To say Mobile City Councilman Fred Richardson did not like Lagniappe’s recent political cartoon is an understatement. The cartoon, which ran in the Nov. 14 issue on page 14, depicted taxpayers’ jaws dropping when seeing the MoonPie Drop actually cost $250,000.
He said it looks like only city money funded the $250,000 event. However, the cartoon only states “MoonPie costs $250,000” and shows a taxpayer with his mouth agape.
During the Nov. 26 City Council meeting, Richardson took time to defend not only the MoonPie Drop, but also two controversial programs as well — the Gulf Coast Classic and Police Explorers.
“It seems that when some people don’t like something then they go after the money to try and bring it down,” he said. “Look at the Gulf Coast Classic and the Police Explorers. The Police Explorers are for underprivileged kids, many who live in District 1. I don’t see people looking into the Fire Explorers.”
Lagniappe began looking into trips taken by the Mobile Police Department Police Explorers program after receiving numerous internal complaints that federal funds designated for taking underprivileged children on trips were in fact being used to take city employees and their children. The money was spent on costly trips to ski in Colorado and Tennessee, or to visit New York City and Washington, D.C.
Requests for financial data about the trips were denied last year by former Police Chief Micheal Williams, leading Lagniappe to sue for the public records. The records eventually produced revealed evidence that some officers’ children, as well as city employees not directly involved with the program attended some trips. Also revealed were internal memos indicating suspicions of misuse of funds and others declaring the program as being run in a slipshod fashion. Further, documents showed Williams used seized drug funds to pay for cost overruns on trips as well as to cover expenses denied by the Mobile Housing Board after it was learned a majority of attendees on certain trips were not MHB residents and therefore not covered under the grants.
Mobile Police Chief James Barber told Lagniappe last week there is an ongoing investigation by the department into the program.
The Gulf Coast Classic was an attempt to develop a “classic” football game featuring Alabama State University and Southern University that would play annually in Mobile. School representatives claim they were promised $450,000 by Mayor Sam Jones to play the game in Mobile. Jones claims he never promised, but he did ask the City Council for the $450,000, but was only given $275,000. Both schools complained after the fact that they were not given the promised amounts and the classic never developed after that.
Lagniappe asked Richardson if he thought missing and misused funds were OK for certain programs.
“If it’s broke, let’s fix it,” he said. “My issue is if there is something helping low-to-moderate income people, then that’s when people want to get the magnifying glass out.”
Richardson also disputed documentation and comments from Chief of Staff Colby Cooper confirming that the city gave Events Mobile, Inc., the non-profit in charge of running the MoonPie Drop, more money than the council approved.
“I don’t care what Colby Cooper says. The only money the council approved was the $100,000,” Richardson said.
The council approved $100,000 this year for the group, but last year only approved $72,345. However, there was more money given by the city that was not approved by the council according to Cooper and an audit provided to Lagniappe.
There was some positive news for the MoonPie Drop. Country singer Gretchen Wilson let it slip on her website that she will be performing at the New Year’s Eve event.
Carol Hunter, president of Events Mobile, said the rest of the entertainment will be announced next week.