Tupelo officials critical of ethics report

Published 1:42 pm Friday, October 10, 2008

Tupelo department heads criticized in a report on alleged ethics problems say that while they haven’t reviewed the entire document, they disagree with what they know about it thus far.

The report made public this week alleges numerous problems in several city departments based in large part on interviews with unnamed sources. Targeted departments include public works, police and municipal court.

Mayor Ed Neelly, acknowledging that he had not read the document, said he places no faith in any of the report’s findings. Neelly cited what he said is the lack of credibility of Cindy Brown, the ethics consultant hired to do the report.

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“A person who misrepresents themselves as to their credentials and memberships to professional organizations, I give very little credibility to what they have to report,” Neelly said Wednesday.

Neelly says he has repeatedly asked Brown, of EthicsNow, to provide proof of her expertise after a December 2007 story in a local newspaper noted inconsistencies in her resume. Among them: a claim to belong to the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics when, in fact, that organization had no record of her or her company, EthicsNow.

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported that it was unable to verify Brown’s claim that she had conducted similar studies for 257 other public entities across 16 states. Brown told the newspaper she could not disclose the names of those entities because of confidentiality agreements she had signed.

Sid Russell, public works interim director, says he disagreed with Brown’s allegations that the mayor and chief operations officer run the department and change the municipal improvement schedule at whim.

“I know that we’ve always considered ourselves treating everybody fairly, and as far as the mayor and City Hall running our business, they don’t — never have,” Russell said.

Brown cited the Municipal Court for alleged inconsistencies in its treatment of residents based on their socio-economic status. The report also claimed the court keeps poor or inaccurate records, and jacks up the costs of fines. It also alleges meddling by the court administrator in numerous cases.

“We try to be consistent on what we do as best we can. That’s all I can say,” said court administrator Larry Montgomery. “I’m surprised we were named. The way we’ve handled everything is pretty standard. It’s the way it is in probably 99 percent of the municipal and justice courts in Mississippi.”