Coastal management director, sister leave DMR jobs Thursday

calee@sunherald.comJanuary 31, 2013 

Shumate

JOHN FITZHUGH — SUN HERALD Buy Photo

A high-profile Mississippi Department of Marine Resources employee, Tina Shumate, and her sister, Samantha Hebert, resigned and left their jobs at the agency Thursday, their attorney said.

Shumate served as coastal management and planning director under former Executive Director Bill Walker, whose spending practices as agency head are being investigated by the State Auditor's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Walker hired Hebert in October 2010 as one of the DMR's contract employees, jobs he did not advertise. She collected video footage and edited documentaries, according to a job description posted on the state's transparency web site.

Gulfport attorney Tim Holleman, who confirmed their departure, is representing both women as the investigations continue.

"Rightfully or wrongfully, the DMR is circling the wagons," Holleman said. "I maintain with full confidence that neither Tina Shumate nor Samantha Hebert have done anything wrong.

"I can't comment more than that," he said. "It's just too early in the investigation."

In November, a federal audit questioned the DMR's purchase of property owned by the women's parents. It specifically pointed to a potential conflict of interest for Shumate because she headed the Coastal Impact Assistance Program through which the property was purchased. The audit also said the transaction was based on an appraisal unsupported by verifiable data and thorough research.

Investigators from the auditor's office confirmed last week they had served a search warrant at Shumate's home. After the search, Holleman said documents will show Shumate avoided any involvement in the land transaction on her parents' property.

He also said he's glad the women have resigned because working at DMR these days is "stressful," with investigators regularly in and out of the agency's offices in the Bolton Building on Back Bay.

He said, "I don't believe either one of them will be shown to have done anything possibly illegal, by any means."

The DMR confirmed Shumate and Hebert were no longer with the agency, but Public Relations Director Susan Perkins said she could not elaborate on the personnel matter. The DMR's executive director, Danny Guice, has said some contract worker positions would be eliminated to save money, but he would not say which positions.

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