OUR OPINION: Agencies’ accountability needs an overhaul

The Mississippi Legislature estimated there would be a little more than $5 billion in the state’s general fund during the current fiscal year.

It appropriated that amount on everything from the arts and agriculture to wildlife and workers compensation.

How much of that money will actually be spent is now in the hands of more than 1,500 individuals serving on more than 200 agencies, boards and commissions.

As readers of the Sun Herald know all too well, the performance of those public entities varies considerably.

To make them all more accountable to taxpayers, we have called on the Legislature to require annual audits of each one.

Months ago, Gov. Phil Bryant told the Sun Herald he wanted to examine these agencies and authorities, boards and bureaus, and commissions and councils.

Recent articles in the Sun Herald convince us the following areas should be addressed by Bryant and the Legislature.

Accountability. In many instances, these panels oversee many public employees and a great deal of public money.

But who oversees them? The lack of annual audits is inexcusable. But so is the seeming inability of elected officials to remove someone once he or she has been appointed. Responsibilities. Through the pages of the Sun Herald, South Mississippians have encountered some appointees who have been, to put it mildly, indifferent to their duties. But others have been so involved in an agency of government they were appointed to monitor they come across as employees rather than overseers.

Transparency. More than lip service must be given to both the open meetings and open records laws.

Effectiveness and efficiency. Can each of these hundreds of appointed panels really justify their existence?

Tenure. A procedure needs to be put in place so elected officials – and their constituents – do not lose all control over an appointed position.

Finally, any examination of these hundreds of state panels should include a close look at the nomination and confirmation process itself. Elected officials should also be taking a more responsible approach to this duty.

Sun Herald (MCT)