BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - Bay St. Louis Mayor Les Fillingame said the latest opinion from the State Auditor's Office "should put all of the malicious chatter about the DOJ to rest," but one council member said it's too early to say all the questions are answered and another said legal action is ahead.
The letter presented to the city council Tuesday night answered questions posed by City Attorney Trent Favre about the U.S. Department of Justice review of the city's DOJ fund which found the city wrongly commingled $321,000 with the city's general fund. The auditor's letter says "the money was not embezzled, stolen, or used for personal gain."
The Department of Justice found the city failed to keep the money in a separate account for the DOJ's Equitable Sharing Program. That money is supposed to be earmarked for approved police department expenses.
Fillingame said the "new letter basically affirms what the administration has said for the last two years; that the only thing that was done not permissible was that it (the money) was commingled."
The money was spent on other city expenses over several years. Councilman Joey Boudin said he feels the council was misled.
"The money was commingled without the council's knowledge, and if the council spent it, we did it without knowledge we were spending commingled funds. I feel there are some falsified statements over the last six years," Boudin said.
Last month, the city council voted to put the $321,000 into a separate account to satisfy the DOJ requirement. Boudin plans to move forward with legal action to recoup the money by hiring an outside attorney to pursue the bonds the city holds on public officials, including the mayor and two previous city clerks.
"We always said we were going to go after the bonds," Boudin said. "Our reserve fund is $300,000 weaker than it was."
Deputy State Auditor Patrick Dendy said his letter is not intended to be legal advice, and it's up to the council to decide whether to pursue the bonds.
Councilman Lonnie Falgout told WLOX News Now he's still reviewing the letter, and the DOJ money issue is just one of many the council wants sorted out.
"There are just too many uncertainties, too many questions. It's too early to say it's over. This is just one opinion, and when we get all the answers we can decide what's best for Bay St. Louis," said Falgout.
Looking forward, Fillingame said the city will now be fully involved in the DOJ fund program going forward to spend that money on public safety.
"The chief has priorities; equipment for officers, from body cams to new vests, guns. He has quite a list, none of which are inexpensive," Fillingame said.