Coahoma County Tourism interim executive director Tom Jones has been in his position since late February and seen an estimated $70,000 to $75,000 worth of past due bills come across his desk.
Jones took over following the resignation of Kappi Allen, who is still under investigation by the state auditor’s office for misappropriated funds. This week, a little more than five months after coming into the position, Jones reported he expects all past due bills to be paid off by the beginning of the new fiscal year Oct. 1.
After negotiating with different entities, some allowed the tourism office to make payments on a schedule while others provided a discount that narrowed the past due bills to the range of $55,000 to $60,000.
“We have managed to address all of the overdue bills to the point where they’re being paid off and, hopefully, they’ll all be paid off by October,” Jones said. “Some, there were no discounts available. Some, where they are amenable to discounts, we came up with a good number.”
As for the investigation itself, special agent Penn Mills from the criminal investigation division of the state auditor’s office still referred to it as in the beginning stages. He could not answer whether he anticipates pressing charges against Allen.
“I wish I could give you an answer on that, but I can’t,” Mills said. “It’s an open investigation so I really can’t give any information.”
Jones said Mills told him the investigation could take two to three more months.
With the investigation ongoing, it is still business as usual for the tourism office.
Jones said the tourism board is almost at the point where it can assist with funding for events such as the Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival and the Tennessee Williams Festival. He added he expects the board to put a policy in place to assist everyone in an equitable manner.
Jones said one of the tourism office’s bigger bills was when it owed the Official Mississippi Tour Guide $12,000. Coahoma County was not included in the 2018 tour guide because the unpaid bill for 2017. The bill was paid in three installments.
“We’re up to date with all of our bills and we’re paying off those past bills with the agreement of the creditor,” Jones said. “Everybody is getting to be happy again and satisfied again and like us again. We just agreed to be in the 2019 Official Mississippi Tour Guide to the tune of $6,000.”
There will be a half-page ad for Coahoma County in the Official Mississippi Tour Guide.
The tourism office also paid off the Good Sam Club, a camping ground club out of Minneapolis that advertises for Coahoma County, in three installments. The company that puts in the air conditioning filter was also paid off.
Jones said the tourism office owed $10,000 to the North Delta Tourism Association for membership dues and that should be paid off by Oct. 1.
“I don’t think there will be (new bills),” Jones said. “I think we’ve covered them all. I think we’ve pretty much identified everything between (attorney) Ed Peacock, (board member) Chris Overton, (board member) Al Jones, me, (board member) Steve Hays. People have talked to (board member) Wilhelmenia Newson. We have talked to these people. Some people they knew personally. Some they knew professionally. I think we’re over the hump as far as bad news.”
Jones said the tourism office will likely have to pay for the investigation to the state auditor’s office. He does not know how much the bill would cost.
Mills also did not know how much the investigation will cost and if any of the board members will personally be held accountable in anyway.
“I guess at the end of the investigation, we’ll be able to determine that,” he said.
If there are other unpaid bills Jones is not aware of, he said he will make sure those are paid.
“We’re ready for a surprise,” he said. “We can handle a surprise.”
Jones, who has applied to be the tourism executive director on a regular basis, said the selection committee for a new director has been asked to provide the top three candidates at the Aug. 8 board meeting. He hopes a selection can be made in August and whoever is selected takes the position by September.
“If it isn’t me, I’m not going to be crushed,” Jones said. “I’m assuming they’re going to get the best candidate for the job and I will turn over what I know, what I do to that individual in a two-week period.”