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Jackson council members question spending practices amid investigations into misuse of funds

Published: Aug. 31, 2021 at 10:20 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Three separate investigations into a former city employee for possible misappropriation of funds are causing some members of the Jackson City Council to scrutinize future spending even further.

Multiple sources within the city have confirmed to 3 On Your Side that the subject of the investigation is former manager of the Office of Constituent Services, Keyshia Sanders.

Last week, the city’s mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, confirmed the Office of the State Auditor and Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens had been made aware of the possible misconduct.

Earlier this month, the city council also approved an investigation into the matter and selected Phelps Dunbar to lead that effort.

It’s unclear how Sanders might have misappropriated funds, though Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote alluded that it could involve state or federal dollars provided to Jackson.

Sanders’ role within Constituent Services meant she was the point person for Jacksonians who had issues with city services.

One council member asked questions during Tuesday’s regular city council meeting to find out what kind of access Sanders may have had.

“I’ve saw several times where, you know, constituent services had items on the agenda. But they’re not a department,” said Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes. “Things that she has had on the agenda never should have been on the agenda.”

When Stokes brought that up during the meeting, Lumumba told the council that typically those agenda items from Constituent Services would flow through another department.

“If it falls under the the Department of Mayor, that would typically go to the Chief of Staff. Speaking of IT concerns, that did not take place. In some other incidences, it went straight to accounts payable,” Lumumba said.

Jackson Communications Director Michelle Atoa confirmed the Office of Constituent Services does fall under the mayor’s office.

Atoa did not elaborate on the mayor’s statements during the council meeting regarding agenda items, nor elaborated on whether any actions of the mayor’s office inadvertently helped this alleged misappropriation take place.

“Clearly there was a breakdown in the processes within the administration that has, you know, when now we have an investigation going into trying to track down the possible misappropriation of funds,” Foote said. “And that’s unfortunate.”

Foote believes greater transparency and communication between Lumumba and the council might have made them aware of these spending issues sooner, though he stopped short of saying the city’s current practices and procedures make it an easy target.

“Anytime you have emergencies where large sums of money are being poured into local governments, state governments, from the federal level, you have the temptation for mischief,” Foote said. “And sadly, I think we’ve had some mischief here in the city of Jackson. We’re now investigating it, we want to get to the bottom of it. The mayor, I think, wants to get to the bottom of it. But I’m glad we’re doing our own investigation.”

Foote said he believes federal investigators may also end up looking into these allegations, too.

When asked for comment on the investigations, Atoa pointed to Lumumba’s brief statement one week ago, given at a press conference where his assistant told reporters they would take no questions on the subject.

“This is still a full scale investigation, which is underway. And therefore we cannot share any additional details regarding this matter,” Lumumba said last Monday. “But we wanted to provide an update or provide this press conference or this notice in the interest of public trust and accountability.”

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