New Leadership Works To Get Troubled DMR Back On TrackBy Evelina Burnett | Published 17 Nov 2013 11:02pm |
The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources is trying to get back on track after 10 former DMR employees, including the previous director of the agency, allegedly embezzled more than $1 million in state funds starting in 2006. Seven of those employees are now facing criminal charges too.
MPB's Evelina Burnett reports on the changes the agency's new leadership is making to prevent this kind of abuse in the future.
Jamie Miller took the helm of the troubled department of marine resources in April, and one of his first steps was to initiate a 60-day review of the entire agency. Miller says the report found that critical policies and procedures weren’t well understood or communicated to employees, and there was a lack of openness that discouraged staff from reporting anomalies or discrepancies.
The DMR is responsible for protecting the state’s valuable coastal resources, such as the $30 million commercial fishing industry. Civil demands issued by the State Auditor’s office against 10 former employees allege they embezzled state funds in a variety of ways – from getting paid for training they didn’t attend to submitting false records for fishing trips. Miller says he’s put in place procedural and organizational changes to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
Miller says he’s also trying to change the overall culture – the DMR’s code of ethics, for example, is now prominently displayed in hallways throughout the agency. Miller says it’s meant as a reminder -- and an encouragement.
Miller says he held an all-hands meeting the day the indictments were announced, so employees knew what was going on and how the agency would move forward.
State Auditor Stacey Pickering says the DMR is working with his technical assistance staff to improve their procedures. He expressed confidence in the agency’s efforts.
Former DMR director Bill Walker -- who was fired in January -- Walker's son Scott, former DMR chief of staff Joseph Zilger Jr and former coastal planning director Tina Shumate are all facing federal charges of fraud. They denied the allegations against them during an arraignment last week. A trial date has been set for mid-December. After the hearing last week, attorneys said it was likely the date may be postponed.
Four former DMR employees facing state charges haven't been arraigned yet. Three other employees have had civil demands issued against them, but aren't facing criminal charges.
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