Tupelo pays ethics consultant

TUPELO – Ethics consultant Cindy Brown this week received a portion of the $70,931 she billed the city in late December.
The $45,431 check was authorized Friday by City Council President Berdell Jones. He drove it to Jackson on Monday to deliver it to Brown, who was there for a meeting.
The money is for travel-related expenses the consultant incurred while working on the city’s controversial ethics study.
Brown already had received about $40,000, and is still owed $25,500 in contractual fees. There was no word on when she’ll get that portion.
Most members of the council had signed an until-now-undisclosed agreement last week approving the payment, but at least two weren’t informed at all.
Ward 1 Councilman Dick Hill and Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan said at a Monday afternoon meeting at City Hall that no one told them until Jones was halfway to Jackson. Both disapproved. Also against it was Ward 3 Councilman Smith Heavner and Mayor Ed Neelly.
“This is ridiculous,” Hill said.
Jones was not at the meeting and did not return a call for comment.
The study was launched in October 2006, expanded in mid-2007 and completed in September 2008 with the delivery of a final report. The report alleges numerous deficiencies in several city departments.
Brown reportedly has been asked by Jones to return to Tupelo and officially present her report, but she thus far has not done so.
In the meantime, a copy has been sent to the Office of the State Auditor for possible investigation.
It was Jones who had originally approved paying Brown’s contractual fees and travel expenses in late January and early February.
After he OK’d it, he submitted it to the full council for approval along with other, unrelated bills. The council voted to pay all bills, without necessarily knowing which ones were included in the ledger.
At the time of the approvals, the consultant hadn’t returned personnel files to the city, nor had she provided full documentation of her expenditure claims. Brown’s contract required her to return the files before being paid, and Jones said he’d require the documentation before cutting a check.
On March 6, Brown finally did submit some of the missing documentation, but apparently not all of it. And Jones was supposed to acquire the personnel files from Brown when he delivered her check Monday.
At its inception, the study was expected to cost about $30,000 and be completed in about four months. Instead, it took nearly two years and, with lawyer’s fees, cost nearly $140,000.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/Daily Journal