The Not So Smooth Criminal
It’s Friday the 13th and we have something here more frightening that Jason; elected and appointed officials. This is not Crystal Lake but in Lumberton we’re dealing with something more frightening than a masked man carrying a machete; their terror last for one night but we deal with terror year after year and unfortunately, these terrors are elected and for some reason they think laws, ordinances, guidelines for code charter municipalities are just suggestions. We’re still feeling the impact of the Winston administration. Thankfully, he resigned but that’s going to cost the citizens of Lumberton thousands of dollars because we have to pay for a special election. To top it off, there are current elected officials like Kent Crider and Cora Rogers that want to subject the citizens of Lumberton to another possible special election because they want to serve as mayor. It was problematic when Ben Winston did it and it’s still a problem because I feel you need to finish your term before seeking another office. In my opinion, it’s not a law just an opinion, you should resign before seeking another office or finish your term and then seek another office. But that’s not the topic of today’s post. Below is a copy of a contract Winston signed stating that the matching funds needed for the Army Corp of Engineer grant was secured. Perhaps you didn’t notice, but the date on the letter is a day before the meeting where I submitted a complaint about the executive session violation. Since the letter was dated June 15, 2015, the minutes from May, 2015 should contain a discussion and vote giving Mayor Ben Winston approval to sign the contract with the Army Corp of Engineers.
I was looking through the paperwork I received from the Army Corp of Engineers and Ben Winston signed a contract for the $2.5 million dollar grant saying the City of Lumberton had the $641,375.00 in matching funds needed to secure the grant. Now, that has put the City of Lumberton into another fiscal crisis because the grant has been set aside for Lumberton when it could have been awarded to another city that actually has the matching funds. Since Winston signed a contract, the City of Lumberton must come up with the matching funds for the grant or we will not be able to obtain another grant. I’ve attended every meeting and there was never a motion or discussion that granted Winston the authority to sign a contract with the Army Corp of Engineers on behalf of the City of Lumberton. Since the matter was never discussed at a board meeting, that means there’s no record of this matter in the official minutes.
Who gave Winston the authority to sign a contract on behalf of the City of Lumberton? Did he take it upon himself? If so, then he should be responsible for the matching funds needed. This is a code charter municipality, and a few years back, Ben Winston’s son-in-law, Alderman Timothy Johnson told Mayor Miriam Holder in a YouTube video that as a mayor, your only authority is what this board allows. But this is not the first time something like this happened while Winston was serving as mayor. If you recall, Richard Rose was hired to produce a budget, was given a contract for grant writing services and paid without getting board approval. Guess what, these instances are not outlined in the minutes either. As stated in a recent preliminary judgment from the Mississippi Ethic Commission, it is vital that a city maintain accurate minutes. The city speaks through its minutes and everything that is approved must be spread across the minutes.
It is also rumored that Winston voided checks that were prepared to pay certain vendors. Why this malfeasance was never brought to the attention of the board? This board has been in office for 2 years and at every meeting, sans the vote of Alderman Quincy Rogers, they voted to pay the bills. So please explain how the City of Lumberton defaulted on the MDEQ loan, had a tax lien against its sales taxes and had to barter a repayment plan that was wrought with late fees, interest and penalties but no one on the board objected, except Alderman Quincy Rogers. If something like this would have happened during Stephanie Mulling’s watch, they would have wanted to tar and feather her to the flag pole in front of city hall but for some reason, this board embraces incompetence. The board voted to pay the bills but for some reason they were never paid. Interestingly, Kent Crider, who’s now in his 6th year as an alderman and Cora Rogers, who’s in her 2nd year as an elected official, has failed to address this egregious act but they think they have the skills to serve as mayor. Little do they know, all of their bonds are in jeopardy but Ben should have gotten over his embarrassing loss to Warren Byrd and stayed in office because at least then he was covered by his bond? Now he’s on his own. I don’t know if the city is going to try and get a loan to secure the Army Corp of Engineer grant but I don’t think they should secure another loan since signing the contract was never approved by the board. Someone should contact the Attorney General or State Auditor and let them know the board did not approve Winston’s action and ask to have the city released from this contract. Let’s see if anyone step up and stand out as a leader in this matter or will they continue to sweep it under the rug.