By Keith Burton – GulfCoastNews.com
“It’s an arrogant disregard for accuracy. It amazes me.” - Harrison County District 3 Supervisor Marlin Ladner.
Documents obtained by GulfCoastNews.com show more mismanagement and outright falsehoods remain part of the regular activities of the Harrison County Development Commission an agency known for destroying financial records.
The Commission, which is run by its director, Michael Olivier, has even submitted inaccurate resolutions to the Harrison County Board of Supervisors on the HCDC’s selection of an accounting firm and legal representation in a December 8, 2003 Board of Supervisors meeting.
The HCDC’s resolutions incorrectly identify Commissioner Richard Bennett as the commissioner that made the motions on selecting the accounting and legal firms and shows him voting on the accounting firm, which he did not do.
“I wasn’t even in the room when the vote was taken,” Bennett tells GCN in an interview Jan. 24.
“So what is in the file in the Chancery Clerk’s office is that I made the motions and that is false.”
The documents also show that the HCDC continues to ignore state law regarding recording votes by its members in the agency’s official minutes and in issuing accurate minutes. More on this issue and why it is important to you later in this story.
More Alarms Over HCDC Operations
The HCDC in their November 25, 2003 meeting voted to select a new accounting firm and legal representation.
GCN readers may recall that the HCDC had voted on the issues a month earlier in an illegal secret ballot process, and after the news media found out about the improper October vote, the HCDC concluded that their earlier votes had been improper and had to do it again.
Usually, the HCDC receives very little press coverage, but in light of the HCDC’s secret ballot vote, the Nov. 25 meeting was attended by GulfCoastNews.com, WLOX, and The Sun Herald.
In the meeting on Nov. 25, Commissioner Richard Bennett recused himself from voting on the accounting firm and left the room prior to the vote or the motions on the issue. His recusal was over the fact that as he is also a City Alderman with the City of Long Beach he felt there would be a conflict of interest since the city also uses the same accounting firm.
Later, since the contracts for the accounting firm and the Commission’s legal representation are over $25,000, the HCDC had to have approval by the Board of Supervisors and submitted two resolutions for approval to the supervisors on December 8th.
Ladner says what the supervisor’s passed should have been correct and he is alarmed that the HCDC submitted resolutions that were not accurate. Ladner says he will bring the issues up again to correct the error. At the time of the supervisor’s vote on the HCDC resolutions in December, he was unaware of the inaccuracies.
Bennett himself only learned of the problem after the supervisors voted. Bennett had no reason to think his name would be on the resolutions and was shocked that the resolutions submitted to the supervisors had his name on them. He said he had received a copy of the HCDC’s minutes well before the supervisor’s voted, which, on the issue of his recusal, was actually accurate.
HCDC Says it is All a Mistake
An official with the HCDC contacted by GCN to explain the errors in the documents says there were mistakes made by the HCDC's attorneys who prepared the resolutions for the Supervisors.
"There may have been a breakdown in communications," said Merry Mayo, an executive assistant with the HCDC.
Mayo, who said she prepares the minutes for the HCDC, said the minutes clearly show that Bennett did not make the motions as recorded on the resolutions. And that the attorney for the HCDC must have failed to note that Bennett had not voted on the accountants. She said she was going to talk to the HCDC's attorney regarding the errors.
Mayo added that the HCDC doesn't always record how members voted on issues.
But despite Mayo's comments blaming the attorneys making the errors, the resolutions must have been read by someone on the staff, someone who should have recognized the mistakes prior to their submission to the Board of Supervisors.
One of those people was Mayo herself. The documents show her name is at the bottom of the flawed resolutions indicating that the documents are "true and correct" copies and stamped by a notary. (see Image 5 below)
It seems as if part of the job for the HCDC's attorneys is to take the blame for errors.
But Bennett says he believes there is more to this.
“They will say this is just a mistake, but there is so much going on,” Bennett said. They will say they are mistakes, but they are targeted my way.”
Is there a reason why the resolutions were in error? There is a possibility.
Bennett is among a group of public officials trying to bring about reforms to the HCDC. That group includes Ladner, District 5 Supervisor Connie Rockco, and former HCDC Commissioner Paige Gutierrez, who resigned last October citing improper actions and problems in the agency regarding management, financial accountability and inaccurate minutes. Bennett was also a co-author of an article with Gutierrez that called for reforms in the HCDC.
In the December 8 board meeting, Supervisor Rockco abstained on the vote for the accountants and voted no for law firm.
Bennett says that over the last few months, he no longer receives email information that other commissioners get from the HCDC, and that he has had to get information on the HCDC’s activities from other board members. Also, this year, he has not been named to any significant subcommittees that he would expect after nearly serving over four years on the Commission.
Bennett is Ladner’s appointment to the HCDC. Ladner thinks Bennett is being treated improperly.
“I feel that he is being isolated,” Ladner says.
Regarding the misrepresentation in the resolutions, Ladner says the way the resolutions currently read could potentially come back to hurt Bennett in the future by showing that Bennett made the motions and voted when there was a potential for conflict – something that did not actually happen.
Why Government Minutes are Important to Citizens
Some readers could wonder what is the big deal over minutes and resolutions. In government, boards and agencies are represented legally by what is recorded in the official minutes of their meetings. If the minutes are flawed, contain errors, or are changed, there could be serious legal problems. Flawed minutes could also conceal illegal activities. By law, a board’s minutes are supposed to represent an accurate representation of what has occurred, and the names and how each member has voted on an issue.
“I don’t know how an organization like that could get their minutes that messed up,” Ladner tells GCN. “You would expect accuracy on a thing like that.”
Ladner says because the resolutions were flawed on hiring the accountants and lawyers for the HCDC, it means that those issues need to be re-considered.
Bennett says the HCDC’s errors shouldn't have happened.
“These people are not incompetent,” Bennett told GCN. “Mike Olivier is one of the most politically savvy people around.”
Ladner says Bennett has his full support, regardless of what happens.
“I can assure you that Richard is not going to resign. He has the right and an obligation to be on that commission and has my full support,” Ladner said.
Olivier has come under criticism by the reformers but has repeatedly refused to discuss the allegations that his agency is being mismanaged when asked directly by GCN. Olivier also has refused to reveal additional income he receives for consulting work that is not part of his $160,000 taxpayer supported salary.
Efforts by Supervisors Connie Rockco and Marlin Ladner to pass a resolution to require the information have repeatedly been blocked by Supervisors Larry Benefield, Bobby Eleuterius, and William Martin.
Minutes Fail to Show Who Voted
The official minutes of the HCDC for the November 25 meeting also fail to identify how the board members voted. Former Commission Paige Gutierrez expressed concerns over the accuracy of the HCDC's minutes as far back as last summer in an opinion column published on GCN and in October when she resigned.
The Sun Herald newspaper also reported that the State Attorney General said recording the votes was required by law.
The minutes show no recorded votes for the accounting firm of Alexander, Van Loon, et al. other than “it carried.”
On the issue of hiring a new law firm, the commissioners first voted on a motion to select the firm of Balch & Bingham, but “the vote failed,” reads the HCDC minutes. The minutes then show a motion was offered to select Allen, Vaughn, Cobb & Hood, which was approved by “nine” commissioners without naming names.
State auditors have been in and out of the HCDC since last Spring. There is no word on their findings.
Meanwhile, HCDC’s director, Michael Olivier has reportedly turned down a job as the economic director for Louisiana.
"I couldn't afford an 80 percent cut in pay,” said Olivier as reported by the Louisiana political news website LaPolitics.com regarding the Louisiana position. The Louisiana post would have paid $125,000 a year.
Document Images: The Following Images are actual photographs of portions of the HCDC minutes and the resolutions submitted by the HCDC to the Harrison County Board of Supervisors. The yellow markings were made by GCN.
Related - GCN Guest Opinion - Sacred Trust -It's a Free Press that Keeps America Free - Is it any wonder that more and more of the general public get their news from “alternative” sources? - By Perry Hicks 11/29/03
Related - Secret Vote by Development Commission Improper - The Sun Herald 10/31/03
Related - WLOX Story
on Development Commissioner Misses Important Facts and Misleads
News - Development
Commission Votes Openly -
However Reverses Direction on Legal
Related Development Commission At Odds with Developer - The Sun Herald 12/1/03
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