Four members of the Bayou la Batre City Council went through more than $29,000 worth of regular bills by hand Thursday evening in what one council member called a “diligent and stringent” effort to better track the city’s finances.
Councilwoman Annette Johnson, who last week sternly requested more financial details from city staff members, led the meeting — one that was not attended by Mayor Brett Dungan, his assistant Wanda Overstreet, Councilwoman Ida Mae Coleman or the city’s legal counsel.The approved bills were tabled from a Feb. 27 meeting, where councilors cited a lack of financial data as the reason for delaying the payments. Thursday, almost all of those bills were eventually approved with the exception being a check reimbursing Dungan for various travel expenses accrued in late 2014.
Those expenses, which were just north of $1,800, included several trips to Mobile and other cities, but Johnson said they were submitted without proper receipts and documentation. For that reason, Dungan’s reimbursement was not approved by the council and was formally pulled from the numerous other payments that were approved. The vote was unanimous among the four councilors who attended the meeting.
When asked what prompted the heightened interest in the details of the city’s finances, Johnson said it was the result of an incident on Dec. 18, 2014, when “Mayor Dungan went to Regions Bank and borrowed $50,000 without the permission of the council,” which Johnson said was then utilized to pay debt owed by the city — debt the members of the council were not aware of.
“That was the night of the December council meeting, and we were not informed of any loan or any outstanding debt at the time,” Johnson said. “I am not exactly sure if that’s legal, but that would be an important thing for our legal counsel to address and they are not here tonight.”
Johnson said the loan was never brought before the council, but was signed for final approval by Dungan and City Clerk Jaime Abastoflor. Johnson said only she, Dungan, Abastoflor and Coleman have signatory authority over the city’s checking accounts. It is not known why Dungan, Coleman, Overstreet and the city’s legal counsel could not attend the meeting.
Johnson said Dungan didn’t notify the council as to why he couldn’t attend the meeting, but had previously told other media outlets he refused to attend. Those in the audience expressed gratitude for the council’s diligent look into the finances. Many have made several requests for more adequate financial documentation in recent months.
“We appreciate what y’all are doing — taking control and seeing what’s going on with the money,” said resident Terry Downey, who addressed the council in December about a lack of transparency. “I think that’s what everyone is interested in. If it’s open and the light shines, then you have nothing hide.”
Calls to Dungan about the $50,000 borrowed in the city’s name were not immediately returned, but will be added if and when they are addressed.