(Hattiesburg, Miss.) –Six Hattiesburg Tourism Commissioners and the Hattiesburg Tourism Commission have resolved a demand from the Office of the State Auditor, stemming from employee payroll practices from 2008 to 2013. The commission’s liability insurance company has paid $303,500 to the Auditor’s Office, where state investigative costs of $6,475 were deducted and the remaining $297,025 was returned to the Tourism Commission.
In a November 2016 informal demand, the Auditor’s Office notified six tourism commissioners that public sector employees were not allowed to receive bonuses and retroactive payroll payments. Repayment of these unauthorized payroll amounts was requested, and an insurance claim was made for payment from the Tourism Commission’s insurance company. On August 1, 2018, the Auditor’s demand was published in the FY2018 Office of the State Auditor Exceptions Report.
Marlo Dorsey, the Tourism Commission’s executive director since October 2017, said the commission has worked diligently for the last year with its legal counsel and state officials on the outstanding Auditor’s demand. In late August 2018, the six commissioners and the Tourism Commission filed a lawsuit in Hinds County Chancery Court to recover the funds from its insurance company since payment on the claim had not yet been made.
“While these practices are no longer a part of our operations, we took the Auditor’s findings from 2008 to 2013 with utmost concern and made them a priority to resolve. Today, we are pleased to report that our collective efforts with state agencies and our insurance company have been successful. Our liability insurance company has now remitted payment to close out the Auditor’s demand, and this insurance payment puts our commissioners in good standing with the State of Mississippi,” Dorsey said.
“We are very thankful to have closure on these past issues, but it is also important to us that our community knows these commissioners are public service volunteers and did not receive a single penny of these payments to employees. The law can hold individuals personally responsible for the repayment of payroll items not considered allowable forms of public employee compensation,” Dorsey said.
As a result of the insurance settlement and the successful closeout of the Auditor’s demand, the six Hattiesburg Tourism Commissioners named in the demand, along with the Hattiesburg Tourism Commission and the Auditor, have formally dismissed the lawsuit filed against the insurance company in Hinds County Chancery Court.
The Auditor’s formal findings outlined improper payroll payments and state investigative costs, plus $45,025 in finalized accrued interest. The insurance settlement rendered this total payment plus the payment of the Commissioners’ attorney fees to defend the claim.
The six commissioners listed in the now resolved demand are in good standing with the State of Mississippi. They are Marshall Bell, Chris Rowell, Bonnie Warren, Sandra Foster, Cathie Price, and Frank James III.
Dorsey says the Tourism Commission is in the process of undergoing a long-term strategic plan, and these funds will be specifically set aside until the completion of the plan where they will then be allocated toward the highest and best use for Hattiesburg’s tourism sector.