MEMBERSHIP HAS ITS PRIVILEGES: The state of Mississippi paid more than $2.8 million in membership dues for state agencies last year.
By Steve Wilson | Mississippi Watchdog
Mississippi’s expenditure report from last year has more spaces marked confidential than a James Bond after-action report.
The state spent about $2,8 million on membership dues for state agencies in fiscal 2014 for professional and intergovernmental organizations. Some of those were marked confidential.
A Mississippi Watchdog analysis of the records found 28 instances of membership dues marked confidential. The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce had the biggest entry under confidential, for $25,243.
It was a simple mistake, really.
According to Andy Prosser, deputy commissioner
of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, the confidential entry was due to the state switchover from its old accounting software to a new one known as MAGIC, which uses a paperless system.
“Unbeknownst to us until after the closing of State Automated Accounting System, the entry of membership dues into the system was mistakenly marked confidential,” Prosser said in an email to Mississippi Watchdog. “We could not go back and correct it after closing due to the system no longer being in place or utilized by DFA (Department of Finance and Administration).”
Phase one of MAGIC accounting system went live July 1, 2013, and the second phase went live this April.
According to Prosser, those membership dues are for organizations including:
- The Southern Weights and Measures Association
- The Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture
- The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture
- The National Conference on Weights and Measures
- The Mississippi Seedsmen’s Association
- The Southern Plant Board
- The Mississippi Association of Governmental Purchasing and Property Agents
- The Mississippi Bar Association
Speaking of the Mississippi Bar Association, the state pays dues for attorneys working at state agencies. Last year the state paid $106,527 in listed entries to the bar association, with $42,302 for the Attorney General’s Office.
Jan Schaeffer, spokesman for the AG, told Mississippi Watchdog the office has issued several opinions on the issue, with the latest one dating to 2008. It says “state agencies may pay the state bar dues for its attorneys from public funds if the bar dues are reasonable and necessary to the performance of the employees’ duties and the membership accrues to the benefit of the public agency.”
According to the opinion, if an attorney leaves a state agency, he or she must reimburse the state for remaining dues, if the attorney leaves before the end of the dues period.