Hancock County

Bay council accuses administration of submitting 'altered' invoices

JUSTIN MITCHELL/SUN HERALD 
 Ward 3 Councilman Jeffery Reed, center, reviews Bay St. Louis' proposed budget worksheet at a council meeting Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014. The City Council raised property taxes by 5 mills.
JUSTIN MITCHELL/SUN HERALD Ward 3 Councilman Jeffery Reed, center, reviews Bay St. Louis' proposed budget worksheet at a council meeting Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014. The City Council raised property taxes by 5 mills.

BAY ST. LOUIS -- The city council refused to approve all payment claims on the docket at Tuesday's meeting, blaming Mayor Les Fillingame's administration for not providing invoices in a timely manner and in some cases submitting incomplete invoices.

Council members have in the past complained of the administration submitting large stacks of vendors' invoices to the council just prior to their meetings.

"To bring a hundred pages like this right before the meeting," Councilman Joey Boudin said, holding up a stack of invoices, "We don't have time to look at that. I've been asking for this (to stop) for over a year now."

The council agreed to recess the approval of the claims docket to Thursday.

But tension began building when several council members requested the finance department submit the original invoices for the council to review rather than photocopies.

Fillingame and City Comptroller Robert Clark denied the council members' request, saying the originals could get lost.

"We don't feel comfortable bringing the original invoices over here," Clark said. "They're still available to you at any time in our office."

Councilman Doug Seal said the invoices should be sent to the council no later than the Friday before every regular Tuesday meeting.

"The problem is I have a full-time job," Seal said sternly. "I can't come in and look at them."

"The invoices used to come here," Council President Bobby Compretta said, suggesting the risk of losing them hadn't been an issue before.

A citizen spectator took the floor and chided the council members for their demand, asking if they believed City Hall would actually give them altered copies of invoices.

"They are altered," Boudin said immediately, holding up a photocopy of an invoice with a portion that apparently had been cut off when it was scanned. "You're not seeing what we're seeing. We're not getting complete copies."

Councilman Lonnie Falgout piggybacked on Boudin's claim, saying: "Some of those documents have been tampered with, and it's on the record." He said some date stamps did not match other records.

Boudin said Clark was not to blame for the problems, which occurred before Clark started his job with the city last month.

Bay St. Louis city government recently made headlines for its audit findings and the council's call for an investigation of up to $315,000 in U.S. Department of Justice money.

That issue, which surfaced when the Sun Herald broke the story in August, flared up last week when the mayor vetoed three motions from the council's Aug. 18 meeting, including the motion to contact the DOJ and request an internal review of how the money was spent.

Though some council members accused Fillingame of trying to stifle city business, Fillingame said his veto, which called the motion "vague," serves only to bring more clarity and specificity to the council's minutes.

He substantiated his reasoning by pointing out the motions, as well as the veto, have no effect on the DOJ probe, which is still in "full process" and began when DOJ officials read about the situation in the Sun Herald, the mayor said.

With Councilman Jeffery Reed absent from Tuesday's meeting, the council made no attempt to override any of the vetoes but plans to tackle them at the next meeting on Oct. 20, Falgout said.

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