laws. District Attorneys and Sheriffs are state officers, but, to my knowledge, none of them have stepped in either. In addition, unlike most states, Mississippi has no state police to enforce most state laws. It is hard to find where the “buck stops” in Mississippi.

            The question has often been asked, “Why is it always left to the federal government to prosecute political corruption?” That is a very potent question because, in almost all cases where federal prosecutions have been pursued, there were a host of probable violations of state laws committed  before a violation of federal statues was triggered.

            Because many of the potential state violations are misdemeanors, the prevailing attitude seems to be that it is unimportant that they be enforced.  However had they been aggressively enforced, the loss of public resources would have been drastically reduced and many public officials undoubtedly would have been spared federal prosecution.

            It has been my observation over many years and my belief that in far too many instances, elected state officials, such as Attorney General, State Auditor, District Attorneys, the Judiciary, etc., have a strong reluctance to take action in many areas.  Some of this reluctance to act may be attributable to a lack of resources and fragmented authority.

            In addition, the potential abusers are usually influential, and have strong political connections.  Some have strong economic power and are often very involved in political fundraising activities.  In many instances, they often have cozy relationships with officials who could take action against them.  All of these factors are strong inhibitors to many local and state officials taking action against those whose political and financial support they may need when election time comes again.

            Another reason for lax enforcement of state statutes is the fact that the State Attorney General and the State Auditor’s office do not even have an office on the Coast. If there were no police to enforce the local laws, such as murder, rape, armed robbery, etc., what would happen?  There would be a state of chaos.

            Without adequate enforcement of the state laws regarding how political subdivisions operate, those subdivisions will invariably be subject to favoritism, cronyism, and political corruption.  This kind of environment is one of the most serious impediments to economic development. The vast majority of good business people and businesses will avoid an environment where it is possible that they will get “shook down.”    

            The lack of a system, which enforces accountability and oversight of public resources and prevents favoritism, cronyism and corruption, while insuring fair and equal treatment for all, affects all areas of the state and all political subdivisions.

            In my opinion, Mississippi will stay at the bottom of the list of socio-economic measurements, until the Constitution is reformed and such a system is put in place.

Harrison County Needs to Consolidate and Streamline all Government Functions to Insure Accountability, Oversight, and Efficiency

            It is long past time that Harrison County, with a $100,000,000 budget itself, and heaven only knows how much these Commissions are really taking and expending, change from the 19th century administration into the 21st century administration

            The first step should be acceptance of a true county unit system and the appointment of a credentialed and experienced municipal/county chief executive officer (CEO) to oversee all county functions and departments and supervise day-to-day operations.   The Board of Supervisors should be a policy making body only, as envisioned by the “county unit” legislation.

            Secondly, HCDC, Tourism Commission, Coliseum Commission, and perhaps the State Port Commission should be disbanded as the Biloxi Port Commission was disbanded, and consolidated into a new Department of Economic Development with a Director who would report to the new CEO.  In addition to improving coordination and efficiency by eliminating duplication of effort, this would bring financial audits under the purview of the annual state audit of the county instead of audits, by private companies, who are now beholding to the commissions who hire them.

            Thirdly, an Independent Department of Audit should be set up that would report directly to the CEO and would also conduct  performance and compliance audits of all departments to insure compliance with all state laws and to insure that the taxpayers are getting a full return on all taxpayer funds.

Streamlining and Increased Efficiency in County Government Would Pay for Reforms; Fairness and Equal Treatment to all Would Increase Economic Development

            The savings realized from streamlining and increased efficiency would pay for all reforms and generate a huge surplus for the county treasury from the funds saved.

            Consider all of the bloated salaries being paid to each of the Commission’s directors, staffs, per diem to commissioners, unnecessary and unproductive travel, bloated vehicle expenses, unnecessary dining and entertainment expenses, high rent for luxury offices, legal fees for lawyers to unnecessarily attend board and commission meetings, huge engineering fees, etc. The ways these entities can spend taxpayer funds is endless.It is easy to see why they are always asking for more taxpayer funds.

            I have talked with many businessmen, the vast majority of whom get no tax incentives or other government handouts and don’t want them.  What they want is an environment free of cronyism and favoritism, where fair and equal treatment and a chance to compete on a “level playing field” are the norm.

            The supervisors, who seek to establish such an environment through reform of county government by insuring accountability, oversight, and effectiveness, need public support.

            The supervisors, who refuse to embrace these common sense reforms, should be publicly reprimanded and should be replaced, if they refuse to institute needed and necessary reforms.


About the Author

Royce Hignight is a long time Coast resident and retired FBI Agent who spent much of his career investigating white collar crime and corruption in the state and area. He currently operates a private investigative and consulting service.

Contact the Author: mailto:hignight@cableone.net

Related: 

GCN Guest Opinion - Genesis Of Corruption - Mississippi’s Constitution Of 1890 Was Crafted To Disenfranchise Blacks. Its Real Legacy Has Been To Disenfranchise Most Everyone - Part 1 of 2 -By Perry Hicks

Report Says Mississippi Most Corrupt State in Nation-corporatecrimereporter.com related   Clarion Ledger Story and Full Report - by Corporate Crime Report

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