ABERDEEN, Miss. (WCBI) – The Mississippi State Auditor is accusing three city of Aberdeen alderman of violating the state’s constitution, demanding payment of just over $9,000 as a result.
This comes after an investigation into the board of alderman’s decision to grant now former Mayor Maurice Howard back pay during the summer of 2020.
Ward 1 Alderman Nicholas Holliday, Ward 2 Alderman Lady Garth and Ward 3 Alderman Edward Haynes Jr. decided the 3-2 vote to award Howard back pay of around $30,000.
Now the The Mississippi State Auditor alleges that they misappropriated those funds and are on the hook to pay back that money. The three aldermen were served demand letters on Tuesday.
Starkville attorney Jeff Hosford has practiced law in Mississippi for nearly 20 years and met with WCBI on Wednesday to unpack the key pieces of this situation.
“What the [State Auditor] is saying is, it doesn’t appear as though they got the legislature’s approval,” Hosford says. “That money would be classified as a gratuity or donation, or extra compensation which is illegal under the [state] constitution.
The State Auditor alleges that the back pay is an illegal donation of public funds that violates Article 4, Sections 66 and 96 of the Mississippi Constitution.
Section 66 prohibits donations or gratuity unless approved by two-thirds of each branch of the legislature.
“They’re saying he was actually owed that and they authorized the payment of that money he was due for what he was employed in, which was mayor of the city of Aberdeen,” Hosford said.
Section 96 prohibits a legislature from granting extra compensation to a public servant.
“The constitution cites legislatures,” Hosford said. “In the allocation of funds of a municipality, is legislature equivalent to an alderman?”
The Mississippi State Auditor has used both the term “back pay” and illegal “donation” to describe the close to $30,000 in question.
“Does back pay qualify as donation or gratuity?” Hosford asked. “Back pay qualifies an extra compensation, I don’t know that that’s the case.”
The U.S. Department of Labor defines back pay as the “difference between what the employee was paid and the amount he or she should have been paid.”
The three aldermen have 30 days to pay the demand or face a civil suit from the Mississippi Attorney General.
WCBI reached out to all three of the aldermen and the city attorney Wednesday but none of them were available to speak on camera.