Utility authority members troubled by 'breach of public trust'

Utility authority members troubled by 'breach of public trust'

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Members of the Harrison County Utility Authority board met for the first time Thursday since a conspiracy scheme was exposed, Tuesday. As soon as the gavel called the board meeting to order, Board President Mayor Billy Hewes addressed the topic on everyone's mind.

"The Harrison County Utility Authority is aware of the charges against Mr. Pahlavan and Supervisor Savant that were announced recently," Hewes read from a statement released by the board. "We are troubled by any breach of the public trust and take these matters very seriously. Upon learning of the transactions between Mr. Pahlavan and one of our contractors in 2013, the Authority Board conducted an internal investigation and immediately dismissed Mr. Pahlavan. Soon thereafter, we ended our relationship with the contractor as well. The Utility Authority has cooperated with federal investigations and provided unqualified access to our records. We will continue to monitor the proceedings in the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Mississippi and take any action which may be deemed appropriate based on any additional information discovered as a result of the federal investigation."

Former board secretary Kim Savant admitted Tuesday to taking bribes for his vote for contracts, and former executive director Kameron Pahlavan is also in the hot seat for allegedly taking bribes. Concerned residents want to know how this happened.

Gulfport resident Chuck Teston stood before the board when they asked for any public comments, "My second visit here fell on deaf ears. My request was to put out a 'how goes it' letter once a quarter."

Teston stressed to the board once again transparency is necessary so things like this cannot happen.

"Something informational, once a quarter, or once every six months to tell us what you are doing, tell us who you are contracting, and tell us how it's going to benefit us. I came here to say this to you and I said it and I wouldn't take back one word of it."

After the meeting, we were able to ask Teston what he thought about the recent news.

"It really made me mad," Teston said. "I think whenever you hold your hand up, it's not self service, it's public service, and you ought to be honest. You ought to be open, candid, up front, blunt. And if you aren't that way, you ought not serve in office."

Board members who served with Pahlavan and Savant also said they were stunned.

"It was just kind of hard to believe that took place," Harrison County Utility Authority Vice President Mayor AJ Holloway said. "I just think it's a real tragic situation for several people. I think everything will work out in the end, everything will come back together."

"Very disappointed," Board Member Mayor Billy Skellie said. "When you work with people, for a good many years actually, and these type things come up that have been going on and you don't know is going on, it's disappointing."

When asked if he thought anyone on the board had any inclination of what was going on, Mayor Skellie said, "I certainly do not, I don't think so. You know, you trust someone until that trust is breeched and that's what took place."

Moving forward board members say they know it will take time to rebuild trust, but plan to be open about their decisions.

"Donald Scharr, since he's come on board as executive director, has provided some really good leadership, he has set a different tone," Hewes said. "Mr. Teston talked about, like you said, more information on a regular basis and he's going to strive to do that."

Teston hopes this is the case.

"It's all look and see now isn't it," Teston said. "They are going to have to build that trust up and the way they do it is to communicate with us and tell us what they are doing, why they are doing it, and who is doing it and what the cost is going to be. Then I think the trust will be built."

The Harrison County Utility Authority Board appointed Supervisor Marlin Ladner to fill Kim Savant's place as secretary.

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