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Harrison County Supervisors Go on Offensive
with Development Commission

By Keith Burton - GulfCoastNews.com      Filed 7/12/04

The Harrison County Development Commission took it on the chin Monday, July 12, during an intensive meeting with the Harrison County Board Supervisors.

“This is an agency that needs to abide by the law in relation to the Board of Supervisors,” said Supervisor Marlin Ladner in an interview with GCN Monday evening.

The supervisors, clearly unhappy with the Commission’s performance and their legal advice from attorney Harry Allen, voted Monday morning to conduct both  performance and compliance audits of the troubled agency, whose director, Michael Olivier recently abandoned for a job in Louisiana.  The supervisors voted four to one to conduct the audits, which will be paid for by the county. Supervisor William Martin was the lone holdout.

The board of supervisors were clearly upset with the way the HCDC has conducted it affairs, especially regarding public records, travel expenses, and how the HCDC has dealt with the public, specifically referring to the case involving Henry "Tut" Kinney, where the court had ruled against the HCDC for withholding public records; and for possible violation of attorney general opinions.

Kinney, who practices law in Louisiana but lives in Pass Christian, was also at the meeting and spoke to the supervisors about his experiences with the HCDC. Kinney was critical of the HCDC’s legal advice.

SUPERVISORS REJECT INTERIM APPOINTMENT

Later, in the afternoon, in a continuance of the morning meeting, Supervisors also rejected the recommendation of the HCDC’s decision to appoint deputy director Kim Compton as the agency’s interim director. Supervisors rejected a motion put forth by the HCDC’s President Elmer Williams to approve Compton.

Supervisors also demanded that the HCDC go back and find an interim administrator that had no connection with the HCDC. Ladner made the motion to reject Compton and require the HCDC to find an interim director from outside the agency. The vote on that motion carried three to two, with supervisors William Martin and Bobby Eleuterius voting in the minority.

The development commission delegation, was led by Elmer Williams, accompanied by HCDC attorney Harry Allen, Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway, and Gulfport Mayor Ken Combs. The mayors spoke briefly before the supervisors in behalf of the HCDC.

For more than two years, supervisors Connie Rockco and Marlin Ladner had sought to improve the performance of the HCDC after reports from their appointees to the commission had indicated problems after they had sought records and information.

Supervisor Ladner specifically pointed out that the HCDC had never provided the supervisors during his tenure, the executive director’s contract, or submitted expenditures over $25,000 for approval, which was required by law.

Ladner pointed out that the HCDC has yet to submit a budget, which must by approved by the Board of Supervisors.

“By golly, we are about through the budget year,” Ladner said.

The HCDC came to the supervisors with a hope to put some of the controversies behind them, but they were not prepared for what that would require, said Ladner.

“After today, I hope they recognize they need to get on track and do what they are supposed to do.”

Over the last few months, there has been talk of turning the HCDC into a public/private agency where part of the HCDC’s funding would come from private industry, as well as public funds. The HCDC has traditionally received one mil of county taxes, worth about $900,000 a year. But this year, the county chose not to provide the money. The HCDC reportedly has between $6 and 7 million dollars in the bank from land sales and rental fees

But Ladner says he would not support the agency becoming a public/private agency as it would be too difficult to administer and keep track of the public funds. Also, he says that such a change is outside the HCDC organizational authorization, which would take the Mississippi Legislature to resolve.

But for the immediate future, Ladner says the HCDC needs to find an interim director that the board can have confidence in to resolve their ongoing conflict.

More to come.......


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Additional Information: "Slippery Business" GCN Archive of Stories on the Harrison County Development Commission

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