Editorial Roundup: Mississippi

Tupelo Daily Journal. July 21, 2022.

Editorial: Don’t move FBI office from Oxford

The Federal Bureau of Investigation satellite office in Oxford should remain where it is. Moving it is illogical on several levels, the least of which being a waste of money on an unnecessary expense that is likely driven more by politics than law enforcement.

Local and state officials from Oxford and Lafayette County confirmed reports that the FBI is considering closing the Oxford office and relocating personnel to somewhere in the Delta — likely Greenville or Greenwood.

For its part, the Bureau is saying little, neither confirming nor denying such a move is being considered or why it is being considered (as seems apparent, regardless of their tight lips). Katie Greenleaf, a spokesperson for the bureau’s Jackson office, only said the FBI is “actively engaged with all of our state and local partners, including those in Greenville.”

Therefore, we are left with nothing more than guesses as to why the FBI would even consider moving the Oxford office to the Delta. Most of those guesses would be uneducated, given the lack of information — number of cases in a geographic area or some unfathomably significant cost savings being the obvious two.

In fact, the only educated guess would be that politics are at play. U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat, is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and, by virtue of his long tenure, has some sway in Washington among Democrats. His handling of the January 6 Committee has also raised his profile. It makes sense that he would do whatever he could for his district, and this would qualify.

As Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill pointed out, keeping the FBI office in her city is, at least in part, “an economic development issue.” It creates jobs by drawing other federal offices and private attorneys to locate there.

State Sen. Nicole Boyd, R-Oxford, said most federal prosecutions in the northern division are held in the federal courthouse in Oxford. In theory, if the FBI office is moved, more of those trials could start taking place at the federal courthouse in Greenville, another potential economic driver for that area.

But this is simply robbing Peter to pay Paul. Creating jobs and improving the fiscal health of the Delta are worthy goals, but doing so at the cost of another part of the state is not a net gain for Mississippi and an overall waste of state and federal taxpayer money.

Furthermore, Oxford is already home to several other federal agencies that coordinate with the FBI. It is a law enforcement hub that works well. Dismantling it is foolhardy.

Thankfully any decision of this nature must garner at least U.S. Senate approval. Hopefully Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, both Republicans, will see to it that such a move does not take place.

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Greenwood Commonwealth. July 26, 2022.

Editorial: Those Toes Was Pigott Stepping On?

Who are Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves and his Department of Human Services director, Bob Anderson, trying to protect.

Former Gov. Phil Bryant? Members of the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation? Both?

Last week’s decision to fire Brad Pigott as the attorney pursuing misspent funds in the state’s massive welfare scandal certainly has the appearance of protecting someone, starting with Anderson’s explanation for the decision.

He said he was taking Pigott off the case, effective at the end of this month when Pigott’s one-year contract expires, because Pigott didn’t consult with the agency before filing a recent subpoena trying to get to the bottom of one of the welfare scandal’s most outrageous expenditures.

Pigott, however, provided evidence to Mississippi Today that Anderson’s accusation is not true. Ten days before Pigott filed a subpoena on the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation for its communications with, among others, Bryant and his wife, Deborah, as well as former NFL quarterback and USM alum Brett Favre, Pigott emailed a draft copy of that proposed subpoena to the general counsel for DHS as well as to the Attorney General’s Office. Presumably both signed off on it.

Pigott apparently stepped on some toes — whose is the question — by looking more closely at the $5 million in welfare money used to build a women’s volleyball facility at USM. This just happened to be a pet project of Favre’s, whose daughter was a member of the team.

The ruse, exposed in the recent guilty pleas to fraud charges by Nancy New and her son Zach was that the $5 million misappropriation was to be disguised as a lease with the USM foundation. On paper, it would say the money was to be in exchange for using USM’s athletic facilities for welfare programming, which Nancy New’s nonprofit was getting tens of millions of dollars a year to supposedly provide.

Although the $5 million was not included in the DHS lawsuit’s original demands for repayment, Pigott may have been building a case to add it.

It will be interesting to see how actively his replacement will want to pursue the line of inquiry that Pigott had started.

It is also worth noting that firing Pigott took immediate criticism from State Auditor Shad White, whose department laid the groundwork for the civil lawsuit Pigott was hired to pursue.

White suggested that cutting ties with Pigott was a mistake not only because he was doing his job well but also because it creates the impression that partisan considerations are influencing how the case is being handled.

Most of the people tangled up in the mess are either Republicans or closely connected to leading members of Mississippi’s GOP. Pigott, who was appointed to his former job as a U.S. attorney by a Democratic administration, helped provide a bipartisan balance.

Letting him go just raises more suspicions that there are people in power who don’t want all of the truth about this welfare scandal to come out.

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