MDES Caught in Political Battle

By: Jon Kalahar Email
By: Jon Kalahar Email

A simple bill to reauthorize the budget of a state agency has turned into a fight over how state departments buy advertising.

Now the Mississippi Department of Employment Security must wait for a special session to see if it will be around after June 30. But this argument could go on way past that special session.

Gov. Haley Barbour said the House is holding the MDES hostage. House democrats say it's the only way they could bring alleged tax dollar mismanagement to light.

Telesouth Communications CEO Steve Davenport introduced Phil Bryant after he won the lieutenant governor's race. Davenport's company owns Supertalk Radio, the conservative radio station at the center of the House of Representative's ire.

According to this legislative Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee, Telesouth Communications received over $1.1 million from 16 different state agencies for advertising. The largest amount came from MDES.

The largest recipient of state advertising contracts was Frontier Strategies at over $2.8 million. Quinton Dickerson created Frontier Strategies shortly after he helped Governor Barbour win election in 2003.

House Ways and Means chairman Percy Watson said money is being spent irresponsibly.

"PEER has put us on notice with a very detailed, very well reasoned report and it's something we have to address," said Watson, a Democrat. "It's unfortunate we have to address it in conjunction with the employment security commission."

Sen. Dean Kirby, a Republican, authored the bill to re-authorize MDES.

"We want fair and just government just like everyone else but we certainly want to be fair and we felt like what the House was doing was not fair at the time," Kirby said.

Barbour said this was the wrong way to go about bringing this issue up. He says that's what the legislative process is for.

"Somebody wants to look at how advertising's bought, what the budgets are, more power to them, but let's don't use that as an excuse to hurt people who are unemployed, to get rid of $30 million of workforce development and job training," said Barbour.

With that 2006 legislative PEER report, a;; advertising contracts over $100,000 has to be reviewed by the Personal Service Contract review Board. But currently, state agencies are not required to use a competitive selection process to find the lowest bid.

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