PEER demands utility authority records

Committee may subpoena documents

GULFPORT

A state review committee is demanding certain project records from the Harrison County Utility Authority by Friday or it will subpoena the documents.

The Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review sent a letter to the authority March 5 stating the authority could not leave out any information, even if it pertains to an ongoing lawsuit.

The authority is meeting at 9 a.m. today to talk about the PEER request.

PEER asked for information in February concerning projects using Community Development Block Grant money, including property acquisition, appraisals and budgets for these projects. The authority received millions of dollars in federal money after Hurricane Katrina to build new sewage-treatment plants and buy property and rights of way.

According to the letter, PEER voted to ask for and review the information at its meeting in September.

At its March 4 meeting, authority members voted unanimously to let their attorney, Len Blackwell, review the list of requested documents and separate those that would “impair the Harrison County Utility Authority’s position in a pending lawsuit.”

A suit has been filed against the authority concerning one of the proposed plants.

The authority also agreed the information would be given to a state attorney for review, and that person would work with PEER. Harrison County Supervisor Marlin Ladner serves on the authority and said he had mixed feelings about the vote.

“I knew that dog wasn’t going to hunt,” he said. “PEER has a right to those documents, and it’s obvious that we have to turn them over.”

In the letter, PEER Director Max Arinder reminded the authority the state agency isn’t governed by the laws pertaining to the public’s access to information and also wouldn’t allow anyone but committee members to see the documents.

“ …The committee has, and has always had, the authority to subpoena persons, records and files of an agency,” he said in the letter. “…The committee, as an investigative arm of the Legislature, is not fettered by provisions of law that restrict the public right of access to agency records and files.”

Blackwell said members didn’t plan to withhold information from PEER.

“The notion was to comply with what PEER wanted but that a state attorney would review the information first,” he said.

Ladner said he expects the authority to overturn its vote from a week ago and give the committee the documents.

“Most of those documents that PEER requested could be gotten by anybody who walked in off the street and asked for them,” he said.

By MELISSA M. SCALLAN – mmscallan@sunherald.com
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