Hancock County

Report: Bay St. Louis mayor, staff failed to follow statutes

By WESLEY MULLER

wmuller@sunherald.com

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Office of the State Auditor Performance Audit Director Sam Atkinson delivers a financial compliance review to the Bay St. Louis City Council on Thursday.
Office of the State Auditor Performance Audit Director Sam Atkinson delivers a financial compliance review to the Bay St. Louis City Council on Thursday. SUN HERALD

BAY ST. LOUIS -- The Bay St. Louis mayor and his staff at times failed to follow state statutes, according to a preliminary report delivered Thursday to the City Council by an official with the Office of the State Auditor.

In December, the council had called for the auditor's office to investigate the city's finances in light of numerous findings of deficiencies and noncompliance with state and federal regulations, which were identified in the 2013-14 fiscal year audit.

OSA Performance Audit Director Sam Atkinson reaffirmed all 15 of the findings first identified by the independent auditing firm of Wright, Ward, Hatten & Guel. The firm issued its final audit report to the city in November as part of an annual state requirement for municipalities.

Atkinson discussed each of the findings at length and gave an assessment of why the financial mistakes occurred. She repeatedly said Mayor Les Fillingame and his staff failed at times to follow state statutes and did not give the council necessary documentation for legislative decision making.

She said the mistakes were also the result of a lack of internal controls within city departments and a lack of cooperation and communication between the council and the administration.

In an interview afterward, Fillingame disagreed with Atkinson, saying her report is inaccurate.

"Information has never been withheld and we have stated at every opportunity that all information is available readily at City Hall," he said. "The problem at times is the manpower to duplicate and deliver the same information."

Atkinson urged the City Council to hold the administration responsible when it is not in compliance.

She said council members, at times, took immediate steps when they discovered improprieties but failed to use their full authority when it was necessary.

"You stopped short of taking legal action to compel the mayor to take care of certain things," she said.

The council has options such as filing a writ of mandamus to compel action by the administration, which is a "last resort," she said, but sometimes necessary.

Not all was bad for the mayor, however, as Atkinson commended him for making necessary changes in his administration and implementing new internal controls and policies within city departments.

"We're seeing a total transformation over there (in City Hall)," she said. "The mayor is moving in the right direction with his new comptroller."

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