The Elephant in the Room
by Keith Burton - GCN 3/10/08
It has been nearly three weeks since news reports surfaced on a federal inquiry into Mayor Brent Warr's receipt of a state Homeowner Grant surfaced. To date, neither federal authorities, or Warr have commented on the investigation.
Tuesday, Warr is to present his State-of-the-City speech at Gulfport High School. While he is not likely to talk about the investigation, the inquiry is surely the elephant in the room.
The federal investigation came to light by Warr's own admission in a four page letter sent to the Sun Herald in mid February, although GCN first identified Warr getting a Homeowner Grant in an exclusive report in January. Investigators with the FBI have gone over the city's records and interviewed several Gulfport officials as well as some residents who live nearby Warr's current home in the Woodglen subdivision near Courthouse Road. Warr's home on the beach in Gulfport, which has been extensively improved, is the focus of the federal inquiry.
Since the investigation became evident, there has been no leaks or public comments from federal authorities. GCN contacted the U.S. Attorney's Office in Jackson about the grand jury investigation. Officials declined to comment, which is their normal position on grand jury investigations. However, the lack of comment and the lack of news reports over the last few weeks does not mean that the issue has gone away. There is the possibility that the inquiry into how Warr received the Homeowner Grant may have actually expanded and may include more individuals.
The Homeowner Grant program requires that individuals in the program had to live in their homes prior to hurricane Katrina. Warr says he did, however he and his family have lived in another home that is owned by a relative in the Woodglen subdivision. Warr and his family have lived in that house since he moved to Gulfport from Biloxi months before running for mayor in 2005. He and his family have never lived in the beachfront home, although Warr insists that he alone did. The grant provides up to $150,000 to residents who lost their homes to Katrina's storm surge, but lived outside of the federal flood insurance zones.
The silence on the subject, both in the media and by public officials is considered ominous by residents and many in the Coast's political community. No one GCN has spoken to have wanted to go on the record. Most people following the issue say the lack of an "all clear" from Warr is adding to their concerns.
Meanwhile, Warr has been working as a mayor will. He has attended council meetings, been seen at the recent groundbreaking at the Armed Forces Retirement Home, and even attended a Sun Herald newspaper interview with his directors outlining his city's progress since the hurricane.
On Tuesday, March 11 at 6:00 p.m., Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr will deliver the State of the City Address at the Gulfport High School Auditorium. While he is expected to outline what his administration has done over the past year, everyone knows what the elephant in the room is.
Gulfport's Mayor Brent Warr Has a Homeowner Grant - GCN Special Report