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Donated Katrina Supplies Leave Warehouse
by Keith Burton - GCN  1/27/07   Updated

It took nearly four hours of negotiations, but the first load of Waveland disaster supplies for Katrina victims held in a private Bay St. Louis warehouse was transferred to a storage facility at  Stennis International Airport. The supplies, held at the warehouse owned by Jerry Mallon, had become a focal point of a he-says-she-says controversy in Waveland between Katrina volunteer Kathleen Johnson, Mallon and Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo over the past several weeks.

When Johnson, in a dispute with Mallon, could not get the material out of the warehouse, she contacted the organizations that had sent the material to Waveland. The organizations, which included Free Haul NPC, which is operated by Christine Davis of Rillito, Arizona, and City Action Partnership (CAP) of Birmingham, Alabama whose representative Laura Parenteau met with Mallon to remove the supplies from the warehouse.

"The City of Waveland, and the Citizens of Waveland Fund have made an agreement with Mr. Mallon to release the lumber with no storage charge today. We are here to make that happen," said Davis before negotiations had dragged out. "Everyone has come together to find a neutral place and the supplies will be distributed to the people in the area." (Photo left - Christine Davis)

Davis operates a transport company that has been shipping relief supplies and materials all over the Katrina disaster zone as well as Waveland. CAP had sent diabetic supplies to be distributed in the area. Both organizations sought to end the conflict that has developed between volunteer Johnson and Mallon, the warehouse owner.

Katrina volunteer Kathleen Johnson, has been working in the area since the hurricane, and over time, had become a central point figure where many people with donated materials would contact. She works with the Waveland Citizen's Fund, a local 501c3 charity that had been established after the hurricane to provide help with grants and charitable assistance for area residents. At one point, she was working out of an office at the Waveland City Hall trailer complex.

In December, she moved her operation into Mallon's warehouse and started receiving shipments of donated supplies. At the time of the move, she also had records of the grants and materials received and moved the records as well. This move was not well received by the city. On Jan. 2, several city officials, including an off duty police officer and the city's public works director visited Johnson and asked for her to return the records to the city.

The city, however, didn't actually own the records and the city officials had no warrant to get them. Mallon said today he wanted to make sure the supplies were handled properly.

As part of getting the material out of the warehouse, Davis said she had to present Mallon with a $30,000 donation receipt. Davis' company is a certified 501c3 charity.

The diabetic supplies were also removed from the warehouse and will be distributed to local area clinics. Davis had hoped to remove all of the material Friday, but the negotiations slowed the process and only one truck could be loaded. Davis says she plans to stay in the area until all the material, at least four additional truckloads, are moved. The material includes a substantial amount of lumber and trusses for homes.

All the parties involved in the negotiations said emotions ran high at times. At one point, police were summoned, who arrived along with a WLOX reporter. But for most of the morning, there were no media present except GCN and later, a reporter with the Sea Coast Echo. Also involved was Bettye Robinson, Waveland's Public Relations director.

Robinson and Davis said that the city and Mayor Longo sought to resolve the dispute today. Davis had met with the city the day before and felt everything that could be done was being done. Longo was out of town at a meeting in Jackson, according to Robinson.

Everyone is hoping that the incident is now behind them. But there are wounds here, especially with the volunteers who don't understand why this happened and why the mayor and others are now so critical of Kathleen Johnson.

Said Laura Parenteau with CAT of Johnson, "She is the most ethical person I have ever met. We  send stuff to her because we trust her."

Shortly after the lumber arrived at Stennis, Davis said in a telephone interview Friday evening that a group of Mennonites that are helping rebuild homes arrived to pick up the lumber.

Update: Feb. 1, 2007-The controversy over a warehouse holding Katrina relief supplies meant for Hancock County and Waveland is  hopefully winding down. Relief workers and volunteers successfully removed the majority of material from the warehouse Tuesday, Jan. 30, but there remains more supplies in the warehouse that other volunteer groups will try to obtain. The materials became embroiled in a bitter dispute between Waveland's Mayor Tommy Longo, the warehouse owner Gerry Mallon, and a volunteer, Kathleen Johnson, who has been coordinating the relief effort in the area. The issues surrounding the controversy are still unresolved.

Additional Information

Waveland Controversy: Donations Held Hostage - GCN

Sun Herald Article - Donation investigation: Waveland cops try to seize relief files in Bay - 1/17/07    http://www.sunherald.com/mld/sunherald/news/16477287.htm

Sun Herald Article - Waveland: Request for audit by state loses steam - 1/18/07 http://www.sunherald.com/mld/sunherald/news/local/16486038.htm

Sea Coast Echo Article - Longo Grilled About Charity - 1/19/07

Sun Herald Article - Longo Waging War Over Records - 1/24/07

Sea Coast Echo Article - Waveland Donations Stuck in Warehouse - 1/23/07

Sun Herald Article - File feud of Longo, Johnson escalates: Whose files are these, anyway? - 1/26/07

Sun Herald Article - Donation Materials Rescued - 1/27/07

Sea Coast Echo Article - Donation Dispute - 1/27/07

Waveland Citizens Fund Website - http://www.wavelandcitizensfund.org/

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