Mississippi government corruption
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The Mississippi Center for Public Policy's SeeTheSpending.org website has recently added spending data for counties in the state. Over 5.75 million records are searchable by vendor, spending category, department and fund. Vendors can also be searched across all counties. The website gives Mississippi taxpayers an unbiased look at raw spending and revenue data, provided directly by official government sources. Data is presented “as is” and has not been manipulated, altered, or modified. It's a terrific tool to analyze, compare and share government spending data in the state.
In addition to newly added county spending records, SeeTheSpending.org provides information on state spending, historical budgets, legislative videos, and more.
Jackson, MS An interesting bill was passed last week in Mississippi. Senate Bill 2289, Mississippi 2011 and House Bill 314, Mississippi 2011 combine to create civil penalty for violators of the Mississippi Public Records Act. The law targets individual members of a public body who refuse access to public records or violate public records laws in some way. Initial fine levels would be made $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for a second offense. Any person who denies access to a public record would be liable for a civil sum up to $100 per violation. Previous law levied a fine against the public body as a whole, which meant tax payer dollars were used from one arm of the government to another. Many states allow committees and other public bodies a legal fee to hire a lawyer to defend their actions, however as the penalty is levied against an individual this would not be allowed. 
The federal forms Weill requested track payments made by the city to employees and contract workers. He said the information will help the council to better understand how the city, with a budget of $354.5 million for 2008-09, is spending taxpayer money.
A memo from the city attorney's office said the request was denied because Weill did not give a reason for the request and that the documents contained personal information. In response, Weill emailed the Mayor, suggesting that if personal information is the issue, his administration can easily redact it.
"We need to get a clear summery of where the money goes," Weill stated. "We shouldn't have to subpoena that information. We shouldn't have to use a public records request." Yet if the Melton administration does not provide the documents, the council is preparing to do just that.
"Media representatives have to deal with recalcitrant officials all too often when it comes to seeking information.
It is just part of the job, although it shouldn't have to be. At least we have the ability to inform the public when it happens and resources to oppose violations of the law.
When a Jackson City Council member has trouble getting information, it shows just how bad attitudes are when it comes to openness."
"Mississippi can and should do better than rank last among U.S. states for putting government information online.
The state especially lacks postings of government disciplinary actions and inspections.
We know about the sorry state of open records in Mississippi because of the Sunshine Week 2009 Survey of State Government Information Online and local press reports."
"Mississippi ranks last once again.
A recent national survey found that while many states put basic public records on the Internet, Mississippi still requires people to request most documents by mail or in person, and sometimes the state requires people to pay for the records.
It’s a horse-and-buggy system in a world where people elsewhere fly first-class."
"A legal magazine dealing with prison issues has sued the Mississippi Department of Corrections for access to records of contracts with a prison telephone service provider.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Hinds County Chancery Court.
Prison Legal News, a nonprofit monthly publication that reports on prison issues nationwide, claimed MDOC refused to provide a copy of its contract with Global Tel-Link as part of a research article on prison telephone services. "
"When boardroom doors illegally close in the face of the public, elected leaders are no longer acting on behalf of their constituents. They are running a monarchy.
And in the case of the Adams County Board of Supervisors, ignorance should no longer be a valid excuse. They’ve been down this road before.
In late January 2008, three of the supervisors — Mike Lazarus, S.E. “Spanky” Felter and Henry Watts — met illegally with two county department heads."
"The Mississippi Senate had shown promise of new openness last session under Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, but apparently has slipped back into its old habits of government secrecy.
Wednesday was a bad day for openness and ethics in the Senate.
Senators voted 26-23 to recommit a bill that would have made government records more available to the public. Then it followed up that shortsighted action by killing an ethics reform bill to limit lobbying activities on the taxpayer's dime."
"Public-records laws have been a hot topic at the Capitol over the last few days.
One measure that would offer exclusions to Mississippi public-records laws is still alive, while another bill that would have lessened the costs citizens pay and shortened the time governments have to comply with such requests died in the Senate Wednesday.
The House and Senate would have to come to an agreement on whether to exempt the locations of privately-built reefs from public-records laws. The measure is part of larger legislation that establishes a program in Mississippi that allows individuals and commercial operations to construct reefs in the Gulf for fishing."
"Mississippi’s open records law is a bit like a baseball bat made of Swiss cheese — it’s riddled with holes and thus relatively harmless if you were to get hit by it.
The slow grinding wheels of state government came a little closer to plugging a couple of tiny holes in the bat recently though.
Two different bills — one in the House and one in the Senate — would begin to bolster the state’s weak public records laws."
"Gov. Haley Barbour's new press secretary will get nearly $17,000 more than his predecessor, drawing criticism during a time of budget cuts.
A public records request revealed that Dan Turner will get an $80,000 annual salary, up from $63,200 paid to Pete Smith, The Clarion-Ledger reported Saturday.
Smith is now spokesman for the state Department of Education, making $84,000 a year."
"The Jackson City Council may sue Mayor Frank Melton to get financial information about vendors the city paid last year.
The City Council plans to vote on an order to compel the mayor to release the financial documents, which the mayor said he will veto, 16 WAPT's Joseph Pleasant reported.
"Anyone who releases that information will be terminated immediately," Melton told his chief administrative officer, Robert Walker, and city attorney, Sarah O'Reily Evans during Tuesday's City Council meeting."
The Local Government Records Committee, a committee of the state Department of Archives and History, began a special hearing this week on how local governments should deal with electronic documents, especially e-mail."
"Without any official guidance from the state, some local governments are destroying untold numbers of public documents by hitting the "delete" key.
The Local Government Records Committee, an obscure committee of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History that sets rules on government recordkeeping, held a special hearing Wednesday to discuss how local governments should deal with electronic documents, especially e-mail.
The committee adjourned without making a decision, and some members are concerned rules on preserving e-mail could unfairly burden small governments."
"Three On Your Side reported earlier this month that a local blogger is helping set standards for public records laws. But now, he's frustrated with the records he's received from the City of Jackson.
In July, James Hendrix took advantage of amendments to the Mississippi Public Records Act, which define what an "incident report" and "investigative report" entail."
"Call it, Citizens 1, Gov't secrecy 0, in the first test of Mississippi's new configuring of the law ensuring access to public records.
In its first ruling since the 2008 Legislature gave it new authority, the Mississippi Ethics Commission has ruled a private citizen is entitled to redacted Jackson police initial incident reports involving George Bell III in the slaying of his ex-girlfriend."
"Just as refusing even one qualified voter at the polls would be unacceptable, any failure by a custodian of public information to share that information when asked is an unacceptable erosion of a basic right. Closed records put government in charge instead of people."
"In the city of Richland, it's apparent that access to public records is based less on a commitment to observing the letter and spirit of the state's Open Records Act and more on an unfortunate decision to create economic barriers to a free flow of public information.
In Richland, a copy of a police incident report now costs $20. The Madison and Rankin County Sheriff's departments charge $10 for incident reports.
Some other agencies charge less. Florence Police Department charges 50 cents a page for copies."
"Since America is not a police state, when a crime occurs in your neighborhood, you have a right to know the basics of what happened.
The founders of this nation knew firsthand the dangers of a government that operated in secrecy, of flimsy charges and of people getting spirited away in dark of night.
For that reason, from the Declaration of Independence's insistence on individual liberty to the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights, government is held accountable."
State of Mississippi
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