Bryant will keep eye on Nissan spending

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 17, 2000

The State Auditor’s Office will be watching the state’s spending to prepare the site near Canton where a Nissan truck, van and SUV plant will be built, State Auditor Phil Bryant said in Vicksburg Thursday.

Bryant’s comments came during an address to the Vicksburg Rotary Club.

Discussing accountability assurance, Bryant said his program of monitoring ongoing spending is in addition to auditing after completion.

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A House member, he said, pointed out there’s “not a lot of accountability” in the bonding authority passed by the Mississippi Legislature Nov. 6 to add $295 million in public funds to lock in a deal to bring the Nissan plant to the state.

Of great concern to many members of the Legislature were provisions that exempted much of the spending from the state’s bid laws and some of the purchasing laws, Bryant said.

“We’re not saying we mistrust anyone who has access to that (money), but it’s human nature and the taxpayers want to know where that money’s going to be spent. So we’re going to start tracking those expenditures,” Bryant said.

Monitoring the money, he said, should not be seen in any way as opposition to what is being done. In fact, he said, J.C. Burns, head of the Mississippi Development Authority, is eager to work with the Auditor’s Office to make sure the money is spent properly.

“He, as much as anyone in government, wants to assure you that money is going to be a great investment in the State of Mississippi,” Bryant said.

In other comments, Bryant said the part of the auditor’s job that most people know about is the 16-member investigative division charged with investigating criminal acts by elected officials and public employees. But that part of the office that works to make sure officials and employees are able to do their jobs properly really saves the people of the state money. Toward that end, the Auditor’s Office presents training seminars and publishes mountains of materials telling people how to do their jobs properly, he said.

“I always thought it was our job to partner with elected officials, public officials and government employees to try to make better government,” Bryant said.

But at the same time, the auditor said, a thief cannot be tolerated, and the office in the past four years has brought cases that resulted in indictments against nearly 60 officials.

Many times, Bryant said, when a discrepancy is found it turns out to be an honest mistake. In an effort to prevent mistakes, the office teaches about 65 training seminars each year.