HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Road project money spent on ballpark maintenance. Supervisors meeting behind closed doors in violation of state law. Travel expenses under scrutiny. Mississippi's performance evaluation committee says Harrison County supervisors need to modify how they operate.
The Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review just released its review of the Harrison County Board of Supervisors. The 72-page analysis takes a critical look at "Harrison County's efficiency in managing its resources and its compliance with laws affecting such management."
PEER committee members question whether Harrison County violates the state's unit system of government. The issue is that the county doesn't have a central office for road repairs and maintenance. Instead, Harrison County still has road departments in each district.
The PEER committee recommends the county "consider closing work centers in Districts 1 and 4 and transferring those staffs and equipment from the Road Department to centers in Districts 2, 3, and 5. The centers in Districts 1 and 4 should be reviewed for possible repurposing or disposal if no useful purpose can be found for the facilities."
The committee also questioned the use of road project money for splash pads, ballpark maintenance, and boat launches. The report listed 51 recreation projects between 2015 and 2017 that involved recreation projects that had general maintenance needs funded with money from the road project budget.
"For road and bridge resources to be used for such projects," PEER committee members write, "the recreational activity has to be part and parcel of a road project. It is not apparent that such activities as splash pad construction or ballpark upkeep could be a part of a road project."
PEER committee members say recreational facilities should not be repaired with road project funding.
"Although PEER is not calling into question the value or utility of such projects, the use of road and bridge resources appears to be contrary to the purpose for which these funds were levied," the report finds.
Harrison County supervisors, the report says, occasionally met behind closed doors without following state guidelines.
"According to the minutes of the Harrison County Board of Supervisors, during several meetings held between October 2015 and September 2017 the board went into executive session, and its announcements to the public and the recitation of reasons for going into closed and executive session s set out in the minutes failed to meet the requirements of the 'Open Meetings Law,'" PEER members wrote.
The travel policies of county leaders were also analyzed.
"In 33 instances, supervisors' travel expenditures were not compliant with state law or state or county travel policies, including failure to provide required receipts after receiving a travel advance; paying for meals of other employees; claiming reimbursement for expenses that were prepaid by the county; and claiming reimbursement for nonreimbursable purchases," PEER committee members wrote.
The Harrison County Board of Supervisors held their regularly scheduled meeting shortly after the PEER review recommendations were released Monday. Board President Angel Middleton said they didn't have time to fully review the report before the meeting, but changes are on the horizon.
"We need to improve our road plan and be more specific, and I think the board asked the same today. I say the same thing, let's improve, let's be more specific," Middleton said.
However, she said board members have already found inaccuracies in the state report. Middleton said she would have jumped at the chance to discuss those with state auditors before the audit was made public.
"The way they did it, they said, 'You have ten working days to respond to what we found in our looking into the county.' They didn't give us that opportunity,"
Middleton said the board will likely respond to the evaluation in the near future.