Article Comment 

Worker fired after giving audit to newspaper


The Associated Press



TUPELO -- North Lee County Water Association's outside maintenance supervisor has been fired for what he says is retaliation for sharing a public document with a newspaper. 


North Lee employee Sonny Noble, 31, tells the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal he was fired for providing a copy of the association's 2013 audit to the newspaper, which published results Friday. 


"I care about what's right," Noble said. "People need to know about this." 


Noble said two North Lee board members gave him the audit to provide to a news organization and expose the nonprofit's financial troubles. He identified the board members as David Morgan and Mark Crockett, but neither would confirm Noble's assertion. 


Board members Donnie Lesley and Gordon Gibbons notified Noble of his firing Friday morning. They said it was based on time missed from work, said Noble, who said his time away from work was approved. 


Board President Terry Anderson declined to discuss the reasons Noble's firing. Noble said he intends to appeal to the association's full board. 


The audit shows the association isn't filing reports required to comply with terms of a $1.2 million federal loan, has record-keeping problems, and can't account for about $14,000. 


The association declined to give a copy of the audit to the newspaper, saying it would only share it with the system's customers. 


However, Mississippi's Rural Water Association CEO and a spokeswoman for U.S. Department of Agriculture in Jackson said the document is a public record. Federal Office of Management and Budget documents also state the audit should be available for public inspection unless restricted by law or regulation. 


Anderson provided a written response Thursday to audit findings, saying he believed North Lee currently complied with all laws and Rural Development loan requirements. However, a Rural Development loan specialist in the water and environmental division said loan recipients remain out of compliance until they provided board-approved budgets. 


Anderson said the board still hasn't approved an annual budget, an audit finding for fiscal years 2012 and 2013. 


Noble helped expose corruption in 2011 that led to resignations from all nine members of the association. Then-manager Dan Durham pleaded guilty in 2012 to falsifying federal water quality reports and was sentenced to three years' probation. 


Employees were also reported to have done work on private property owned by then-board President Mitchell Scruggs.




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