OTHER OPINION: More precision required in payment issue

State Auditor Stacey Pickering has a $700,000 question to answer. Why did he settle a claim for more than $1 million in misappropriated or misspent public money for less than $300,000?

The question arises from last week’s release of Pickering’s annual Audit Exceptions Report, which describes itself as “A legally mandated account of misappropriated or misspent public funds and the actions taken by the Office of the State

Auditor for their recovery …”

Underscoring our contention that every penny of public money should be accounted for, the report shows that Pickering’s office required someone at Mississippi State University to repay $2.59 for “missing equipment.”

Most of the entries in the report are much more serious. Such as this one:
Harrison County

Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, foundation

President, Dr. William Walker $296,096.60

Misuse of Public Funds

Status: In a negotiated settlement, the Office of the State Auditor received two yachts on DMR’s behalf from the Marine Resources Foundation. DMR spent $804,013.44 restoring and upgrading the yachts and purchased equipment valued at $169,982.55. These yachts were exchanged in lieu of a $1,074,519.97 demand. The assets were insured at $350,000.00 and $284,000.00. The equipment was removed and the yachts were sold by sealed bids for a total of $126,114.05, which makes the total recovery $296,096.60.

But if the state demanded $1,074,519.97 and received only $296,096.60, what happened to the remaining $778,423.37?

So how does nearly $300,000 repay more than $1 million?

At the beginning of his report, Pickering states: “The Office of the State Auditor continues to serve as a watchdog organization to ensure that tax dollars are protected… We believe the taxpayers of Mississippi deserve no less.”

So do we, Mr. Pickering. Which is why, on their behalf, we again ask: What’s the status of the unpaid $700,000?

Sun Herald (MCT)

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