SUN HERALD | Editorial: Stacey Pickering's handling of DMR scandal undermines public confidence

August 17, 2013 

AMANDA McCOY/SUN HERALD State Auditor Stacey Pickering announces during a press conference in April that the Mississippi Marine Resources Foundation is taking steps to transfer two boats it owns to the Mississippi Department of Resources.

AMANDA MCCOY — SUN HERALD Buy Photo

State Auditor Stacey Pickering's handling of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources scandal has led to waning confidence by many in the public and by this newspaper.

After months of investigation, Pickering recently made the first move to try to recoup some of the taxpayer money that was misspent at the DMR. Pickering settled a demand for more than $1 million against former DMR Executive Director Bill Walker for a quarter of that amount.

That episode involved the sale of the Californian and Topaz, two boats that figure prominently in Walker's dual role as director of both a public agency and a foundation supposedly established to support it.

But rather than aggressively pursue Walker for the full amount the Auditor's Office claimed he owed, Pickering let Walker walk away from the debt without even having him sign the paperwork that facilitated the sale of the boats.

If this an indication of what is to come of the ongoing state and federal investigations into the DMR, then taxpayers are going to be left considerably shortchanged.

Additionally, there is the matter of the Pickering fundraiser held at the home of Joe Cloyd, a recipient of work at the very same DMR that Pickering is investigating. At the very least, this represents a tone deafness to the community's concerns while mixing politics into the ingredients of this already spicy gumbo.

Then there is Pickering's stubborn refusal to honor the Sun Herald's requests for copies of DMR documents. Pickering's staff removed the documents months ago from the DMR's offices in Biloxi as part of the Auditor's Office investigation.

The very surprising settlement he entered into on the boats clearly shows the importance of the public having the records that rightly are theirs.

The auditor seems to be saying "trust me" on these decisions while hiding behind the tired argument that he cannot discuss the matter because it is part of an ongoing investigation.

This matter is now the subject of a lawsuit filed by the Sun Herald that seeks the release of these records.

If we prevail, perhaps we and our readers can make up our own minds about the decisions that have been made, and will be made, in the DMR matter.

Not that Pickering is the sole hope for those seeking justice.

The DMR is also the subject of a federal investigation.

Already an audit by the U.S. Department of the Interior's Inspector General has revealed the DMR to have been a rogue agency, where federal funds administered by the DMR were misused and abused and conflicts of interest within the DMR were rampant.

Surely federal authorities will not be so reluctant as state officials appear to be when it comes to recovering wasted tax dollars.

As for state Auditor Stacey Pickering, he can still fulfill his duty to his constituents by forgoing sweetheart deals and instead aggressively and transparently holding fully accountable all those responsible for their misdeeds at the DMR.

This editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board,which consists of President-Publisher Glen Nardi,Vice President and Executive Editor Stan Tiner,Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Flora S. Point,Audience and Human Resources Director Wanda Howell,Marketing and Interactive Director John McFarland and Associate Editor Tony Biffle. Opinions expressed by columnists, cartoonists and letter writers are their own.

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