CMR goes behind closed doors to discuss audit - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

CMR goes behind closed doors to discuss audit

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

The federal audit and ongoing state investigation into the DMR was the main subject of a two hour plus executive session on Tuesday.

The "Commission on Marine Resources" went behind closed doors to discuss that issue.

Afterward, the longtime chairman of the CMR, talked about his concerns.

Dr. Vernon Asper said, "We're trying to get more information so that we're not in the dark."

He admitted the commission knows very little about the issues that are the subject of an ongoing review by federal and state authorities.

Those include questionable land purchases and concerns about whether a required state bid process was followed.

Following the nearly two and a half hour closed door session, the longtime chairman shared the concerns commissioners discussed.

"We discussed both the investigation and the audit. And the main conclusion was that as a commission, we need to have more information than we're getting," said Dr. Asper.

Now in his 19th year on the CMR, Chairman Asper said of the commission, "We have not been involved in any of this really."

He's had every confidence in executive director, Dr. Bill Walker, who runs the DMR and makes its budget decisions.

"I think Dr. Walker has done an outstanding job in running the agency. So, the current situation is really a disappointment. That we are where we are. And we're trying to get to the bottom of things. Find out if there's any basis to the accusations. And get the information that we can," said Chairman Asper.

He says right now it's just accusations and rumors involving the DMR and its director.

"We don't have anything from the investigation into the other issues. So, until we have some hard information it's really hard to support the rumors and take action until we have some firm justification," said Dr. Asper.

Dr. Walker has indicated he'll likely retire by next summer. During the closed door session, commissioners also briefly discussed the selection process for his successor.

Chairman Asper said that recently named assistant executive director, Danny Guice, would be a good candidate to become Dr. Walker's successor.

"He knows the legislative process and he's as honest as the day is long," Chairman Asper said.

The chairman said his biggest concern right now is public credibility.

"It's important that the public trust us. And I think that's been eroded. So, it's going to be our job to try and restore that in the coming months," said Chairman Asper.

Dr. Bill Walker told WLOX News he doesn't believe the DMR has lost any credibility with the public during his leadership.

He said, "If you ask most people is the DMR better off today than it was 10 years ago, the answer would be a "resounding" yes."

As for the ongoing audit, Dr. Walker said, "We're just going through a process. I think we'll be just fine."

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