BILOXI -- Jackson County Supervisor John McKay said Thursday the deep-sea fishing trips he took in 2012 with the state Department of Marine Resources have become an issue in his race for mayor of Ocean Springs.
In a meeting with the Sun Herald, he said he plans to go to the State Auditor's Office next week and clear the air.
"I voluntarily called up to get this behind me and everybody else that was on that boat," McKay said, "because none of us did anything wrong, because if I'm innocent, they're all innocent."
McKay said he went on one deep-sea fishing trip with a number of public officials and then about six weeks later, in August, he went on one with his grandson and about 10 other boys around the time of his grandson's birthday.
McKay said he feels he did nothing wrong in going on the fishing trips. He said he is a longtime friend of former DMR Director Bill Walker and thought Walker's foundation paid for the trips, not the state agency.
Walker came under state and federal investigation last year for spending practices at the agency and was fired with cause earlier this year. The investigations continue, but Walker has said he did nothing wrong.
McKay said the trip with his grandson has been labeled "the birthday trip," but he said, "We didn't schedule
it. It just happened, happenstance, to fall within a week or 10 days of my grandson's birthday. I never called it a birthday trip. No adult ever called it a birthday trip."
He said the kids may have called it that, "Kid talk."
There was no cake or presents, he said, however, Walker supplied the food, "but I offered to pay for that."
McKay said he also offered to use a boat trip his son had bought in a silent auction to pay for the kid trip, but Walker assured him it wasn't necessary.
"So both of the trips I went on, in advance, I offered to pay for them or have them paid for."
Someone who went on the first trip offered to pay for it and McKay's son's free half-day trip could have paid for the other.
Talking about the boats
McKay said this all started when Pickering was on the Coast recently, "talking about the DMR boats."
Pickering announced in mid-April that Walker and the Mississippi Marine Resources Foundation would donate two boats they own to the state.
McKay said, "A gentleman stood up in front of Stacey Pickering with a camera and asked him if he was going to hold the elected officials responsible for what they had done."
McKay said Pickering replied, "They could be required to pay it back," referring to the cost of the boat trips.
McKay said he felt, in that context, it "could mean you're guilty" and he told Pickering so.
"I called Mr. Pickering up and said, 'Stacey you could have chosen different words,'" McKay said. "That gentleman works for my opponent, works for (political consultant) Reed Guice and that was a staged event to get you to say something. Now the public thinks that I'm guilty because I could have to repay it."
McKay said, "We didn't know it was taxpayer money." He said he thought the trips were paid for by the foundation Walker controlled.
So he said he told Pickering, "I want to voluntarily, right now, come talk to your people and get all of this cleared up so that, you know, my name is cleared and everybody on that boat is cleared of everything because we didn't do anything wrong."
McKay said Pickering told him, "OK, I'll set that up."
And he set it up for Tuesday.
When asked what he hoped to get from the meeting, McKay said Pickering told him, "I cannot come out and say John McKay's innocent or this one's innocent until the total investigation's over."
McKay said he understands that, but went on to say, "So what he did say was that if I would voluntarily go talk to his auditors and investigators and they felt comfortable that we had no knowledge of any wrongdoing, that we couldn't be held liable, that after we talked to him, his auditor would say, 'I don't think you have anything to worry about.'"
McKay said Pickering likened the situation "basically" to McKay and the others on the boat trips standing by a mud hole and getting splattered.
"We didn't know that it was so-called taxpayer money that we were spending," McKay said. "We thought it was foundation money or whatever. We were told that was the purpose of the boat."
McKay's opponent, Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran, referred calls on political strategy in the race to Guice, who works for her campaign. "This issue of McKay going on the DMR boats wasn't invented by the campaign," Guice said. "There was a front-page story in the newspaper."
Pickering could not be reached for comment Thursday night.