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Complaint filed against DMR over tracking of agency expenses [The Sun Herald :: ]
[July 19, 2014]

Complaint filed against DMR over tracking of agency expenses [The Sun Herald :: ]

(Sun Herald (Biloxi, MS) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 19--The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources failed to track all expenses it paid for accounting and other professional services under a contract with Horne LLP of Jackson, according to a complaint filed with the state auditor.

Michael Rejebian of Jackson, a political opposition researcher and former journalist who requested detailed copies of the bills, is asking the state auditor's office to investigate why DMR does not have detailed records for the expenses. The contract called for "comprehensive" invoices from Horne for an auditing and program-compliance review, as well as subcontractors EnStrat LLC for human resources work and Frontier Gulf Coast for public relations.

The auditor's office does not confirm or deny receipt of complaints, but spokesman Brett Kitteridge said complaints from citizens and public officials are investigated.

Both DMR and Horne representatives said detailed invoices were not necessary. DMR paid Horne $150,000 for the 60-day review, although Horne submitted a time and expense sheet that listed hours worked, hourly rates and expenses totaling $199,496.75.

Where's the detail? Rejebian requested detailed bills in February. He filed his complaint with the auditor July 3.

He has lawsuits pending in Hinds County Chancery Court against two state agencies -- the departments of Environmental Quality and Transportation -- because he was denied detailed expense records requested under the Public Records Act.

He referred questions to his attorney, Matt Eichelberger of Jackson.

"We'd like to know," Eichelberger said, "why DMR won't follow its own rules." The DMR informed Rejebian it had given him all the records it possessed for Horne's bills. The public records law does not require agencies to create documents it does not possess.

In a statement emailed to the Sun Herald, DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller said the initial contract with Horne called for detailed invoices to ensure Horne met its professional obligations. The DMR did not require detailed invoices, he said, because Horne's "analysis" showed the accounting firm had done more work than the DMR's payment would cover.

The half-page "time & expense analysis" listed hours worked by five Horne employees, by title, at hourly rates ranging from $48 to $285 an hour. Hourly fees for Horne totaled $111,973.50 and undocumented expenses were $9,041.45. The sheet also listed an hourly rate of $150 for a Frontier consultant, 286 hours worked and a total charge of $42,900. An EnStrat consultant charged $150 an hour for 234.50 hours, for a total of $35,581.80.

An emailed statement from Horne said: "Due to the extensive resources required to deliver DMR an adequate report based on initial findings, Horne agreed to a price of $150,000 for the deliverable. The detailed invoice of $199,496.75 ... is simply support of resources Horne deployed to provide that deliverable. An expense detail was not provided, as the time incurred alone was substantially above the agreed on price and thus the expenses incurred in excess of that agreed upon price were irrelevant." Familiar players Jackson attorney Amy Whitten is affiliated with EnStrat and heads the Whitten Group. Rejebian says in his lawsuit against the DEQ the agency blacked out portions of the Whitten Group bills that should have been disclosed.

Horne has worked for a number of state agencies, and payments to the firm total about $14 million between July 2013 and April 2014, according to a government-spending database maintained by the private Mississippi Center for Public Policy. Under a second contract with Horne, the DMR had by April paid the firm almost $452,000. The contract grant and accounting-management assistance, which runs through December, is expected to total $925,000. However, no ceiling was placed on the cost, a copy of the contract shows.

Frontier Gulf Coast, an offshoot of Jackson public relations firm Frontier Strategies, is owned by Josh Gregory, Quinton Dickerson and Joe Cloyd, all of whom worked for former Gov. Haley Barbour. Frontier Strategies, its website says, managed media, fundraising activities and advertising for Gov. Phil Bryant's 2011 campaign.

Bryant appointed Miller to head the DMR after former Executive Director Bill Walker was fired amid allegations of financial mismanagement. Walker has since been sentenced to five years in prison for conspiring to commit fraud.

___ (c)2014 The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.) Visit The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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