From Lowndes County
BY JEFF CLARK
The Lowndes County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday voted to allow County Administrator Ralph Billingsley to explore updating the travel policies for the board. The motion, made by District 2 Supervisor Bill Brigham, was passed on a 4-0 vote. District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks abstained from voting.
The vote was the end result of an almost hour-long diatribe in which District 1 Supervisor and board president Sanders accused Brooks of misusing county travel funds, something Brooks vehemently denied.
“We seem to over the past two to four years have had some problems with travel,” Sanders said. “Leroy, this kind of addresses you in a way.”
According to Sanders, Brooks received approval from the board to attend a conference for supervisors at the Beau Rivage Hotel in Biloxi. Sanders said the conference was June 17-20, but claimed Brooks went to the Coast a day early on Sunday, June 16.
“Looks like we paid for transportation and per diem for a couple of days when the convention wasn’t going on. Ralph Billingsley approved it,” Sanders said.
The cost of the additional hotel day and per diem was $199, according to Billingsley.
“This may not seem like a whole lot of money, but it is taxpayer money,” Sanders said. “I make a motion that if (Brooks) refuses to pay, Billingsley has the authority to take it out of money the county owes him.”
The motion was seconded by District 3 Supervisor John Holliman.
Brooks said he did nothing wrong nor illegal and that Sanders was trying to publically humiliate him.
“This is about you trying to embarrass me,” Brooks said. “When you came here, you said you were going to put me in my place. You’ve done a real good job of it, all of the things you’ve done, I’m still in office. It has not affected my politics. I didn’t do anything illegal, I got mixed up. There’s no policy that says I can’t go down there. You allowed me to go. I’m not going to pay the money. There are not going to be anymore blowouts in the boardroom. You’ve done a great job of being the man.”
Billingsley said the board approved the travel costs at the May 15 board meeting. He said Brooks was not part of the group booking for the board.
“I approved (Brooks’) travel request on May 6,” Billingsley said. “But I approved it in error. Traditionally when we go to conferences, we present a check so that we don’t have to pay taxes. But the Beau Rivage would not take a check on the spot so we had to cut the checks early and send them in advance.”
Brooks told the board he would see them in court if they deducted his money.
“If you take my money, I’m going to court,” Brooks said. “I did not misappropriate anything and I did nothing illegal. I haven’t done anything wrong and I don’t plan to pay the money. You really need to leave me alone. Twenty years ago, I would have taken you outside and beat your…but I’m past that.”
The board attorney said the courts would be the best solution to the dispute.
“The simple matter of it is it is county business,” Hudson said. “The best way to handle it is through court.”
Sanders contended the county has given Brooks ample time to pay the disputed $199.
“This is almost August,” Sanders said. “This happened in June.”
District 2 Supervisor Bill Brigham said the extra day was a mistake made by Brooks and amended the motion.
“I want a finding that the board paid Brooks for Sunday night and he should repay the county on his own,” Brigham said.
The motion passed 3-2 with Brooks and District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith abstaining from the vote.
After the vote, Sanders suggested the board update some of its travel policies, only allowing approved travel in connecting counties.
“Anything outside of those counties needs to be approved,” Sanders said. “We also need to update it so that the mileage reports show where we went and the purpose of where we are going. I don’t think simply listing ‘constituent service’ is legitimate.”
The board agreed to have Billingsley draw up new travel guidelines with input from the board members.
According to Billingsley, the supervisors have $35,000 budgeted in Fiscal Year 2013 for travel expenses. The line item is listed as “meals, rooms and mileage.” The supervisors are reimbursed for mileage on a monthly basis.
“The bottom line is that you want to be the plantation manager and nobody wants to tap dance for you, buddy,” Brooks said before leaving the board meeting.