GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi's second most-populous county is under scrutiny by a legislative committee for how it spends money.
The report was issued Monday by the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review. It said Harrison County supervisors illegally spent road and bridge money on park facilities and spent public money on alcohol. It also questions whether individual supervisors should get to spend from accounts earmarked for their individual districts.
Harrison County Attorney Tim Holleman told the Clarion Ledger that many concerns raised are the fault of clerks or assistants who improperly recorded meeting minutes or expenses. He said supervisors will repay any questioned travel reimbursements. He called the problems "minor issues."
The committee questioned the use of road project money for splash pads, ballpark maintenance and boat launches, saying state law and attorney general opinions say such spending is limited to roads and bridges. The report listed 51 recreation projects between 2015 and 2017 that involved recreation projects funded with money from the road budget.
It criticizes travel reimbursements for county supervisors, citing 33 instances over three years when reimbursements were issued that didn't comply with state law or county travel policies. The report found poor record-keeping meant examiners couldn't be sure supervisors weren't spending for personal items, and at least some expenses that had supposedly been prepaid or which included alcohol or other prohibited items.
The report also suggests the Legislature pass a law limiting spending on advertising by counties. The county Board of Supervisors spent about $100,000 a year the past two years on advertising, including event programs, banners, signs, T-shirts and sports jerseys.
"Why would we spend money to advertise county resources to people in the county?" said supervisor Marlin Ladner, who has opposed such spending. "They're already here. They know it."
The report questioned the Gulf Coast county's operation of road maintenance facilities in each supervisor's district, saying the county is supposed to be operating a unified system and that a central maintenance facility would be more efficient.
Finally, the report found that Harrison County supervisors sometimes meet behind closed doors without following state guidelines. PEER said the county should consult with the Ethics Commission on how to tell the public of the reasons for going into executive session.
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