A Hinds Co. supervisor wants to know why election commissioners spent $8,400 on two luncheons. Members don’t remember having them.
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - In March, documents show the Hinds County Election Commission spent $4,200 for a training luncheon.
However, when members were asked about it at a Wednesday meeting, none of them could remember attending it.
Hinds County District 2 Supervisor David Archie is calling out the commission for misspending tens of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money, including more than $8,400 for training luncheons in February and March.
“They were supposed to have had a couple of training sessions along with luncheons. We don’t know whether or not they have taken place,” Archie said. “The question was asked by me if they attended a luncheon as well as a training session and nobody gave us an answer. $4,200 of taxpayer money was spent... on a couple of occasions... As well as cleaning the building.
“The question is whether or not the election commissioners all know about what is taking place and what is going on,” he said. “We do know the chairperson, Toni Johnson, knows what’s going on.”
Wednesday, Archie and a cadre of his supporters attended the commission’s monthly meeting, where they brought up several questionable expenditures that he said were signed off on by Commission Chair Toni Johnson.
In addition to luncheons, Archie also questioned the $3,643 spent to cut grass at the Election Commission building, as well as the $4,700 spent to sanitize the facility against COVID-19.
The grass cutting charges are for three months and are for cutting a space the size of a couple of residential front yards. Commissioners are headquartered at 701 Commerce Street in downtown Jackson.
Johnson said Wednesday was the first time anyone had raised concerns about the commission’s expenditures and believes Archie only brought them up because he has something against her.
“I ran against him for the same position and people are asking me to run again because they don’t like what they’re seeing in District 2,” she said. “This is a personal witch hunt.”
Johnson says the commission’s expenses are above-board and ultimately are signed off on by the board of supervisors.
“At the end of the day, anything that we submitted would have to be approved by the board for us to issue payment,” Johnson said. “The election commission doesn’t take in money or receive it, nor do I. Everything that was paid for went... on to the board for approval.”
Johnson explained that all contractors chosen for the projects in question were chosen through the county’s purchasing department, not the commission, and that Archie signed off on all the expenditures when they were presented for board approval.
“She’s not going to put this blame on the Hinds County Board of Supervisors,” he said. “We only give them the money to run this office. That’s what we do. We appropriate the funds to the election commissioners to run this office. They vote to spend the money and after they spend the money, they send us some information on how they spend the money.”
Archie, meanwhile, has been at the center of controversy since taking office in early 2020. One of his opponents, former Supervisor Darrel McQuirter, challenged him on residency requirements in a case that went all the way to the Mississippi Supreme Court. The high court sided with Archie in their decision.
The first-term supervisor made headlines recently for his actions at several board meetings, including one where he called another supervisor a “bald-headed sissy.” Citing his behavior, District 3 Supervisor Credell Calhoun, the board president, included a motion on the board agenda to remove him as vice president.
Archie was more reserved, but still forceful, at the Wednesday commission meeting when he brought up the expenditures in question.
“On Feb. 5, 2021, there was a training and luncheon that was supposed to have taken place, and the cost of this luncheon was $4,216,” he said. “My question is how many members of this board participated in that training as well as that luncheon.”
“We’ll have to go back and pull that information, Supervisor Archie...” Johnson said.
“I am speaking to each member of the board,” he said, cutting her off. “Did you attend that training and that luncheon on that particular day?”
Members couldn’t remember a luncheon held on the day mentioned. District 1 Commissioner Kidada Brown said there had been several meetings where lunch was provided. District 5 Commissioner Shirley Varnado went to retrieve her files to see when the training session occurred.
“I want to know did y’all have a luncheon and meeting in this board room?” he asked.
Documents provided by Archie show that each payment, though, was for one luncheon, with the February payment for an “Election Commission Training Luncheon” and the March payment for a “training luncheon for March.”
Johnson said the payments, though, were likely for several luncheons, not just one, and reiterated that she would have to go back and pull files to review.
“What you have is a line item. We need what was submitted with that because I think that was multiple, for more than one occasion,” she said. “What we’re going to do now, Supervisor Archie...”
Archie interrupted Johnson again, bringing up a second payment of $4,200 that was made on March 17. Both payments were made to a company called New Beginnings, and both were signed off on by Toni Johnson, according to Archie.
Johnson again said the commission needed more information before they could comment on the expenditures.
Commissioners did say that they were changing the way expenditures were made. Previously, only one commissioner had to sign off on an expense. Under new rules of procedure being drafted, at least three members of the five-member board will have to sign off.
District 4 Commissioner Yvonne Horton asked Archie to stay after the meeting so the files could be pulled.
Malcolm Johnson, a special projects officer in Archie’s office, said he wanted the information to be revealed publicly.
Horton made a motion to hold a special meeting on August 5, to give the commission time to research the supervisor’s questions and come back with answers and the motion was approved unanimously.
Other questions also were raised. Lary White, an Archie supporter, asked about $60,000 that the commission sought from the board.
Johnson, though, said the money was already in the commission’s budget and she was simply asking the board if it could retain the money for voter education.
To date, that money has not been spent.
Following the meeting, Archie gave reporters a tour of the facility, in part, to question why so much had been spent on cleaning costs. Nearly $4,800 was paid to clean the building in February; the same was paid to clean and spray the building for COVID-19 in March. Meanwhile, more than $3,600 was paid for pressure washing, lawn care, and mowing.
Malcolm Johnson said cleaning crews likely needed to make a few more rounds, pointing to a dead rat that had not been removed despite being in the building for months.
Toni Johnson, though, said the county wouldn’t have those expenses had the board of supervisors not moved the election commission to the new facility last year. Previously, the commission was housed in the Hinds County Courthouse. It was not known why they were moved.
She says the county spends more than $6,000 a month to lease the Commerce Drive space.
“We didn’t pick the building or the contracts,” she said. “The board of supervisors puts us in every building they want.”
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