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The Rinaldi Report

       by Peter Rinaldi

 

“Slack” attack

               To show her compassion, Adams County Justice Court Judge (and county judge candidate) Patricia Dunmore released convicted drug dealer Jonathan Lee “Slack” Ivory following his recent arrest for selling meth to an undercover agent. Since Ivory had not paid his previous fine of $5,000 and was again engaged in illicit and felonious activity, he should not have been placed on a bond at all. What made the release even worse was that she did not demand any cash bond, simply a recognizance bond. Ivory’s pledge, as part of the recog bond, was to refrain from any illegal activity and appear in court when scheduled. “Slack” has multiple sclerosis, so previous records say. And perhaps Dunmore took pity on him.

              But Ivory’s true nature couldn’t keep him away from trouble. This past week, he was arrested once again by Adams County Sheriff’s deputies for attempting to sell a 1/2 ounce of meth to an undercover officer. He tried to make his escape, driving at high speed from Grafton Heights Road to MLK Road. Deputies used “stop strips” to corral him, but then he rammed a deputy’s vehicle to get away. A damaged tire finally brought his car to stop. Not content to be arrested, he struggled with deputies and was subdued, carried off to the Adams County Jail, testimony to what happens when kind-hearted judges take pity on drug dealers. (Are you listening Judges Lillie Blackmon Sanders and Charlie Vess?)

             Ivory faces new charges of sale of controlled substance, aggravated assault against an office, felony fleeing and resisting arrest.

            Of course, “Slack ain’t slackin’ yet. With plenty of drug proceeds in his purse,  his attorney, Judge Tony Heidleberg (who acts as both the city’s environment judge as well as running his own practice) has taken on Slack’s case, at least when it comes to an upcoming bond revocation hearing.

            Sheriff Chuck Mayfield said, “This is the second time he has used his vehicle as a weapon against law enforcement.”

            We’ll see if in “Judgeland,” he deserves more special treatment because of his illness and bad upbringing and social conditions. Maybe he needs a “program” to rehabilitate him, a la Judge Blackmon-Sanders style. Parchman comes to my mind.

            Maybe he should do the rest of his original 30 year sentence (for violating his parole) and face more time, if convicted for the two more recent arrests. Or Adams County judges could give him another hug and a teddy bear and send him home to mama with an ankle bracelet, saying “We know you’re bad, but we think you’re good at heart.”

            Crime is ripping apart the fabric of Natchez-Adams County. Sad to say, Natchez is one of the most dangerous small cities in America, according to stats collected by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

            It will take the combined efforts of prosecutors and judges to make a difference.

             Kissing the fannies of career criminals won’t work.

 

Accounting turmoil

            If you’ve heard the latest reports from Natchez Mayor Butch Brown, City Clerk Donnie Holloway, the six aldermen and their CPA, Natchez is in a financial reporting crisis. First, they reported there was a multi-million dollar deficit. The mayor said he was ready to borrow a bunch of money and that ‘borrowing didn’t bother him.’ (It should). Then it was reported there was no deficit but a surplus, with the mayor then chiming in, ‘I didn’t think we had a deficit anyway.’ Say what?

            The city’s CPA tried remedy the confusion by adding confusion, ‘Well, if you consider water works revenue, and add two times pi, divided by the ratio of gas used by the public works on crews over the revenues from gaming, we have…we have…something good, I think.’

            Of course, none of this financial reporting is believable at all. When Brown was campaigning for mayor, he pledged to improve cash flow and financial accountability when elected.

He has improved cash flow. More is going out. And financial reporting is as bad as it has been for the past six years.

            Our city leaders promised, ‘It will all be straightened out, once the new software is installed.’ The software is installed, three of four bookkeeper/accountants hired in the past two years have quit, and the reports generated are almost indecipherable.

            What the mayor and aldermen receive on a monthly basis is a 150-page accounting report, a book that has very small print, coded but sometimes unnamed accounts and no tally sheets. Considering aldermen also have to approve a docket of expenditures (which is quite lengthy), there is no way they can absorb the accounting report without hours and hours of study.

            For 2013-2014, some revenues show stability, like gaming and sales tax, which are meeting original projections budgeted. Others like garbage fees, municipal court fines, Duncan Park revenues are less than expected. Multi-million dollar expenses like health insurance costs and retirement costs are budgeted but not tallied monthly. The city’s debt service, including pay off the convention center principal and interest, are too much for cash flow to handle, especially with the high payroll costs of 300 employees.

            Revenues and expenses for the visitor’s center, convention center and Natchez transit are documented. But no one from city hall is monitoring their activities and how they spend millions. There’s no oversight at all.

            If you look at police, fire and public works, they’re basically living on inflation discounted budgets. Even though it really costs more to operate these departments than 10 years ago, their budgets have remained close to those previous amounts.

            There are so many interfund loans, more than $700,000 that I counted, either loaned or paid back. And the documentation does not say what the money was used for.

            What they need is a five to six page summary that lists revenues and expenditures by category for the month and year-to-date, which the aldermen are not getting. And at this point, there’s no plan whatsoever to untangle the documents for easy reading.

            The current reporting system will never work to give aldermen the info they need to make good decisions.

History teaches us how Brown manages.  He’s very smart, a good talker, a strong leader in many ways. He’s also compulsive spender and baloney artist. He will spend money and hire people and maybe let the aldermen know about it later. He can very personable and convincing. But for a guy who likes to say he’s grounded in business principles and success, he really stinks at handling money. A few aldermen have been chirping in complaint, most notably Dan Dillard. But as a group, the aldermen are not up to the task before them. They’re not too good with numbers either.

            Hard as it is to say, after all this time, effort and money, the current financial reporting system should be scrapped. Otherwise, the aldermen will wake up one day needing to borrow more money and raising property taxes. While that may not trouble the mayor, it will trouble the rest of us who have to pay the tab.

            I remember distinctly 20 years ago, I wrote an editorial online saying the city had too much debt and was spending too much. A crisis was coming and taxes would increase. Then Mayor Brown, running for re-election, responded I was completely wrong. The city didn’t have too much debt and wasn’t spending too much. The conversation even brought in former Mayor Tony Byrne, who sided with Butch and The Democrat editorial team. The aldermen jumped in, all worried about their seats. ‘Rinaldi, you goofball, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You don’t have your facts straight.’

Two months later, Brown had been thrown out by voters. Newly installed Mayor Hank Smith and the aldermen, huddled with City Attorney Walter Brown and increased property taxes by 25% to pay for the Butch-aldermanic (emphasize manic) spending spree. Oops!

            This time, the situation is a bit different. Debt as a proportion of overall budget is less, but payroll is higher. Insurance costs are out of sight. Convention, tourism and transit expenses are millions more than in the old days.  Operating revenues and expenses are much higher, cash flow swings wilder.

             Since city leaders don’t know enough of the financial details And their reports can’t illuminate, the bosses can’t plan properly. They’re in the dark.

             Danger lies ahead.

 

 

 

 

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