Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Is There a Smoking Gun in Flowood?

This post is reprinted from Y'all Politics with the permission of the author, Alan Lange.  

In response to a Mississippi Today request for public records, obtained by Jackson Jambalaya, email evidence suggests that MDOT executives repeatedly whitewashed staff assessments of the safety needs of a frontage road for local residents. Those executives opted instead to use the media requests as another opportunity to bludgeon the state legislature over lack of funding for “priority projects.”


This comes on the heels of an article written by Mississippi Today with the sinister sounding title ‘Public Funds for Private Use’ where certain emails were selected from an ongoing negotiation with the Oak Ridge Home Owners Association over right of way for that road, to portray the proposed project as unnecessary, wasteful and politically leveraged.

MS Today reporter Adam Ganucheau requested a trove of emails pertaining to the Lakeland Frontage Road project that connected both the Oak Ridge and Dogwood Trace subdivisions to the Dogwood Market. Jackson Jambalaya requested copies of what was provided to the Clarion Ledger and MS Today. Jackson Jambalaya and Y’all Politics are now working collaboratively to evaluate the public records responses and make them public in their entirety.

In the request, Ganucheau asked MDOT the answer to a series of specific questions about the project. Jarrod Ravencraft, then Public Affairs Division Director at MDOT, sent an email to Amy Mood, Assistant Chief Engineer Preconstruction at MDOT, to ask her to draft responses as a baseline for Executive Director Melinda McGrath and the press team at MDOT to respond to Ganucheau.

Ganucheau asked the questions in black. Amy Mood’s May 23rd draft response internal to MDOT are in blue.

Click on image to enlarge.



On May 30, Ravencraft then forwarded that draft response from Mood to Melinda McGrath and asked for additional guidance. Mood deferred to McGrath on the last two questions in the query, which would reasonably imply that Mood didn’t need any help on the technical/engineering questions.  There were apparently no emails from McGrath responding to that part of the records request. The next responsive email was from Jason Scott to Ravencraft on June 1 with a draft of what they would ultimately respond to Ganucheau with. The response, in its entirety below, completely omitted the engineer’s assessment that the project was necessary and was added specifically for “safety concerns”.

Here’s the whitewashed statement to Ganucheau.



Again, there was no mention of the safety concerns referenced by the MDOT engineer in the final press statement.
Normally, when reporters get rolled by public employees like that and then find out about it, there’s hell to pay. However, it’s clear that the staff version of the project engineer’s assessment of the safety needs of the project was omitted by her higher ups at MDOT.

In another MDOT request from Ganucheau, he for asked a relatively expansive evaluation on a breadth of MDOT projects. Once again, staff was asked to draft responses and AGAIN, the staff claimed that the project was in fact necessary.  In the balance of the first Ganucheau request, there were a multitude of projects that were “bumped ahead of other priority projects”.


However, each public facing comment or portrayal by MDOT has been that the Lakeland frontage project was unnecessary and that it would be at the expense of other more needed projects.  At the point that these staff assessments were made on internal documents, literally hundreds of thousands of dollars had already been expended between traffic studies, engineering assessments, soil boring, ROW acquisition, and other engineering pre-planning requisites.  This was all documented in the email disclosure.

City of Flowood was primary driver

There was clearly a great willingness by the City of to pursue the frontage road project for safety reasons.  There was an exchange between Flowood Public Works Director Garry Miller, Flowood Mayor Gary Rhoads, McGrath, Dick Hall and Amy Mood between October 2015 and early 2016 where Flowood was clearly pressing the case.  The City of Flowood engaged Benchmark Engineering to draft what a road might look like and sent that to McGrath and Mood pressing their case.  Interestingly, the City of Flowood specifically requested to keep the two homeowners associations out of the original conversations with MDOT, which would seem to indicate that the idea did not originate from them as has been clearly portrayed in other articles.



 On May 30, Ravencraft then forwarded that draft response from Mood to Melinda McGrath and asked for additional guidance. Mood deferred to McGrath on the last two questions in the query, which would reasonably imply that Mood didn’t need any help on the technical/engineering questions.  There were apparently no emails from McGrath responding to that part of the records request. The next responsive email was from Jason Scott to Ravencraft on June 1 with a draft of what they would ultimately respond to Ganucheau with. The response, in its entirety below, completely omitted the engineer’s assessment that the project was necessary and was added specifically for “safety concerns”.

Here’s the whitewashed statement to Ganucheau.



Again, there was no mention of the safety concerns referenced by the MDOT engineer in the final press statement.
Normally, when reporters get rolled by public employees like that and then find out about it, there’s hell to pay. However, it’s clear that the staff version of the project engineer’s assessment of the safety needs of the project was omitted by her higher ups at MDOT.

In another MDOT request from Ganucheau, he for asked a relatively expansive evaluation on a breadth of MDOT projects. Once again, staff was asked to draft responses and AGAIN, the staff claimed that the project was in fact necessary.  In the balance of the first Ganucheau request, there were a multitude of projects that were “bumped ahead of other priority projects”.


However, each public facing comment or portrayal by MDOT has been that the Lakeland frontage project was unnecessary and that it would be at the expense of other more needed projects.  At the point that these staff assessments were made on internal documents, literally hundreds of thousands of dollars had already been expended between traffic studies, engineering assessments, soil boring, ROW acquisition, and other engineering pre-planning requisites.  This was all documented in the email disclosure.


In preparation for that meeting, McGrath specifically engaged and wanted the printouts to the traffic studies for that project.  As a result of that meeting, the project was revived and put into motion.

What is clearly lacking from any publicly disclosed information is a “smoking gun” or even the suggestion of one across thousands of emails where anyone in the legislature making unusual demands of MDOT relative to this project or more specifically who it should benefit.  There’s not even passing references by staff on disclosed internal communications to legislative pressure during the three years or so of this project going from the drawing board to the ROW acquisition process to engineering and near final approval.

This whole kerfuffle may be as much personal politics over funding and budgets than it is about some “scandal” that coincidentally seems to lack any scandalous behavior that anyone can document in any meaningful way.

It certainly shouldn’t be lost on anyone that the timing of these revelations are against the backdrop of a special session in the next 30-45 days where lawmakers may be asked to revisit how MDOT priorities are funded.
Y’all Politics has additional records requests pending with MDOT and will continue to follow this story.

Kingfish note: JJ submitted a public records request to MDOT the day the story about the frontage road broke.  The request asked for all records provided to the Clarion-Ledger and Mississippi Today. What stoked JJ's curiosity was that the newspaper did not publish a single document or email despite the fact the story heavily relied on such sources.  Hmm..... readers know JJ would have posted them.  Indeed, they would have raised hell if JJ had not done so.  MDOT provided, buckle your seatbelts, 28,000 emails to this website.

 JJ provided a copy of them to Mr. Lange, who took that ball and ran with it. ;-)  I haven't had time to look at them but for this handful. However, JJ will analyze them.  It is safe to say that there is probably no smoking gun as Mr. Lange put it, in the emails.  JJ will attempt to post them online but the file is over 20 gb.  Readers who provide 64 gb jump drive can get a copy made for their own review. 

49 comments:

Anonymous said...

Too funny that Mississippi Today's most recent claims of relevancy include touting their effort as the state publication with the largest reporting staff.

Democrats palpable fear that Hood can't beat Reeves is clearly on display.

Anonymous said...

The hog sweat you see on Tater's face at the Neshoba County Fair ain't just from the heat.

Anonymous said...

I may be in the minority, but as a conservative frustrated by unfunded mandates on cities and counties shoved down our throats by the republican state legislature, I would derive a great amount of pleasure from seeing Tate Reeves' ass get beat. Son of a bitch loves him some unfunded mandates. And he loves to tout that "make them put some skin in the game" mantra, knowing full well that the only tool in the county's tool bag is ad valorem. Hey, Tate, you stupid, fat, son of a bitch, how much in campaign contributions are you going to ask Farm Bureau to pony up? They know damn well your unfunded mandates and demands for local skin in the game mean timber tract owners and farming operations will pay dearly for the resulting increase in ad valorem.

Justice for Smokin Guns said...

Is Tater and his Democratic nemesis Jim “The Mullet” Hood the best our state can do? It is embarrassing that our state is unable to produce better candidates to run our government.

Anonymous said...

Who in the world can read through 28k emails. Good luck with that.

But wait! If we can't trust the government, who the hell can we trust?

Anonymous said...

Nice of them to information dump. Also, is there anyone who has driven on Lakeland drive between the hours of 7-8am who doesn't think a frontage road is warranted? You've got a frogger level cluster out there. I get the political battle lines are drawn here but come on.

Anonymous said...

Alan Lange wrote this and he is a close friend and ally of the Lt. Governor's. It might as well have been written by Parks McNabb or some other part of Tate's PR machine. I don't know the facts and I've only skimmed it, but when I saw it on the Ya'll Politics site and that Alan wrote it, the theme was predictable. Now I'll go read it and put my thoughts in a later comment.

Anonymous said...

You would think this would call for a review of all projects and how many unnecessary "special" projects there are going on or proposed?

Anonymous said...

The point of the article is that no one has found an email from Reeves to Dick talking about this plot so there should not be an investigation. Breaking news, most criminals aren't going to write about their illegal plots in an email that is subject to FOIA. The crap the GOP expects us to believe is insulting. I will say that I doubt Hood will be able to find much. When the corruption goes all the way to the top, it would take the feds to do anything.

Anonymous said...

11:11 am calls tate "fat". thats hardly a big deal in a state that has a obesity rate of about 40%.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Alan Lange wrote this and he is a close friend and ally of the Lt. Governor's

You think Ganuchump, Sam R. Hall, Pender, the Clarion-Ledger and MT aren't salivating for Hood? Go ahead and shoot the messengers but don't expect anyone to take you seriously unless you demonstrate a willingness to shoot them all.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 11:56. Alan loves him some Tate and wrote this simply as a defense piece surrounding the lack of a direct connection. I'm sorry, but the circumstantial evidence is enough to raise questions, and the MDOT official's statement that political pressure was at the heart of the project is enough to connect it to Tate.

I do believe JJ will have a more objective view.

Anonymous said...

Tate isn't dumb enough to email anything related to the frontage road through his state-based email. He has personal email for that.

Anonymous said...

Project is 80% Federal and will meet all requirements and Feds will sign off on it. Sure it is needed and sure it helps some friends as well. Move on nothing to see here but the fact that Miss. has 0 good people running for Governor.

Anonymous said...

Quite down bloggers!
The Lottery will solve all problems.

Plain ol' Catfish said...

Oh goody, here goes the cries of "fake news" from Alan Lange @ Y'all Politics to Tater's rescue.

Who the hell wants Little Lord Fauntleroy becoming our next Governor!? SMH

Anonymous said...

This whole thing is terrible politics on the Dems side. I grew up in Dogwood Place AND have had a car accident trying to cross Lakeland at the said entrance. Back when Oak Ridge was being developed, this road was discussed and I always heard it was agreed upon to be built in the future when Oak Ridge was developed and the Lakeland project began. This has nothing to do with Tate. Even if his office called to ask when it was happening, he himself didn’t lobby this to happen. It was in the works far before he lived there. Politics— makes me sick. Fake News!

Anonymous said...

1:38PM Calm down buddy and save some sister for the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

If you entered Dogwood subdivision on Dogwood Pl from Lakeland and followed this road you would go to a back entrance that opens on Cooper Road. You turn left on Cooper Road, and that takes you to a light on Lakeland Drive.

Also, I have lived in the area years. Since the Lakeland expansion traffic moves smoothly and the red lights are timed to help people turn into Lakeland. It is truly much easier to get out anywhere. Also, if you think it takes too much time try leaving earlier.

Anonymous said...

We have had Republican rule for 24 of the last 28 years and Mississippi is dead last in the same categories we were last in 28 years ago.

The only difference?

Tate gets to keep the 10 million in his bank account while the next politicians do not.

Tate infected the state when he was treasurer and now under his watch the state has floundered even more.

Time for RoTate him on out of here.

Anonymous said...

The email with the satellite photo doesn't fit what has been reported as the course of the proposed road. The emailed photo shows it going east from Dogwood to Lafayette Lane, but the reporting had it going west from Dogwood/Oakridge to the shopping center (the opposite direction).

It also talks about it going across "Josh Harkins track [sic] of land," but the tract for the reported road shows as belonging to "Hogg Long-Term Employee Trust" and/or Canebrake Development (both connected to Stan Pratt). The CL story mentions nearly $300,000 in ROW payments to "the Hogg family trust."

How many roads were under consideration or why the differences?

Anonymous said...

Y'all Politics the FOX News of Mississippi

Anonymous said...

Lange wrote it. Enough said. No different that listening the MSNBC pontificate about Obama’s greatness. He’s been carrying Tate’s water all along. And Tate’s brother is one of his business partners.

Anonymous said...

1:38 name the first penny that has gone to bail out any county. For the last four terms we’ve done nothing but push down costs on to counties and cities. Seriously, name one penny of bail out.

Anonymous said...

What has Hinds done to draw your ire sir? I’ve been quite impressed with the number of roads they have paved recently.

Anonymous said...

Cutting taxes is a lot different than cutting expenses. They’ve cut taxes and put the state in a hole. Infrastructure is going in the crapper. None of these gop officials could run a business if it was given to them.

Anonymous said...

11:11 you forget that farm bureau and timber tract owners are rejoicing at the new 2018 truck weight limits that their lobby dollars bought. What’s a few extra dollars of ad valorem taxes.

Anonymous said...

Hood was tipped off about this story before it was pub'd.

Then went hard in public only to realize too late he'd overplayed the weak hand his media sycophants had dished up.

Anonymous said...

Dick Hall: "I've been saying for years now we need mo of yo money"

Jim Hood: "I've been saying for years now we need mo of ya money, I litigate"

Tate Reeves: " I've been saying for years now we don't need to raise taxes, period."

Any questions on who to support? I don't give a damn about personality...

Anonymous said...

While we are discussing unneeded road projects, can someone tell me why all the new exit and access lanes were needed on Hwy 45 at or near Crawford? I just haven't experienced that volume of traffic in that area to need this improvement.

Anonymous said...

2:05 PM That is a question that needs to be addressed. If Tater used a private email server like Hillary Clinton the public has the right to know. Imagine that, a Dem ad comparing Tater to Hillary Clinton next year.

Anonymous said...

A couple of other takes from the docs posted:

The satellite photo with the proposed "frontage road" layouts shows a gate near Lafayette Ln. A gate on a road to another road that accessed only a gated community seems to indicate that the "frontage road" would really be moving the gated entrance, not a "frontage road" the public could freely access. If this is the case, why were public funds ever involved?

The satellite photo also shows an existing easement between the "frontage road" and Lakeland. If the Dogwood-to-Lafayette path was the actual path (not Dogwood-to-shopping center), it seems curious that MDOT paid for right-of-way when the "frontage road" could be built in the existing easement to the main road.

Next, if the mayor's demands were the initial impetus for the road and he was the one doing all the contacting over it, why? There may be some reasonable explanation as to why he was so insistent, but if there isn't a good reason, it begs the question of who was pushing him to push it with MDOT

Perkn said...

I agree with 11:49. Let's see how many people travel through dogwood between 4-6 and see what is a priority. We need to see the stats before making judgements. We dont know the stats and we should. Ask that question before claiming political intimidation. We all need to be informed before making uninformed bs statements

Perkn said...

And by the way, mayor Rhodes makes up the rules as he goes. One day this and the next day that. Try doing anything in HIS city and you will find out how it works

Anonymous said...

We have had Republican rule for 24 of the last 28 years ...

Revisionist history. Inaccurate.

Anonymous said...

At least spell the name right DA...It’s spelled Rhoads

Anonymous said...

I very well understand the need to help Traffic flow in the Urbanized ares-it's just a needed situation getting People to work, home from work, deliveries made etc. It's always been interesting to me how MDOT always has enough money for these Projects,always enough to 4 lane for Casinos,Sam's Club,Ball Parks etc but never enough to provide for the maintenance of existing State Highways & Bridges. When did the Leadership of Mississippi determine that our State doesn't need to provide a way for our Rural residents-Landowners-Tax Payers-Job Providers to get to State Highways as well as Interstate Highways?? It's always easier to pass and Adv Tax increase because less Voters are affected, it's easy to pass a Fuel Tax because most people can pass this Tax Increase along to their customers-all the while spending this money on Interstate Highways-Connector Roads etc. It's High Time someone does something for Rural Mississippi to help get Agricultural Products as well as Forestry Products to their Markets. As long as I've known Commissioner Dick Hall and Commissioner Tom King--they have been drawing a Government Check, have always needed more Tax Dollars to spend. Katrina hits Ms-we need New MDOT Headquarters Bld in Jackson, new District Maintenance Facilities, new District Offices weather affected by Katrina or not. We have the most well equipped MDOT trucks money can buy-14 strobe lights, crew cab,4 wheel drive trucks with 1-2 EMPLOYEES "SITTING" IN THEM. We have the best Maintenance Equipment-bush hog tractors, excavators, dump trucks etc, etc,etc that sit on the side of our Highways at least 1/2 the time doing absolutely nothing--

Anonymous said...

I worked for a Congressman. Everyone always said their pork project was necessary for safety, or economic development, or evacuation routes, or the other magic words to justify them, but almost all of them would primarily benefit the homes or businesses or investments of a few politically connected rich people while projects that would provide more benefits to the broader public are neglected because they don’t have teams of lobbyists, lawyers, engineers who finance politicians pushing for them.

Taters are for peelin not electin said...

One thing about those fat cats who are always yammering about "skin in the game", they almost always has more skin than the average taxpayer!

Pappy Odaniel said...

Well, public works expert and public relations czar of the tater tots, Alan Lange has cleared all of this up. The engineer referenced multiple times was not an MDOT engineer. It was Benchmark, employed by Flowood to get the ball rolling. They brought up safety in order to loosely justify the project. However, the MDOT internal discussions were wholly appropriate to say that working on our decrepit infrastructure was far more important than relocating the entrance to Tater Heights. The safety issue was also not the sort that justifies expenditures, such as meeting a new standard or improvements to existing roads, it was one of the relative safety of one option versus another...which is not a public safety issue in any sense.

Anonymous said...

re: August 1 @ 11:11....The blog radar must be down.

Anonymous said...

@ August 1, 2018 at 7:57 PM

We have had Republican rule for 24 of the last 28 years ...

Revisionist history. Inaccurate.


How about this way, "We've had 'Conservative' rule for the last 197 out of 201 years, both under the Democratic and the Republican party"

Is that better?

Anonymous said...

What about the other four years. You expect us to figure out which four and who the liberals were? Conservative? You ever heard of Billy McCoy?

Anonymous said...

The fact of the matter is that Mississippi roads are in terrible shape. Everyone, including the Legislature, knows it, yet they continue to fail to do anything about it. Every neighboring state has raised their fuel tax or done something else to generate more money for infrastructure. However, the Legislature wants to continue to put earmarked projects into MDOT’s appropriation bill without giving additional funding. Earmarked projects become statutory priorities once the bill is signed into law. These earmarked projects must be completed, meaning other higher priority projects are moved down MDOT’s list.

The Lakeland Drive expansion was put into MDOT’s appropriation bill. Legislators constantly asked about the status of the project, and the added frontage road.

How is that not political pressure?

Anonymous said...

@ August 2, 2018 at 9:05 AM

I would say the Musgrove Administration was the one small window of Liberal control in Mississippi, and that's still center-right political ideology compared to the Democratic-led states on the west coast.

@ August 2, 2018 at 11:51 PM

I agree with a lot of what you are saying, except the political pressure part. That frontage road project on Lakeland was more about convenience for influential residence in that area, than safety. It was made a priority project by the super-majority, when a dozen other counties in the Northwest and Northeast part of the state could have used that same attention and funds.

Wish Republicans in the poorer counties in this state would wake up and stop accepting the bullsh*t proposals currently being sold by the MSGOP and Tate Reeves

Anonymous said...

All these comments about "Tate would have never put it in writing anyway" seem to be from folks missing the point. What we have is the executive Director of MDOT intentionally whitewashing emails to mask the fact that her agency had signed off on the project as being needed for safety and trying to then create the impression that the only reason this road was being constructed was due to political pressure from the LG's office. It is an intentional hack job on the part of a civil servant and is dishonest.

Anonymous said...

Don’t be so quick in claiming innocence. Truth will be revealed soon enough

Anonymous said...

Ravencraft’s nane was peppered throughout multiple articles and blogposts for quite some time and now it seems his name has vanished from any new records. A quick search by a tax paying insomniac with little technical experience gives me pause. Does anyone know if he is still leading communications for the department ? I thought someone savvier than myself might know.

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