Was private land in Gautier cleared illegally?

GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - In the eyes of Gautier Mayor Tommy Fortenberry, what happened on private property off Brown road was illegal.

"Apparently, this area here was bushhogged off," Mayor Fortenberry said.

That work was done by city workers using city equipment.  An acre was cleared and debris hauled off.  When that happened, it set off alarm bells for the mayor.

"We have directed the city attorney to send a letter to the state auditor asking his guidance on it."

The work was ordered by City Manager Sidney Runnels, because city officials were considering buying the property for a new firehouse.

"I did it to try and get an assessment of the property out there," Runnels explained. "That's what I was doing. There was no benefit to the owner at all."

City Council Member Johnny Jones also believes laws were broken, because of a lack of communication. He said the council found out about the work after it was done.

"I think it was a very poor management decision," Jones said.  "I think if he had the guidance of the city attorney and had taken the city attorney with him on the transactions that took place on this property, this event would not have happened."

Jones also issued a warning to the city manager.

"He's on notice about his communication and he is making some marked improvements, but he has a way to go."

Runnels said he welcomes any possible investigation by the state auditor and plans to fully cooperate.

Thursday afternoon, officials in the state auditor's office confirmed they have received the letter from the Gautier city attorney.  A spokesperson for the agency said an inquiry will now get underway to determine if a full scale investigation is warranted.

By the way, the deal to purchase the property has fallen through, and the city is out $5000 put in escrow to hold the property for 90 days.

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