Hattiesburg Tourism Commission reaches settlement with State Auditor’s office

Hattiesburg Tourism Commission reaches settlement with State Auditor’s office
State Auditor Shad White said he is pleased that taxpayers have received all money that was inappropriately spent. (Photo source: State Auditor's Office)

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Hattiesburg Tourism Commission announced Thursday it has reached a settlement with State Auditor Shad White’s office regarding improper payroll payments from 2008 to 2013.

The Commission said in a news release that its liability insurance company paid $303,500 to the Auditor’s office, with $6,475 paid for investigative costs and the remaining $297,025 returning to the Tourism Commission.

The Auditor’s office demanded payment of more than $400,000 from six tourism commissioners and the Commission due to improper bonuses and retroactive payroll payments.

“The total amount of improper bonus payments in this case was $251,951.80 and our investigative costs were $6,474.66," White said in a news release. "I’m pleased that taxpayers have received back all the money that was inappropriately spent on bonuses, along with our investigative costs and interest. We work hard, alongside attorneys in the Attorney General’s office, to make sure that these instances are brought to light and the taxpayers do not take a loss, so I’m grateful that we were able to reach the right result here.”

An informal demand was made in November 2016, when Rick Taylor served as executive director of the Hattiesburg Tourism Commission. The demand was listed in the State Auditor Exceptions Report for fiscal year 2018.

Marlo Dorsey, executive director of the Hattiesburg Tourism Commission, said the commission has worked diligently to repay the demand. In August 2018, the six commissioners and the Commission filed a lawsuit against its insurance company to receive payment on the claim.

“While these practices are no longer a part of our operations, we took the Auditor’s findings from 2008 to 2013 with utmost concern and made them a priority to resolve," Dorsey said in a news release. “Today, we are pleased to report that our collective efforts with state agencies and our insurance company have been successful. Our liability insurance company has now remitted payment to close out the Auditor’s demand, and this insurance payment puts our commissioners in good standing with the State of Mississippi."

The Commission said the lawsuit against its insurance company has been dismissed as a result of the insurance settlement.

“We are very thankful to have closure on these past issues, but it is also important to us that our community knows these commissioners are public service volunteers and did not receive a single penny of these payments to employees," Dorsey said. “The law can hold individuals personally responsible for the repayment of payroll items not considered allowable forms of public employee compensation.”

The six commissioners, Marshall Bell, Chris Rowell, Bonnie Warraen, Sandra Foster, Cathie Price and Frank James III, are now in good standing with the state of Mississippi.

Dorsey said the Commission is undergoing a long-term strategic plan and the funds will be specifically set aside until completion of the plan.

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