BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Tuesday was no ordinary meeting of the Commission on Marine Resources. The commissioners, who oversee the Department of Marine Resources, were briefed on a report that's been 60 days in the making. Before a packed room, they listened intently as new DMR Director Jamie Miller portrayed an agency that's broken.
Miller ordered the study in the wake of an investigation into spending practices at the agency under the previous director. Recommendations from the CPA firm include better tracking of grant money, and keeping the commission better informed.
Dr. Vernon Asper is the CMR Chairman.
"We assumed, obviously incorrectly, that everything was going well and that the oversight were there and all of the obligations were being met," Asper said. "And now we're finding out in this report that just wasn't the case."
Updating an antiquated DMR website was another suggestion. Commissioner Richard Gollott agreed.
"It needs a lot more accountability; that's obvious. We need to be a lot more transparent and I think the website would be a way to do it," Gollott said.
While the report contains dozens of recommendations on how to improve the DMR, one stands out above all others: Get rid of the deputy director's position and hire a chief financial officer.
"There's a lot of money flowing through the agency and there has to be accountability of that money," said State Senator Brice Wiggins, who attended the meeting. "I think this report has said that. And I think the recommendations, if they get followed through, will address that."
Everyone at the meeting stressed this is a starting point, that rebuilding the image and trust in the DMR will not happen overnight.
"It's not over by a long shot," Commissioner Jimmy Taylor said. "There's still a lot of work to do, but you can't do it until you identify the problems. You can't offer solutions at all."
So now comes the hard part: Break old habits that led to trouble, and create a new and better way of doing business at the DMR.
As part of the 60-day review, the Agency Assessment report is also available for the public to read at MDMR's website: http://www.dmr.state.ms.us/images/news/60-Day-Review.pdf
There are also other challenges facing the DMR. Director Miller acknowledged Tuesday the agency is facing a deficit of about $600,000 in the current fiscal year, and could be facing a $2 million deficit in fiscal year 2014. He plans on lobbying lawmakers for additional funding in the coming weeks.