It was a rainy day; a day with Issac blowing through when I got a phone call; a call that a reporter would love to receive. “Tom, you won’t believe what I am telling you. There is a quarter million dollars of tax payer money sitting in a trash heap by Bobby Chain airport.” I waited for a follow up; there was a pause. “Tell me more”, I said. The story was told, and I am here to report it. Government theft and waste beyond what Hattiesburg citizens have seen to date.
“Where are the motors for the aerators?” he asked? “We don’t know; they are gone”. “What do you mean?” he said. A shrug of the shoulders said it all. They were gone. 50 to 75, fifteen horse power, 200 pound motors, and their covers, worth close to $75,000 were stolen. The theft sidelined at least forty-seven pontoon style lagoon aerators worth close to a quarter of a million dollars; now sitting in a trash heap, useless, and ordered moved by Mayor Johnny Dupree to a “graveyard” next to Bobby Chain Airport.
These aerators paddle about the lagoons, stirring up the sewage, much like a miniature river boat; giving oxygen to the bacteria that eat the waste. These were the very same lagoons that filled the city with the stench of sewage; the lagoons that have costs the city of Hattiesburg thousands of dollars in EPA fines; all the while polluting the Leaf River and natural habitat. Without them the discharge into the Leaf River will be contaminated, wildlife will suffer or die, and the citizens of Hattiesburg will pay MORE EPA fines.
I drove out to the “graveyard” with scattered showers and the tail end of Hurricane Isaac passing through, on a road saturated with mud and muck, video camera in
hand, and filming what amounts to a quarter of a million dollars of taxpayer equipment piled up in a trash heap. I got the footage, but became stuck and had to call a friend with a four wheel drive to pull me out.
The records requests were submitted to the city a couple weeks later. It was discovered that on July 17th the city council requested that the Mississippi state auditor’s office investigate the theft, and on July 26th the auditor forwarded the request to David Huggins, Director of Investigations for processing and handling. Huggins office contacted the Mayor, but Huggins was sidelined like the other times. The mayor effectively said, “We got this”, and the investigation would be handled internally by the Hattiesburg Police Department. By taking this route the administration would be able to control the information, contain the mess, and keep a lid on it.
So I ask, “Where is the transparency in the current administration? Where were the other news outlets who sat on this story? Don’t we citizens deserve the truth, or should the truth be brushed under the rug of "personnel matters" and "executive sessions"? Is this the government we are paying for with our tax dollars? Apparently it is.
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Be sure to read the Hattiesburg Municipal Court Fiasco