Tupelo City Council members’ anger with Mayor Jack Marshall over the city executive department’s handling of a state investigative audit of the Tupelo-based North Mississippi Narcotics Unit boiled over Tuesday in a special Council session.
The animated, sometimes heated exchanges between most Council members attending the meeting and Marshall revealed a new facet in that complex issue.
Council members raised question after question about the alleged withholding of information and communications between the mayor’s office and the office of State Auditor Steve Patterson during the investigation. Questioned were the accuracy of the mayor’s description of events and sharply criticized was his dropping a “bomb” in a matter Council members said he previously had described as a procedural issue.
The investigative audit started after questions were raised in late 1993 about the narcotics unit’s financial/administrative accountability by some members of the City Council. A final report was issued this week by Patterson. The audit included demands for repayment of improperly documented expenditures by nine current or former members of the narcotics unit and/or the Tupelo Police Department. The total demanded of the nine men collectively and individually is about $144,000 in “confidential funds not properly accounted for,” plus about $16,000 in varying amounts from the individual officers.
Marshall stoutly defended the officers and said the city could provide proper documentation. He also said he did not believe the auditor’s office had thoroughly examined a large amount of information submitted April 18 in response to the auditors’ requests for full documentation.
The officers have 30 days in which to respond in the form of repayment or with a request for additional time.
Patterson said this week he is willing and ready to look at additional documentation and, if new information is reasonable and sufficient, to change demands for repayment. He also took exception with the mayor on several points:
– He said the documents delivered April 18 have been thoroughly examined; the final demands for repayment were based on those documents and other information received as late as May 9;
– He reiterated previous statements that the city has offered only “grudging cooperation” in the investigation;
– He said procedures were in place to properly document expenditures of public funds in the often-confidential work of the narcotics unit, but the state-and-city-required procedures weren’t followed or were “overridden.” He said the state rule establishing accountability and documentation for narcotics units’ expenditures has been in place since 1974;
– He said he is not inclined to grant extensions in the matter because his patience has “worn thin” by repeated delays in the investigative process; and
– He said the demands for repayment will be turned over to the office of Attorney General Mike Moore for recovery in civil lawsuits if an adequate and legal response is not received within 30 days from the date of the demand for repayment.
Patterson has plainly marked the way to resolve the issue: Provide documentation of the expenditures required by law. Do that within 30 days and the demands for repayment would be reduced or eliminated, he said.
The City Council and mayor of course can avoid subsequent demands for repayment by ensuring that the narcotics unit and all other operations falling under the umbrella of the city of Tupelo comply with the letter and the spirit of internal and external accountability laws and standards.
That can best be achieved with adequate cooperation and information flowing among the governmental units, the mayor’s office and the City Council. It doesn’t matter if operations need to be confidential. They also can and must be fully accountable.