Soon after becoming executive director of the state Department of Marine Resources, Jamie Miller engaged a private firm to do an assessment of the troubled agency.
Horne CPAs & Business Advisors took two months to deliver their report.
When its findings were released in June, Miller said, "Clearly there is an environment and culture at MDMR that is susceptible to fraud, waste and abuse, which must be changed."
Sad to say, the staff of the DMR and the commissioners who oversee them still seem susceptible to operating in the same old way. They appear insensitive to public concerns and expectations that business will be conducted in an open and inclusive manner.
Last week, the Commission on Marine Resources informed the public it was going to hold a meeting by posting a notice on the door of the Bolton Building in Biloxi four hours before the session was to begin at noon. Normally, the DMR sends an agenda to a mailing list of media a couple of days before its meetings.
The note on the door may have met the letter of the state's Open Meeting Act, but it is a far cry from the transparency Miller promised when he took over the DMR.
Miller described the meeting as a "workshop" to update commission members on activity at the agency.
So why not update the public at the same time?
"I don't mind the public being here," he said when asked. "We don't have a public comments section but certainly we don't mind the public being here."
Miller also said he was comfortable with doing as little as the law required to inform the public of the meeting because "no actions are taken" at "workshops."
By no action, Miller presumably means no formal votes.
But the process of sharing information is itself an action, as is the discussion of that information.
And the topics were hardly trivial. Miller said the five commissioners -- Chairman Jimmy Taylor, Steve Bosarge, Shelby Drummond, Richard Gollott and Ernie Zimmerman -- were briefed on the progress of the Coastal Impact Assistance Program, the financial state of the agency, the Lyman fish hatchery and on DMR-related bills winding their way through the Legislature.
"Basically, it was good news," Miller said.
And basically, the public has no choice but to take Miller's word for it.
At least for now.
Sen. Brice Wiggins, author of the Marine Resources Accountability and Reorganization Act now under consideration in the Legislature, said he would hope the DMR would not only follow the Open Meetings law but also would give the public as much notice as possible.
"Certainly with DMR undergoing reorganization and the Legislature trying to make sure they are a more transparent agency, I hope they would recognize that -- and so far they have -- and follow all those rules and get notice out as soon as they can," Wiggins said. "It's certainly something worth looking into. I will follow up with Director Miller to see what happened."
What happened should not happen again. The DMR must be made to operate entirely out of the shadows.
As state Auditor Stacey Pickering said of the DMR last summer, "What I see happen a lot of times is a culture of complacency develops and it becomes a culture of corruption. It's a migration."
Such complacency was again on display in the handling of last week's commission meeting. Shame on all of us if we permit it to again develop and migrate into something we know all too well can be much worse.
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.