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State Auditor demands repayment of $113,201 in illegal COVID-related expenditures by Leflore County supervisors

Friday, November 12, 2021, 3:15 pm News Flash Archive

On November 9, 2021, Mississippi State Auditor Shad White issued demand letters to all five members of the Leflore County Board of Supervisors for repayment of illegal COVID-related expenditures in the amount of $113,201.48.

The demand letters may be seen here:
Demand Letter to Reginald Moore
Demand Letter to Anjuan Brown
Demand Letter to Robert Collins
Demand Letter to Eric Mitchell
Demand Letter to Sam Abraham

The total amount of illegal spending claimed by the State Auditor is $101,191.01, but interest and investigatory costs bring the final amount to $113,201.48.

The spending by the Board of Supervisors was in the form of "incentive pay" or "hazardous duty pay" near Christmas 2020. The Board voted to pay each county employee $500 for working during the COVID pandemic.

When the matter was first brought up, District 1 Supervisor Sam Abraham stated that he wasn't sure whether such payments were legal, and asked for the Board to get an Attorney General's opinion on the matter.

Board Attorney Joyce Chiles obtained such an opinion, dated November 10, 2020 from Phil Carter, an opinions attorney in AG Lynn Fitch's office in Jackson.

The AG opinion stated in part:

Payments to employees in which there is no pre-existing obligation to make the payments, as in the case of bonuses, or in which payments are made for future services that have not been provided at the time the payments are made, as in the case of donations, are considered unlawful, in accordance with Mississippi Constitution Article IV, Sections 66 and 96.

We are of the opinion that a county may only expend county funds for the payment of "hazard pay" where the criteria for incentive pay are met. Accordingly, such pay must be (1) contracted for between the parties or with the employee prior to the date when services are to be performed; (2) determined in accordance with objective standards of measurement; and (3) earned by personal services performed by the employees.

The full opinion may be seen here: AG Opinion to Joyce Chiles, November 10, 2020

The matter was brought up at the December 7, 2020 Board meeting. The Board discussed the matter in Executive Session, with the press and the public excluded.

When the Board came back into open meeting, a brief discussion was held about the matter. The supervisors seemed most interested in making sure the $500 payments were provided before Christmas. Mr. Abraham asked whether it was proper to pay the $500 before the employees earned it. But other Board members wanted it to be paid "immediately."

The Greenwood Commonwealth reported on December 8, 2020 that Reginald Moore made the motion to issue the $500 payments to around 200 county employees. Supervisors Moore, Mitchell, Brown and Collins voted to make the payments, with Mr. Abraham casting the sole vote against.

The Board's discussion in open meeting may be seen here, beginning at 1:17:33 -- December 7, 2020 Supervisor Meeting

At the January 25, 2021 meeting, the Board voted unanimously to add one additional employee who had been left off the original payment batch.

Because Mr. Abraham voted to pay only one employee, the State Auditor demanded he repay $118.28. The remaining four Supervisors split the balance, each owing $28,270.80.

According to the demand letters, the Supervisors have 30 days in which to repay the illegal expenditures. If that is not done, Shad White stated that he has "the authority and duty to institute suit" to recover the money, and "the Attorney General shall file a civil lawsuit in the appropriate court."

For his part, Mr. Abraham stated that he made "a stupid decision" in voting to pay the one additional worker, but that he has already repaid his small portion of the illegal expenditure.

John Pittman Hey
The Taxpayers Channel

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