Habeeb demands accounting for spending of $40,000

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 1, 2001

[06/01/01] South Ward Alderman Sam Habeeb, largely silent since voting against a $40,000 allocation to fishing events in Vicksburg, is demanding in a memo that he be informed how the Sportsman’s Association of Black Bass Anglers spent the money.

Dated Tuesday and directed to the two other city board members and City Clerk Walter Osborne, the memo has copies of city code sections attached that indicate the clerk is responsible for providing the details.

Habeeb’s term ends in a month, and he is not seeking re-election. “As a city official,” he wrote, “I am entitled to know what use has been made of any city funds.”

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Habeeb said he is seeking an accounting because he is concerned that city money was not spent appropriately.

Loosely worded state laws allow local governments to spend money on advertising that is not personal to officials’ careers but aimed at promotion of communities.

Mayor Robert Walker and North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young voted to make the unbudgeted allocation March 19.

“My strong suspicion is that the money did not go to advertising as they said, but to up the pot,” Habeeb said. State law does not specifically allow cities to contribute prize money to private events.

The grand prize pot for SABBA’S Memorial Day weekend events was two rigged bass boats for the winning team with each boat valued at $30,000.

Osborne said late Thursday that he would call the national president of SABBA today and request the information. He said the documentation would be made available to the public as soon as he receives it.

“My concern when voting against this was that it was too, too much,” Habeeb wrote in the memo. “It would have been fine to advertise and sponsor this event in the range we pay for events like softball, swim meets, golf tournaments or the Red Carpet Bowl.”

According to figures provided by SABBA vice president Shambani Watts, about 200 fishermen participated in the Mega-Bucks Bass Tournament Saturday and Sunday. That number was about half as many predicted by tournament and city officials to have an economic impact of $1.2 million in Vicksburg.

Walker said Tuesday he was pleased and described the event as more successful than what they had expected. Walker could not be reached for comment on Habeeb’s two-page memo.

Habeeb said that in assessing the impact of the tournament, he contacted local hotels. Most of those reported many vacancies over the weekend, he said.

He said the city requires extensive record keeping and accounting of purchases and that advertisers are usually asked to leave documentation of how city funds were used. He said the same should be expected of SABBA.

He said he expected the investigation to be finished in two to three weeks.

SABBA’s event was its first in Vicksburg, and organizers said they would like to return. Two years ago, Greenville was the host city. City officials there provided $6,000 for the event and the Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau paid thousands more for motel rooms, fish for the youth derby, polygraph exams for participants and other itemized expenses.