Hancock County

Where's the $315K? Bay St. Louis mayor vetoes call for federal probe

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALDBay St. Louis Mayor Les Fillingame
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALDBay St. Louis Mayor Les Fillingame SUN HERALD

BAY ST. LOUIS -- Mayor Les Fillingame has vetoed the city council's call for a federal probe into the unknown whereabouts of up to $315,000 in U.S. Department of Justice money reserved for the police department.

Fillingame signed and delivered the veto to the council clerk last week, calling the motion "vague and confusing," according to the official document, which contained several other vetoes and objections to other actions taken by the council.

The veto will have no effect on the DOJ investigation, which began in August.

The motion passed Aug. 18. It request the DOJ conduct an internal review of the city's police forfeitures fund. Fillingame took issue with the council's failure to use the technical name of the fund.

"The minutes read they were going to do an internal review on 'police forfeiture funds,'" the mayor said in an interview Monday. "It should've been a review of 'the Department of Justice equitable sharing forfeiture fund.'"

Forfeitures arise when law enforcement seizes cash or other assets from suspects, and courts later order those assets be forfeited to the agency. The money is restricted for certain police expenditures and is supposed to be kept in a separate account.

Concerns grew among council members during the Aug. 18 meeting when they realized the city finance department had mingled the money into the general operating account. The city's total operating account balance at that time was about $80,000.

Fillingame also vetoed the council's motion to separate the money from the general operating account and place it into its own account.

The wording read, "Motion to Separate Funds Giving the Police Chief Availability for Operations."

In his veto, Fillingame wrote, the motion is "vague, does not specify what funds are being deposited into a separate account, where the funds are derived from and is an improper amendment to the budget."

Several councilmen said the mayor's vetoes were unnecessary and some questioned his motives.

"Regardless of what it's called, it's still the same account," Councilman Lonnie Falgout said. "(Fillingame) knows exactly what those motions were about. We had very long discussions about them right before we voted."

Councilman Jeffrey Reed said this is the first time he's seen a veto in his more than 10 years on the council.

"It just slows down city business," Reed said. "Now we have to come back and vote to override the veto."

Fillingame said those are "ridiculous assumptions" and he simply wants the council to be very clear on what they are trying to accomplish.

"I think we were very clear in what we asked for, so I didn't see a need for the veto," Reed said. "And if we didn't make ourselves clear, we have an attorney sitting there who should have advised us on how to make it clear.

"You don't just work for the mayor," Reed said, referring to city attorney Donald Rafferty. "You work for the council. You work for the city. You work for all of us."

Fillingame's third veto struck down the council's action to get the council clerk bonded and provide her with access to view the city's bank account records.