“Good Old Boy” politics provide careers

Published 7:00 am Saturday, September 19, 2015

In the 1960s many federal planning and economic development assistance programs were available to Mississippi local governments. Before funding these programs, the feds required review by regional organizations. Under the authority of the nonprofit corporation act, Mississippi created 10 private nonprofit corporations to manage planning and economic development throughout the state. This act established procedures for coordinating the federally funded programs with state, regional and local planning, which required a review process by sub-state regional systems called clearinghouses. In 1971, executive order 81 recognized the 10 non-profit corporations as the official sub-state regions and renamed them “planning and development districts” (PDDs).  The PDDs serve as the regional clearinghouses responsible for review of federal funds. In 1989, to refine and streamline the regional economic development districts, executive order No. 615 created a new bureaucracy under the department of finance and administration as a liaison with the PDDs. Imagine that, an additional bureaucracy created to streamline an existing bureaucracy. Initially the regional systems were involved in planning and economic development programs. Later, they expanded their role to include providing programs and services such as job training, child care, aging, waste management, and transportation, none have anything to do with economic development. PDDs’ primary source of funding comes from state-administered grants of federal funds for these programs. The legislature appropriates general funds to state agencies that serve as a match for federal funds. The state agencies use these federal and state funds to contract with PDDs to provide services. The legislature also allowed the PDDs to participate in managing loan programs at the local level to support the programs, a huge grant of power to an unelected bureaucracy. The PDDs are also funded by local governments through dues and contracts for services. Pearl River County is a member of the Southern Mississippi Planning and Development District, costing $14,000 annually.  That doesn’t include the additional $64,944 (recently increased from $40,000) we pay SMPDD’s agency on aging, a total of $78,944 per year we fork over to an agency with very few state controls. PDDs contract with state agencies to spend state appropriated funds but are not required by statute to comply with the pre-audit of salaries, personnel and other state regulations imposed on other private corporations contracting with the state. The general public isn’t aware that PDDs lack many state controls. The one regarding salaries I find especially interesting. The agency’s positions and salaries don’t require approval by the state personnel board. These state controls are supposed to prevent waste and abuse by deterring excess in salaries and purchasing.  Not that it would prevent such mischief, they are all part of the same system. After resigning from the Public Service Commission in 2013, Leonard Bentz Jr. has been hired as executive director of the Southern Mississippi Planning and Development District. Bentz’s salary on the PSC was $78,000 a year. His salary for the 15-county planning district is $150,000.  Bentz’s father, Leonard Bentz Sr., was secretary for the board of the Southern Mississippi Planning and Development District, and before hiring Bentz Jr., he agreed to leave that position. It’s another example of how cronyism and “Good Old Boy” politics provide lucrative careers for those who administer the programs. By Jeff H. Smith  

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