By The Associated Press
SOUTHAVEN, Miss. (AP) — Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, speaking publicly for the first time about business dealings that benefited friends and associates, said he believes he did nothing wrong because the city’s aldermen approved all transactions.
Davis spoke Monday with The Commercial Appeal about deals involving a Florida condominium he co-owns with a developer who has received more than $3.4 million through real estate dealings with the city since 2008, a fire station that could cost taxpayers up to $4 million because of an unusual no-bid contract negotiated by Davis, and other recently reported transactions.
The mayor, absent from city business on a 30-day leave for medical treatment when most of the dealings were uncovered, addressed the topics during a lengthy interview.
Davis, who is under criminal investigation for misuse of city funds after being ordered by the state auditor to repay about $170,000, said he couldn’t do anything without approval from the board of aldermen.
“What I think people need to realize is I don’t sign contracts without board authority,” said Davis, 45. “I don’t approve payments, so I don’t see how there could be any correlation between me returning favors for anyone because I am not the decision-maker. My job is to implement the policies approved by the board.”
One alderman responded to Davis’ comments by saying again that the mayor kept them in the dark about much of what he was doing.
“He would bring us the deals that we trusted him to present honestly and ethically but would give us half the story,” Alderman Ronnie Hale said. “He is speaking out to the media now because he is in this blame game, trying to take the heat off himself so he will look better. But we are not playing games with him. We are here to do what is in the best interest of the citizens.”
Davis said he’s also trying to do what’s best for the citizens.
“I can say that the decisions made out of my office are not based on any friendships,” he said. “There have been several times that it would have been easy for me to lead the board in a direction on a deal, but I have not done that.
“I was elected to do a job. Have I been perfect? No, no one is perfect, but I done my best to do what is in the best interest of the citizens.”
A groundswell of opposition to Davis in the wake of revelations about his spending and dealings has led to calls for his resignation and moves by aldermen, also under fire for perceived lack of oversight, to correct problems that allowed much of the spending to occur. Aldermen are looking into having an independent audit of city finances.
But Davis, who has vowed not to resign, pointed to some of the deals reported over the past month as examples of how he was trying to do what he thought was in the city’s best interest.
About the 2008 fire station deal, in which the city chose to lease property for a station, Davis said he was given the go-ahead by the board to enter the lease deal at $30,000 a month in rent.
Davis said he believed leasing the fire station was a good deal because at the time, the city’s sales tax collections were down.
“I think the city made the right decision to lease the fire station because at the time the city was headed into a recession,” he said.
He added that he believes the seven-member board of aldermen reacted to public pressure when they voted recently to issue bonds to buy the fire station for $3.2 million rather than continuing to rent it for $5.5 million under the 15-year lease.
“In my opinion, it is still not the best time to buy that station,” Davis said. “I think the city should look at every alternative before making the final decision to purchase that property.”
Businessmen David Gary Murphy and Stephen M. Gross, who built and own the fire station, contributed thousands to Davis’ unsuccessful 2008 congressional campaign in the months leading up to the lease signing.
The city also is covering the developers’ property taxes for the site at $12,000 a year.
Davis said friends and associates such as Chuck Roberts and Jamie Harris were given business with the city because he wanted to keep city business in the city.
Regarding a 20-acre site where Roberts’ firm, RH Holdings, pocketed $45,000 for a single day’s work, Davis said he didn’t know how much his friend made from the transaction.
“I was not there when he closed on the deal,” Davis said. “I can’t emphasize enough that a mayor in a co-chartered city, by law, doesn’t enter into land deals or authorize payments on these deals.”
Davis also said that the Florida condo he owns with Roberts was a bad decision, but that it was a personal one. He said he and Roberts are trying to sell the property quickly.
“We are upside down on that property,” he said. “It was a bad investment made with my personal money. I did not disclose it to the board that I owned a condo with Mr. Roberts because it was a personal issue that had nothing to do with the city.”
An investigation by The Commercial Appeal found that Roberts has received more than $3.4 million through real estate deals with the city since 2008.
About credit card reimbursements that led to the repayment order from the state auditor, Davis said he could not discuss it because of the ongoing state and federal investigation.
“I just want the public to be patient and wait because all the facts will come out,” Davis said.