Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What did Latham know and when did he know it?

Clarion-Ledger Reporter Geoff Pender questions Former MEMA Executive Director Robert Latham's claim that the mismanagement of a $30 million federal program took place without his knowledge.  The federal government allocated nearly $30 million to retrofit homes on the Gulf Coast to lower home insurance rates.  However, this is Mississippi and if we see $30 million in gummint dough, we are going to figure out a way to get our greedy mitts on it or make sure our friends do.  The feds saw what was going on and suspended the program last month.  Mr. Pender reported:

Questions surround Robert Latham’s claims he knew little as state emergency management director about problems with a program to fortify Coast homes that could leave taxpayers on the hook for $30 million.

Those questions threaten to tarnish the legacy of the man who saw the state through Hurricane Katrina and its initial recovery.

Lee Smithson, the new director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said he “absolutely” questions Latham’s claim that he didn’t know of major problems with the Coastal Retrofit Program.

“Robert Latham is my friend and he was a mentor to me, but I’ve just got to question that,” Smithson said. “I don’t believe there is any way the executive director was clueless that all that was going on.”...

 Latham, who left MEMA early this year after being reappointed to post in 2012, said he was dismayed by the federal findings. But some Coast leaders had questioned the project for years. An Office of Inspector General’s report shows state officials became aware of problems nearly two years ago. And state paperwork indicates Latham had some involvement with the program in the private sector in 2010 before he came back as MEMA director.

In 2010, according to state records, the company that won the contract to fortify Coast homes against storms listed Latham as part of its team to run the program....
The program was supposed to spend $29.9 million to retrofit 2,000 Coast homes. But the state claimed it spent $31.5 million on just 945 homes. The program was supposed to spend an average of about $15,000 a home, but state officials signed off on costs averaging more than $33,000 a home — much of the overage charged as administrative costs.

OIG said one employee — Biggers — appeared to have nearly complete authority over the program and spending, which goes against basic accounting and oversight principles and Mississippi agency rules. The report said Biggers refused to allow federal and state officials access to more than $30 million worth of contractor receipts and records.

And while Latham said he was unaware of the major problems and overspending, the OIG report says state officials “became aware of improper oversight as early as December 2014,” but no action was taken until after Latham left again as MEMA director in February of this year....   Read the rest of this thorough article.

 “Every day I find out something new on this,” Smithson said. “The more I’ve looked into this whole thing, the more I am disturbed by it. … I’m just blown away by what it was supposed to be and what happened.”....

 He said his first official action when he took office was to call Biggers in and fire her. Everyone who was involved directly with the program at MEMA and DFA has been fired or left, Smithson and other officials said.....

When Mr. Smithson says "his first official action when he took office" was to fire Ms. Biggers, he means it.  She didn't even last an hour at MEME after he assumed control.   So the question remains: What did Mr. Latham know and when did he know it?


Fan Of Hogan said...

I can't seem to post my photo of Sgt Schultz claiming "I Know Nuthin'!"

Anonymous said...

Agency EDs know how to protect themselves. They quickly identify the things they don't want to know anything about -- "don't tell me, I don't want to know," or "that's your responsibility, not mine." Upper management makes the unethical/criminal decisions and the ED has protected himself from knowledge of it. There are probably hundreds of agency employees who would love to blow the whistle, but no one believes for a minute that the "whistleblower protection" that supposedly exists in MS will protect anyone from anything. Especially if you blow the whistle on a Friend of Phil or Tate.

Anonymous said...

Biggers seems to be the chief culprit, but the buck stops at Latham. You cannot accept the reins of leadership and expect to reap the benefits without accepting the responsibility.

It's the same crap Bernie Ebbers tried to pull when WorldCom tanked. He loved giving interviews and posing for magazine covers and basking in the glowing praise for the company he had built, but when the truth came out, he claimed ignorance and blamed it all on his underlings. In the same fashion, Scott Sullivan was the main culprit at WC, but Bernie was punished.

Latham is trying to save his own behind, and that's understandable. However, there's a reason they pay people at the top so well. With great power comes great responsibility (Spiderman, I think). It seems that these days, the people at the top want the pay and accolades and power, but they do not have the character to accept responsibility for the organization that they led.

Anonymous said...

We all know Ebbers wasnt smart enough to pull what happened to Worldcom. That was all Scott Sullivan's doing. Not saying Ebbers isnt guilty but those two assholes lost thousands of people retirement.

Anonymous said...

It's the same crap Bernie Ebbers tried to pull when WorldCom tanked. He loved giving interviews and posing for magazine covers and basking in the glowing praise for the company he had built, but when the truth came out, he claimed ignorance and blamed it all on his underlings. In the same fashion, Scott Sullivan was the main culprit at WC, but Bernie was punished.

A gross oversimplification. Save your comments for something you actually know about.

Anonymous said...

The executive director claims he didn't know that $30 million of federal money was being mismanaged; that's even worse. This represents gross negligence and he should do this agency a favor and resign.

Anonymous said...

Add this to the heaping pile of stink that has defined Phil Bryant's administration..........corruption, incompetence, and inaction.

Anonymous said...

9:02 - It's a summary, but not an oversimplification. Sullivan was booking expenses as capital and inflating revenues with simple accounting tricks. This wasn't Enron with a complex network of offshore shell companies utilized as debt dumps. This was basic fraud. Ebbers and Sullivan and Buddy Yates colluded while Jack Grubman told Wall Street that all was well. This is a matter of record, chump.

But that's not the point. The point is that when YOU are in charge and people who work for YOU and are under YOUR charge are committing acts of malfeasance, YOU, as the boss, are responsible and it is YOUR job to know what is going on, to be astute enough to realize that something is up, and to rectify the situation, no matter how difficult the solution. You can't play celebrity cowboy CEO and take $11 million bonuses (that was Ebbers' bonus one year), then go hide in your Brookhaven Hampton Inn when it turns out to be fraud.

Neither can Latham act like he was pure as the virgin snow when this was going on for years under his direction.

Anonymous said...

You need to wait until the audit is complete and FEMA determines eligible cost. Many Katrina grant projects were initially disallowed by FEMA OIG but on appeal most were approved. Director Latham is a highly honest gentleman and has a proven track record. After reading the FEMA response to the OIG report it appears to be a matter of reviewing project documents to determine eligible cost. important to read FEMA's response to the OIG.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Looks like Bernie has access to a computer in prison.

Not Bernie said...

This is not about Ebbers - so his relatives can give it a rest.

Anonymous said...

Story conveniently leaves out the accounting firm that was hired to provide the oversight.

Anonymous said...

12:41 - Poster inconveniently leaves out the fact he doesn't know what he is talking about and didn't read the original story, which said there was no oversight of this project by any accounting firm, and one person had complete control over the entire program and refused to provide access to any records.

Anonymous said...

I know a half dozen guys that have done things that are not as bad as Ebbers but they have cost investors millions of dollars and have not been caught as of today. These guys sit right next to you in church and sing in the choir. I almost vomit in the collection plate when I see the scum bags work the members. Some work their own Sunday school members to invest---all you sorry Bastards know who you are. There is one guy that sits in front of me with his wife that owes millions to investors and has defaulted on the notes and has assured every investor they will get their money back---HE SHOULD LIVE SO LONG !!!!

Former Horne Employee said...

The unnamed accounting firm referenced by 12:41 was Horne LLP. Horne had a contract with MEMA to oversee ("audit") the flow of federal funds to state and local government entities for reimbursement of disaster recovery costs. The contract didn't initially include this mitigation work, but later did. MEMA must have fired Horne somewhere along with way or this would not have happened.

Anonymous said...

Latham had one goal and only one goal....to work four years to increase his PERS retirement income. Nothing else mattered. Fine, Christian man who did not give a shit about the requirements or obligations of his job. Kept his office neat, spoke to people daily, Always available for conference calls, snugged up his tie most days and parked between the lines. Otherwise, worthless.

Anonymous said...

3:04 - That's great but the program in question was not part of the mitigation work that was audited because it originally was run through the DFA and was transferred to MEMA when they brought "Deb" onboard. That was all in the original article and also the first post about the program on this blog. It's not like that information is hard to come by.

Anonymous said...

4:04 - hit the nail on the head. Latham came back to increase his retirement about $20k a year and continue to work on his book deal. After 2 yrs, he was totally ineffective. Moral was in the preverbal sh*tter, the locals had little confidence in him. He would skip his board meetings (some of them national), but send someone who just warmed a chair. At MEMA meetings, if things started going south, he’d look at his watch, say he had another appointment and turn the meeting over to Bill Brown and leave. It got to the point to where, if he came in wet and said it was raining, I’d go look,
If Latham was clueless as to what was going on, then why was he so adamant about getting the RetroFit program brought to MEMA, so he could have oversight of the program and funds? You don’t bring a program from one agency to another for oversight of it, then claim you didn’t know what was going on….please!! After Latham promoted Biggers to a Deputy Director where she had oversight of the agency budget, she thought she could do as she pleased with the $’s. She tried to use money from the Grand Gulf program to make some purchases, and then replace it with agency funds when she could even though it was illegal. The individual who is actually charged with controlling that fund, stood up to her and told her NO. Talk about a pucker face over that.
Latham must have forgot about all the meetings where the agency lawyer told him, Deb Biggers and Bill Brown that they couldn’t do certain things, but they did it anyway. The agency lawyer actually left MEMA for another job, because she didn’t want to be associated with what was going to happen when FEMA audited the program and she was tired of Deb Biggers trying to find a way to get rid of her because she wouldn’t give into Deb’s wishes, BUT, she was smart enough to maintain copies of paperwork and electronic traffic and notes to prove she had done what she was supposed to and that her legal advice had been ignored. She was way smarter than Deb! Hey Robert, you want to rethink the statement “You didn’t know what was going on with the program and the way it was being run”?
Biggers refusal to show auditors invoices and records should have been your first clue. Completing only half of let contracts, but spending all the money should have been your second. Being told by the agency lawyer what was wrong on legal matters with this program is three. Never mind Deb buying a shredder the size of refrigerator for her office should have been icing on the cake.
The days of passing the blame to others is gone Robert……time to step up and shoulder the load. You were agency Executive Director and ultimately responsible for all actions, especially in the Executive Office where you, Deb Biggers and Bill Brown resided. If the rest of us at the agency knew what was going on, there is no way you can plead ignorant.

Anonymous said...

Hey 6:30: You are really grinding that axe. Sounds like you got passed over for a promotion!! But you'll never make a mistake because folks like you never do anything!!

Anonymous said...

Hey 6:30: You are really grinding that axe. Sounds like you got passed over for a promotion!! But you'll never make a mistake because folks like you never do anything!!

Anonymous said...

6:30 pm: you are one dissatisfied employer. Too many of those in state service,

Kingfish said...

That's what those on defense always say. Then down the road, the so-called disgruntled employee is proven right.

Anonymous said...

8:05 & 8:08 - Don't worry, I'll come by and get my usual Coffee and biscuit tomorrow......you two dweebs try not to screw it up like you do most mornings

How do you think you'll ever make it to "Head Fry Clerk"?

And no, didn't get passed over. Just fed up with all the gloom & doom Latham & Biggers spouted everyday on the agency budget. Since they're gone, things are looking up and enjoying everyday.

Boy, did KF peg you two!!

Anonymous said...

You don't have to be an accountant or the ED of MEMA to know there was plenty of fraud in the retrofit program. The federal government was getting raped by local contractors in this program.

The homeowner was responsible for 10% of the total cost of the work. In some cases you could hire a contractor that was not in the program to do the entire job for what the homeowner paid. This program turned a $5,000 job into $45,000 and everyone involved got a share.

Funny to see all the Republicans who are against wasteful spending with their hands out to get their share of government money. I would have loved to retrofit my home. I just couldn't stand the thought of allowing contractors to overcharge the government and taxpayer so I didn't apply.

Anonymous said...

If anybody really wanted to find out what happened to all of the extra money all they would need to do is question some of the builders who participated in the overcharging.At this time most of them are scared to death that they are getting ready to be exposed and possibly prosecuted.Federal investigators usually start at the bottom and work their way to the top. Many participants in this FEMA/MEMA program are guilty of doing shoddy work for 10 times the market price.This is very similar to the infamous blue tarp program we pay for after every hurricane. The costs per home for a temporary dry-in with plastic blue tarps is much more than an actual new shingle roof system.This is because of the many levels of trough feeders involved.

Anonymous said...

8:05 and 8:08, have you ever stopped to wonder WHY state employees are disgruntled? Not all of them go into government work because they are lazy and stupid, some of them actually believe in public service. Not every student in Mississippi who majors in Political Science or Public Policy Administration goes on to become a corporate lawyer, some actually feel called to government, much the way others feel called to ministry, or to medicine.

The get an entry-level position, full of enthusiasm and eager to make Mississippi a better place. Then they run into all the BS. They learn that their intentions and effort mean nothing if they don't know the right people. They don't want to "play the game," but soon learn that the only way to advance professionally is to master the game. They are soon forced to commit to being a D or an R, regardless of what kind of completely non-political position they hold -- that's because the powers need to categorize employees into "will help with elections" or "might vote for someone else."

If they have a good idea for change, it gets shut down immediately, because the people in power at their agencies can control the old system, they don't want it to change. Those formerly-enthusiastic would-be public servants begin to get labeled "trouble makers" because they are always wanting to change things, or "negative" because they think something can be done better.

They go into government because they want to help it become more efficient and more responsive to citizen needs -- only to find that Mississippi doesn't give a crap. They work their rear-ends off, putting in 10-20 extra hours a week that they won't get paid or comp time for, and then have to submit a half-hour of leave when they are 10 minutes late one day -- because state employees are lazy, they must pay when they are late. They spend entire days trying to help citizens and when the law just isn't written in a way to get that citizen exactly what he wants, they endure the cussing and hatred of that citizen. And when that citizen calls his legislator, they get chewed out again by the guy who doesn't understand the law he makes, and again by the agency director who says that the agency budget might be cut because that would-be public servant couldn't find a way to "bend" the law to suit that citizen.

And if they have a Master's Degree, they get the privilege of doing this for MAYBE $35,000/year.

And when they see the corruption and unethical behavior, they have no way to report it without putting their own careers at risk.

And when they go to blogs or the comments section of an article, all they read is how lazy and stupid they are.

The choices then are to stop caring and become that stereotypical state employee and feed their families, or leave the state. And I mean leave Mississippi, not leave state employment. Because there are no jobs out there.

SO if it makes you feel better to brand 6:30 as a "disgruntled" employee, go ahead. I agree. I just think he's got every damned right to be disgruntled and should be applauded for trying to fight the good fight under terrible conditions.

Columbo said...

It's baffling that two posters straddle the neck of somebody who obviously knows the facts. Nobody presents that level of detailed information without having accurate information. Calling him/her a disgruntled employee is nonsense.

Employees dedicated to doing a good job become disgruntled for a reason (or two). They don't enjoy disgruntlement. It's uncomfortable. And you can't dismiss it by saying "If you don't like it, leave."

6:30 obviously has a shitload of facts. 8:05 and 8:08 are posted back to back by the same person who hopes these facts won't come out. But, sigh, they will.

Anonymous said...

8:38 - Don't let your feathers get ruffled by anonymous internet commenters. Waste of energy.

Anonymous said...

4:04 and 6:30 have no facts concerning the coastal retrofit program, only speculation. And no understanding of the up to seven individual
retrofits that could potentially harden a home against wind damage. If homeowners selected only window and door shutters the cost would be quite inexpensive. If it included shutters, garage door replacement, foundation to roof hurricane straps, roof deck adhesive and structural hardening of roof overhangs the cost could easily run upwards of $30-50,000 for larger homes. FEMA did not approve $29 million for retrofitting 2000 homes. FEMA approved a series of up to 7 eligible retrofits that would protect homes up to certain wind loads. Depending on type of construction, design and home size the cost would vary. In fact total cost of the retrofits had to meet FEMA's benefit/cost analysis. In other words the cost could not exceed the expected wind damage avoidance over the expected life of the structures. Now I don't know if anyone at MEMA misused grant funds, was well liked or was disliked. But I think it would be wise to allow FEMA to complete its review of the grant program before any continuance of the speculations and personal character attacks.

Anonymous said...

9:42 I agree with your statement that "FEMA should complete it's review of the grant program" The investigation should start with the subcontractors,builders and material suppliers who participated.This would be a real eye opener that will expose many more all the way to the top.The cost overruns were incurred because there was too many layers of people with hands out involved. When government loses control and fails at anything they always want to do more of the same.

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