August 1, 2013 10:53:53 AM
Nathan Gregory - firstname.lastname@example.org
A conference travel receipt sparked a heated discussion between long-time political rivals Leroy Brooks and Harry Sanders during the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors meeting Wednesday, resulting in Brooks saying he would take the board to court, if necessary.
District 1 supervisor and board president Sanders said County Administrator Ralph Billingsley's assistant, Cynthia Thompson, booked hotel rooms at the Beau Rivage Resort in Biloxi in advance for a reduced rate of $139 a night and District 5 supervisor Brooks got a room on his own after the window of time when the deadline for the reduced rate had passed. As a result, the room Brooks received cost $149 plus a resort fee of $9, $18 more than the rooms already set aside for the other county officials.
Sanders' main concern was that Brooks made the reservation for June 16-18 when the conference was June 18-20 with a reception on June 17.
"It looks to me like we paid for a motel and per diem for a....day down there when there was no convention going on. We as a board inadvertently approved that because Ralph didn't notice the difference in the dates," Sanders said. "He just saw that there were reservations made for the convention. He just signed off on it, put it on the docket, and the board approved the docket."
Sanders then said the solution would be Brooks paying the $158 for the hotel room reservation for June 16 and the $41 per diem expense -- a total of $199 -- back to the county since there was no conference held that night. Board attorney Tim Hudson informed him that since the board had approved it, the money couldn't be deducted, but the board could ask for reimbursement by a board order. Sanders then made a motion that Brooks return the money and received a second from District 3 supervisor John Holliman.
"That seems like that's not a whole lot of money, but we're looking after taxpayers' money. It's not our money, and (money for the hotel reservation) was improperly spent, in my opinion," Sanders said.
Brooks said the only reason Sanders brought the matter up in the board meeting was an attempt to embarrass him.
"Since 2000, part of your life goal has been to try to embarrass me, to cause me trouble, which you've done a real good job of," Brooks said. "I've come to the recognition, and you should have, too, that after all this time and all the things you've done, I'm still in office. No matter what you've done, it may appeal to some of your misguided supporters, but it does not affect my politics."
Brooks then said he didn't plan to pay the money because he didn't do anything illegal.
"There is no policy that says, 'Leroy, you can't go down on Sunday.' You talk about the money like you're such a savior of taxpayers' money. I've witnessed you since you've been here. You allow money to almost be thrown out in the dish water. This is about you wanting to aggravate me," he said. "What I want to tell you today so you'll know forever (is) you're not going to aggravate me anymore. I'm not going to pay it ... You walk around like you run the county, and I've got to admit you've done a great job at being 'The Man,' but at the end of the day, when you're gone from this board and you're dead, all that's going to be are memories."
Brooks then compared Sanders to past Mississippi leaders who "clamor for power," mentioning Ross Barnett and Theodore Bilbo, before saying that despite the fact that he doesn't dislike Sanders, he loved him spiritually.
"From the human standpoint, I often say I don't dislike you, but from the spiritual standpoint, I've got to love you. You're not one of my favorite people, but I tolerate you and work with you," he said. "Spiritually, I love you ... Since you've been on this board, you've taken great pride in trying to destroy people. I see the way you've done people. You've used them up and thrown them away, and you mistreat employees."
After a 30-plus-minute discussion, supervisor Bill Brigham made a substitute motion that the board had a finding of fact that it erred in reimbursing Brooks for his June 16 reservation and asked him to reimburse the money. The motion passed 3-0- with Brigham, Sanders and Holliman in favor and Brooks and supervisor Jeff Smith abstaining from the vote.
Sanders said he gave Brooks every opportunity possible to reimburse the county privately so the issue would never have to be discussed in a public meeting, but Brooks objected. Brooks said he realized it would cost him more to take the matter to court than the $199 in question, but he would do so anyway based on principle. He said he would not repay the money unless he is ordered by a judge to do so.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.