MDOT officials won’t appeal Meetings Act violation

Published 5:29 pm Thursday, October 8, 2009

Two Mississippi Department of Transportation commissioners say they won’t object to a preliminary ruling that they violated the state’s open meetings law.

Mississippi Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Hood said Wednesday that Commissioners Bill Minor of the Northern District and Wayne Brown of the Southern District withdrew their objection.

When Hood’s recommendation was released last week, the commissioners said they intended to object to its findings. But Minor told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal newspaper Wednesday he’s just ready to move on.

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The third commissioner, Dick Hall, was not at the meeting and filed the complaint with the ethics commission. State Department of Transportation Director Butch Brown also was named in the complaint. The Brown’s are not related.

The finding concerned the commissioners’ presence at an August dinner in Jackson in which they met with officials from Madison County and discussed an interchange project.

Hood will present his recommendation to the Ethics Commission, likely Friday. Had the transportation commissioners not withdrawn their objection, a hearing would have been held before the Ethics Commission made a final decision.

Hood will recommend to the commission that the transportation commissioners broke the law and that they be enjoined from violating it again.

The maximum penalty under the state’s law would have been a $100 fine levied against the Transportation Commission — not the individual members.

Hall’s complaint accused the other two commissioners of meeting at a Jackson restaurant Aug. 10 with Madison County officials to discuss an Interstate 55 interchange in his district.

The controversy is the latest flare-up in a long-running feud at MDOT over Butch Brown’s appointment as executive director. Minor and Wayne Brown support Butch Brown, but Hall opposed the appointment.

While he said he wanted to put the incident behind him, Minor said he plans to ask the Ethics Commission for clarification on the open meetings law.

“I don’t think we did anything wrong,” Minor said. “I was invited to a dinner. They asked a question about the interchange, and we told them we did not have any more money for it.”

The rest of the dinner, he said, was small talk.